In a fast-paced industry, the only constant is change, but talking about change and successfully implementing it are two different things. The transformation and technology tools are out there, so why do almost 80 per cent of change initiatives fail? We spoke with Paul Block, global HR operations leader at Twitter, before his appearance at this year’s HR Tech Fest in November. He discusses his role within the international social media giant and why HR technology initiatives aren’t just about implementation – transformation comes from great change management.
How does technology support the HR functions necessary to keep such a large and rapidly expanding organisation cohesive and running smoothly?
Twitter as a company grew so fast – we started from scratch and are now active in 22 countries with 5000 employees. Because we expanded so rapidly, we had to play catch up with a lot of our business processes. For companies that have been around a while, they have many of their processes set; when they do expand, they can fall back on those established frameworks to help guide them. When you don’t have that internal plumbing in place, you have to figure out how you can automate systems, especially in HR, because you need the technology to manage certain functions.
With global organisations, you have to figure out ways to put in systems that talk to each other, because if you don’t it creates manual work and redundancy. Maintaining good workflow is always important, but it’s especially important when your business is expanding. Therefore, streamlining processes becomes critical to creating and maintaining good workflow with employees scattered in different locations. Ultimately, this enable employees and managers to be self-sufficient. We also customise systems to local nuances and requirements, legislation and policies to make it easier for our offices to operate within different countries.
One statistic you quote states that 80 per cent of change efforts fail. Why do you think that is?
Change works in different tiers – large scale and incremental. And there is a difference between organisational change and systems change. When we focus on the systems, we usually focus on project management, so change management often gets overlooked. Organisations implement tools without thinking about first building a change management network. There are different delivery streams to consider, and you need employee and leadership buy-in to effectively communicate change. That can only happen when you take the organisational culture and workforce into consideration.
How can HR get that leadership buy-in to support technology and change initiatives?
Because tech is changing, companies have to be careful about what they purchase and implement. People mostly just want the basics covered – you don’t want some fancy technology you just invested a lot of time and money in to become ‘shelf ware’. Employees want tools that help them do their job and do it well. One good idea is to run a survey to learn what are the pain points for employees and leaders, then see if the financial data backs that up. Once you have data to support any change you want to implement, it’s a lot easier to get that critical support from the executive team.
Some industries and businesses are more change-averse than others. How can change be implemented so it feels organic and doesn’t shock the system?
Start by asking the right questions: Is it just for automation or does the business really need it? Does this support the kind of company we want to be? Then, create a change roadmap. Gather together stakeholders and assign who does what and how they will benefit from this change to get everyone on the same page.
Then it all comes down to planning and education. There is this misconception that once a new tech tool is implemented, jobs are on the line. That is untrue – it’s really just a repurposing and shift from most employees doing smaller tasks to taking on a more managerial role. If you bring employees along throughout the training and implementation process and have them learn why the tool is important, they become more of an advocate for the technology or program within the organisation.
How can HR educate employees about new workplace technologies?
There are some ways you can ease the uptake process on the education side. Create resources for every new initiative that serve multiple adult learning styles, whether that’s video, text, an online intranet and chat forum, support centre or ‘office hours’ for those who want to talk to an actual person about this new piece of technology or system. If you give employees access to information on multiple platforms, they’ll find one that works for them.