Workplaces today are under disruption by a range of factors, including shifting demographics, relentless business change, and global economic forces.

The power of new technologies to address this disruption is directly related to an organization’s ability to integrate those technologies into work and transform the ways people create value.

Therefore, HR should “become” digital, effectively integrating the workforce, the workplace and people operations as it simultaneously implements new technologies.

HR professionals are increasingly tasked with delivering a highly customized, unique, and streamlined talent experience—and to do this effectively, they should develop what we call a “systemic relationship with talent.”

Deloitte research shows that organizations that focus on developing this “systemic relationship with talent” are more likely to reap the demonstrated benefits of superior business, talent, and financial outcomes.

At the same time, the gap between the perceived importance of workforce development and L&D’s readiness to meet workforce development needs grows wider. Since 2014, the gap has increased 430%.

While the importance of people analytics is widely recognized, few organizations are actually prepared to implement it and take advantage of its use. Only 32% feel their organizations were ready or somewhat ready for people analytics initiatives.

According to Sylvain Newton, the pace of technological transformation has enabled business model innovation along various parts of their value chain. This constant state of disruption has been described as a state of “always-on transformation” by Boston Consulting Group.

Talent and development’s role in this process, being both an architect at the very heart of the change and a subject affected by it, is a conundrum that requires new solutions and practices.

The aim will be for talent and development professionals to evolve from solutions providers to architects of sustained growth, shifting from managing processes to driving outcomes and creating a significant impact within the organization.

Talent development designs capabilities and culture by enabling all employees to reach their full potential. For example, a critical capability for talent and development will be to increase the level of digital enablement in the organization.

Another essential evolution is moving the performance management system from a process to a discussion.

Refocus the exercise on the step that matters most:

the dialogue between managers and their employees.

What does it take to create a high-performing, inclusive culture?

Deloitte research on high-impact talent management and high-impact diversity and inclusion (D&I) has insights on ways to do just this! It reveals that high-performing, inclusive organizations fundamentally approach their relationship with talent differently. These organizations are moving away from using programs as primary interventions and instead are focusing on building cultures with activities, symbols, brands, and other approaches that make inclusiveness a part of how work gets done.

For example, General Electric is implementing an app “[email protected],” enabling leaders and employees to share regular insights on each other’s performance.

GE managers used to meet with employees once a year, rank them, and fire the bottom 10%. But many firms have been moving away from that practice, which GE Head of Human Resources Susan Peters told Quartz has “become more a ritual than moving the company upwards and forwards.”

Managers are GE will now give more constant feedback about their employees’ work through an app called “[email protected],” which stands for “performance development at GE.” Employees will have a concrete list of short-term goals to work towards, while managers are expected to hold frequent discussions about employees’ progress. Employees can also use the app to request feedback at any time.

Managers will still meet with employees at the end of each year. But they’ll be expected to act more as coaches, guiding their employees on how best to achieve their goals.

Managers will still meet with employees at the end of each year. But they’ll be expected to act more as coaches, guiding their employees on how best to achieve their goals.

Finally, talent and development should be at the heart of an organization’s culture. One way to do so is through consistent storytelling; focus on what distinguishes an organization from others. Collecting and sharing those companies’ stories is a powerful way to crystallize what a culture should be and to embed it in the organization’s memory.

Sharing insights across an organization, a value-chain or even an ecosystem can be a source of competitive advantage.

Google’s “Re.Work” site is a great example of an open platform that shares leadership and development practices for free.

Now, anyone wanting to adopt other Google HR practices has a dedicated place to look. Google launched what it calls a “curated platform” on the Web for sharing management ideas—both its own and those of other companies. Called re:Work, the new site features research-backed examples of how Google approaches things like hiring and anti-bias training, providing free public tools such as slide decks and checklists that the company uses internally.

“We have an explicit strategy of wanting to open-source more of what we do on the inside,” Laszlo Bock, the company’s head of “people operations,” said in an interview with The Washington Post.

The site will also feature other companies: case studies of employers like Wegmans and JetBlue, a blog about new management trends and academic research where it hopes to start conversations with outsiders, and, eventually, even more guides on topics like hiring and “people analytics” from other companies.

