17 Nov Digital Transformation Up Close and Personal (@Unleash Amsterdam)

It took a couple of few weeks to pull this together, but I wanted to recap some of my learnings from Unleash in Amsterdam October 23-24.

Setting the Stage on the Main Stage

Josh Bersin nicely kicked off some themes for attendees to focus on. He talked about the evolution of the market, as follows:

forms automation >>> end-to-end talent management >>> systems of record >>> system of engagement >>> [drumroll] systems of productivity

He essentially said that “productivity and engagement are pretty much the same thing.”

He also mentioned that there has been almost as much investment in HR technology as the entire market itself and alluded to the thousands of products he’s tracking. It begged the question is the software market saturated?

He spoke to the future of Core HRIS vendors, saying “If they aren’t building software that helps your employees do their job better, they’re not going to be around.”

After Bersin, Andrew Keen added some food for thought, talking about the “winner take all” business world. He considers Google, Facebook, and Amazon as examples of companies that are undermining innovation. They’re causing startups to struggle, making their best exit, irononically, to be bought by these companies.

He talked about the “free” tools on the market and how they create “surveillance capital” which is “inhuman…it undermines us as individuals.”

Essentially, Keen thinks that the way we work human in the digital age is to reshape the technology before that technology shapes us. For that we need:
– Regulation to defend what it means to be human
– To attack the monopolies
– Governments, the “adults,” to step in

He also thinks that education can address the challenge, thereby bulking up “the muscle of creativity. We must focus on the human, develop of the tools in education…to create empathy, ability to talk to people, to look them in the eye.”

From the Digital Transformation (DX) Stage

I was given the honor of moderating the DX stage. Here’s the [literally] round-the-world recap of the sessions, presented by CHRO’s, VP’s of HR, CIO’s, etc. I’ve added a little color on each.

Margaret Greenleaf – Roche – Triggering Transformation

  • Roche moved from a mindset of “more info is better” to targeted, just in time information. This frees up HR to go from expert to coach.
  • Training shouldn’t have to leave your systems. It should be targeted by role, process and action.
  • It’s important to surmount the “Uh oh” moment at go live.
  • OK, I might have called it an “oh sh$$” moment…but I actually do see that as a big barrier to true transformation. It really speaks to the change management that MUST accompany any transformation.

Jonathan Parsons – Triumph – Matching External and Internal Brand

  • Triumph was dealing with the disappointment from new hires and the perception of what your Mom thinks you do at work and what you actually do. They attract motorcycle enthusiasts…but then they show up and do the daily work.
  • HR Systems, and the removal of the manual input, can help if the software feels contemporary.
  • This has been a consistent theme with our clients…how can you even pretend to transform when your employees are lamenting your internal systems. I don’t really see this as transformative, but rather a necessary step on the journey.

Claudio Deriu – AXA – A Digitalization Journey

  • They were able to create a modern and efficient HR, thus liberating their current work.
  • They believe that HR should be able to withstand cost pressures and invest in employees.
  • That last point was insightful…in order for the people management function to actually accomplish its objectives, it needs the financial support of the organization. What your leadership needs in order to make that business case varies but is a necessary step in the process.

Marcus Millership – Rolls-Royce – Building Workforce of the Future

  • Millennials don’t want to enter a workplace that isn’t fully digitalized.
  • Types of people they RR brings in is massively shifting
  • Trying to get a 114 year old industrial giant to act like a startup…one example is their R2 Data Labs, where tiny little robots that scurry around the engine with cameras…instead of having to take it apart
  • Implemented a global HRIS to deliver workforce of the future
  • This speaks to the point in my last article about digital transformation being a journey that started well before you build your current intitiatives.


Esther Perel hit the main stage at the end of Day 1. Being a Belgian psychotherapist who works primarily on relationships, it was an interesting spin on “unleashing” the workforce. We all know how important the topic is, though. Every day we’re bringing our personal relationships to work…if only in our minds. Therefore, exploring relationship topics is important for work itself. One interesting point she made is that we have a present day expectation that our significant others will be able to deliver on the world of the divine which used to be more prevalently handled by organized religion and community.

In sum, Esther told us that “your relationships are your story, I urge you to write often and edit well.”

Also part of the intermission was a great party hosted by Indeed at The Roast Room.

Day 2 of the DX Stage

Olivier Lo Monaco – Société Générale – Turning an Evault Inititiative into Digital Transformation

  • They’ve made all paperwork digital and are pushing more and more to have digital capabilities.
  • They created Your Own Digital Assistant (YODA) – a personal chat bot
  • They incorporate the concepts of team spirit, innovation, responsibility and commitment
  • Yeah, paper really isn’t a component of your digitally transformed organization. This is just checking one of the boxes (digitally of course)

Klara Jappelova – Raiffensen Bank – Creating Global Standard With Local Flavor

  • They use an interesting spin on the 80/20 rule for each design decision: 80% globally aligned, and 20% to the local needs
  • Configuration happens in the Competence Center
  • They didn’t want to bend the system to meet their needs…but rather to do things the other way around. This (in the author’s opinion) leads to significantly less technical debt
  • Really loved the 80/20 rule’s application to global configuration decisions. I asked Klara if there was any science to that, and she said that it was arbitrary but helped guide their analysis.

Nico Orie – Coca-Cola European Partners – Improving the ROI of the Employee Experience

This was the most highly attended session, and my theory is that it highlighted the importance of productivity, tying perfectly with the opening session by Bersin.

  • There’s an increasing pressure coming from information overload and high change environments
  • HR has to become a champion of employee time
  • Ironically he suggested fewer notifications from systems…and an overall reduction in time spent on HR processes
  • They implemented a search feature for all HR info…including your own personal information (searching “vacation days” brings back company policies and your time used and accrued).
  • He warned that big full-suite systems effectively only do part of the onboarding process
  • They set out to give back 1 million hours to their employees
  • They also implemented “light touch” performance management
  • I’ve used the “fewer notifications” approach several times just since the conference. Nico really spoke to the masses. “Giving back time” to the employees…what a novel concept. While, again, these are components of a DX strategy, they do seem to free up the organization to reach higher levels especially for today’s overwhelmed workers.

Agnes Jongkind – Deutsche Telekom – From Traditional HR to the Digital Future

  • Using gamification as a candidate pre-selection to do further rounds in selection process.
  • Ironically she warned that people don’t tend to like digital learning that much
  • HR really has the responsibility to shape the digital company
  • Hmm…how to surmount this paradox…we need employees learning but they don’t actually like digital learning. Seems like the gamification mentioned in her point about talent acquisition might need to further pervade the L&D function

Gloria Akpojabo- Fidelity International – Transformation through Employee Self Service and Automation

  • User adoption is key – not only did they implement a global suite but they also layered on an adoption tool to ensure a seamless employee experience
  • The ability to conduct cyclical processes reduces HR’s training and support burden and frees them up for real transformation
  • Again, successful adoption it is a pre-requisition for DX, and embedded tools like WalkMe (used by Fidelity International) and AppLearn are good options.

Add these learnings in the main sessions to a jam-packed expo hall and it made for a great couple of days in The ‘Dam.




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