Core HR

HR Has a Language Problem

It was day three of the HR Technology Conference and co-chairman Steve Boese was leading a panel of CHROs from some of HR Executive’s Most Admired Companies for HR. Steve was well into the conversation when he asked a question about the perceived criticality of the employee experience to his esteemed guests.

Jayne Parker, senior executive vice president and chief human resources officer for The Walt Disney Co., answered first: “Employee experience is how employees engage with your company.” She added that it’s important to shape that engagement for different populations, clearly distinguishing the needs of park cast members from movie and television production staff.

“Employee experience is about a ‘go-to-market’ strategy for HR.” This came next from Peter Fasolo, executive vice president and CHRO for Johnson & Johnson. Peter went on to share that you need to connect your processes using technology.

Each of the five CHROs on the panel had a very different response to that singular question about employee experience. Every. Single. One.

Seeking Clarification

Later that morning I journeyed to the Expo Hall to speak with a wide variety of service providers regarding this same notion — the employee experience. Whether offering solutions for rewards and recognition, social engagement, survey technology, chatbots, employee portals, or case management software, all of these providers were longing for the creation of employee experience as a net new category. Some asked whether IA could simply declare the notion into existence. Others wondered whether the more prominent analysts would eventually carve employee experience out of total rewards or talent management.

Others weren’t sure about how employee experience works inside an organization. They asked:

  • “Who owns it internally?”
  • “Should we sell this to marketing or communications instead of HR?”
  • “Is there a line item in the budget?”
  • “Should it be ‘employee engagement’ instead, or is that too soft?”

Not surprisingly, each intended to define the category in the most positive light for the centricity of their solution. Who could blame them for wanting to separate signal from noise?

How Big Is This Problem?

That was less than one day on employee experience, but the same could be said for talent management, workforce management, talent acquisition and the 250-plus subdomains within hire-to-retire. Some are mature monikers that have existed for years, while others are emerging or going through some form of a verbal renaissance.

Last week the World Economic Forum published “Here Are 5 Ways for Workers to Win in the Robot Age” as an extension of its Future of Jobs Report 2018. Beyond the headline-grabbing forecast that robots will create a net increase of 58 million jobs in the next five years, the WEF cited five conditions that are critically necessary to create a “positive future of work.” One callout was a global HR cry for help, as the WEF implored all stakeholders to establish a common language for defining and assessing skills.

“… we need to develop a common pooled taxonomy around talent to understand what constitutes a skill, a competency, an ability or a trait — and how to assess it. Such a taxonomy can serve as a basis for an agile, transferable approach to degrees, diplomas, certifications, micro-credentials, recruiting and staffing. Creating this information symmetry can lead to a more efficient, transparent, and dynamic labour and education market — and introduce new, more meritocratic paths to social mobility in society.”

And what will happen if we don’t clarify our language? As HR, we run the risk of “widening skills gaps, greater inequality and broader polarization,” the WEF says.

We’re All In

If thriving in the robotic age is predicated on a global HR taxonomy, we need to get to work. It’s time to tackle something we as an industry have proven incapable of achieving. Every employer, service provider, policymaker, educator, analyst, and association needs to agree on a minimally viable taxonomy — in every language and geography — for the greater good. It means that the platitude of putting the “human” back in human resources truly starts today.

As much as we’d love to believe our team at IA can marshal a movement, it’s going to take more than this call to action to foster change. What would you suggest? How can we get organized? Is this a viable pursuit? Share your comments and let’s continue the conversation.

With over 25 years of experience, Mark Stelzner has worked for organizations of every size and vertical. He has spent his career fostering relationships through attention to detail, natural curiosity, and a self-deprecating sense of humor.


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2 thoughts on “HR Has a Language Problem”

  1. William Tompkins

    Great post Mark. I would add that employee experience is a mind set and not a line item. Just as companies are famous for their customer experience, it is embedded in their DNA across their product set. HR people have to get out of their disparate silos and focus first on how the employee/Candidate/alumni will experience the solution and how it integrates across their entire experience versus looking from the solution outward.

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