This exercise in transparency is not entirely new for a company that has, as its mission statement, a goal of making the world’s information “universally accessible.” The company held an event to swap tactics and ideas on changing the nature of work that brought together academics, major corporate HR chiefs, and leaders from startups and nonprofits.

Laszlo Bock, also published a book that went deep into many of Google’s data-driven HR techniques.

Laszlo Bock of Google says its study found that a boss’s technical expertise was less important than “being accessible.” CreditPeter DaSilva for The New York Times

Google is also far from the only company to release details about its internal practices. Facebook shared its unconscious bias training, creating a site that includes videos and slides of the social network’s approach to fighting implicit bias. Companies, such as ZapposDisney and Ritz-Carlton, have even created businesses around helping to train others in their approach to culture or customer service.

“What’s especially unusual about it is Google is not only sharing what they’ve learned, but actually trying to get other organizations to do it better too,” said Adam Grant, a professor at the Wharton School who has worked jointly with Google on research in the past.

Unconscious biases are created and reinforced by our environments and experiences. Our mind is constantly processing information, oftentimes without our conscious awareness. When we are moving fast or lack all the data, our unconscious biases fill in the gaps, influencing everything from product decisions to our interactions with coworkers. There is a growing body of research — led by scientists at Google — surrounding unconscious bias and how we can prevent it from negatively impacting our decision making. The goal is to teach ourselves how unconscious bias can affect our perceptions, decisions, and interactions. It is aimed at raising awareness, sparking conversation, and initiating action. 

Google’s unconscious bias training available on the new site. Unconscious biases are created and reinforced by our environments and experiences. Our mind is constantly processing information, oftentimes without our conscious awareness. When we are moving fast or lack all the data, our unconscious biases fill in the gaps, influencing everything from product decisions to our interactions with coworkers. There is a growing body of research – led by scientists at Google – surrounding unconscious bias and how we can prevent it from negatively impacting our decision making.

It goes beyond a video of the training Google had previously shared online—adding slide presentations complete with talking points as well as step-by-step instructions for facilitators, even including a minute-by-minute breakdown of how to lead the workshop.

The re:Work site also lists research papers it recommends reading, describes how company leadership got behind the idea, and shares stories about where Google itself has gone wrong.

Of course, some could wonder why it’s worth taking advice on unconscious bias from a company where just 18 percent of technology jobs are filled by women—or on, say, recruiting from a place that can already be choosier than Harvard or Yale.

Wharton’s professor Adam Grant, whose book, Give and Take, examines the benefits of helping others, also sees a more tangible payoff for Google: even more talented people. Great employees are attracted to generous employers, and “any small cost of another company copying Google’s practices will be far outweighed by the benefit of attracting that kind of employee,” Grant said. “It’s so consistent with the company’s mission, I would be more surprised if they were unwilling to share this information.”

Cisco’s Leadership Dashboard is another example.

Each leader has a page, accessible for all employees, summarizing multiple sources of information such as their personal results in the last employee’s survey feedback, outputs of their 360-degree review, and awards received for particular performance. The aim is to make the effect of their leadership practices transparent and available for all.

Furthermore, “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries demonstrates a successful case of building learning into the very DNA of business.

The Lean Startup is a new approach being adopted across the globe, changing the way companies are built and new products are launched.

Eric Ries defines a startup as an organization dedicated to creating something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty. This is just as true for one person in a garage or a group of seasoned professionals in a Fortune 500 boardroom.

What they have in common is a mission to penetrate that fog of uncertainty to discover a successful path to a sustainable business.

The Lean Startup approach fosters companies that are both more capital efficient and that leverage human creativity more effectively.  Inspired by lessons from lean manufacturing, it relies on “validated learning,” rapid scientific experimentation, as well as a number of counter-intuitive practices that shorten product development cycles, measure actual progress without resorting to vanity metrics, and learn what customers really want. It enables a company to shift directions with agility, altering plans inch by inch, minute by minute.

Ries provides a scientific approach to creating and managing successful startups in a age when companies need to innovate more than ever, and poin ts the way to co-creation, by positioning it as the key metric for resource deployment. As such learning becomes the new business currency.

Knewton’s Smart Learning paths is a great example that uses algorithms to create adaptive learning solutions. Digital classes adapt in real-time based on participants’ learning patterns. Knewton’s pioneering approach to adaptive learning draws on each student’s own history, how other students like them learn, and decades of research into how people learn to improve future learning experiences.

For example, business students at the University of Maryland must take an introductory finance course with an optional Study Plan powered by Knewton. The half of students who made more use of this individualized practice scored 11 percent higher on exams than their classmates.

Finally, technology connection plays a critical role in enabling HR analytics.

Google’s Oxygen Project is a well-documented example. Analytics can be found at the very beginning of the people value chain in strategic workforce planning. By designing and deploying a highly practical quantitative and qualitative analysis of an organization’s capabilities needs, leaders create the strategic agenda require to connect talent and development solutions to the most pressing business priorities.

“Google is really at the leading edge of that,” says Todd Safferstone, managing director of the Corporate Leadership Council of the Corporate Executive Board, who has a good perch to see what H.R. executives at more than 1,000 big companies are up to.

PROJECT OXYGEN started with some basic assumptions.

People typically leave a company for one of three reasons, or a combination of them.

  • The first is that they don’t feel a connection to the mission of the company, or sense that their work matters.
  • The second is that they don’t really like or respect their co-workers.
  • The third is they have a terrible boss — and this was the biggest variable.

Google, where performance reviews are done quarterly, rather than annually, saw huge swings in the ratings that employees gave to their bosses.

Managers also had a much greater impact on employees’ performance and how they felt about their job than any other factor, Google found.

“The starting point was that our best managers have teams that perform better, are retained better, are happier — they do everything better,” Bock says. “So the biggest controllable factor that we could see was the quality of the manager, and how they sort of made things happen. The question we then asked was: What if every manager was that good? And then you start saying: Well, what makes them that good? And how do you do it?”

In Project Oxygen, the statisticians gathered more than 10,000 observations about managers — across more than 100 variables, from various performance reviews, feedback surveys and other reports. Then they spent time coding the comments in order to look for patterns.

Once they had some working theories, they figured out a system for interviewing managers to gather more data, and to look for evidence that supported their notions. The final step was to code and synthesize all those results — more than 400 pages of interview notes — and then they spent much of last year rolling out the results to employees and incorporating them into various training programs.

The process of reading and coding all the information was time-consuming. This was one area where computers couldn’t help, says Michelle Donovan, a manager of people analytics who was involved in the study.

“People say there’s software that can help you do that,” she says. “It’s been our experience that you just have to get in there and read it.”

Given the familiar feel of the list of eight qualities, the project might have seemed like an exercise in reinventing the wheel. But Google generally prefers, for better or worse, to build its own wheels.

Once Google had its list, the company started teaching it in training programs, as well as in coaching and performance review sessions with individual employees. It paid off quickly.

“We were able to have a statistically significant improvement in manager quality for 75 percent of our worst-performing managers,”  Bock says.

Technology’s ultimate aim should be to make work and relationships more human.

By using its capacity to analyze large sets of data to create insights, and its ability to connect communities via social networking tools, the best solutions will be mostly invisible to the users, yet profoundly transformative to the learning process.

In concluding, Sylvain Newton reminds us that while the expectations are high, so are the risks inherent in digital transformation.

Potential success will only be limited by the creativity and change mastery of the talent and development professionals to integrate them into their people value chains.

HR practitioners, as designers of sustained growth, bear the responsibility to create people-centric experiences of technology. As Gianpiero Petriglieri, professor of organisational behaviour at INSEAD wrote in “How to make technology more human,” “the imbalance between humanism and instrumentality in designing and using technology is risky. … It is humanity that keeps power in check.”

“Much like those old trains, we might not control the speed of technological advance, but we can still make plenty of choices about where we’re going.

There is no going back, which makes it all the more important to consider what it means to move forward, rather than simply applauding or lamenting how fast we go.”

Sylvain Newton is the People Sourcing and Development Leader at Allianz, Advisor and Program Director of Leveraging Neuroscience to Power Organizational and Individual Performance at Columbia Business School Executive Education and Executive Fellow at the Center for the Future of Organization from the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management.