James Edgar is the Global Chief Talent Officer, Wavemaker. In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, James shares how organizations can build a culture that keeps employees engaged and leverage technology for transforming the workplace.
What do you think makes the majority of employees disengaged at work?
Employee engagement depends upon how well (or not) an employer answers the question “what’s in it for me?” It is a simple question with a complex answer. I think about it as having layers – at the base, there are layers based on security, pay and working conditions. If these things are not delivered, you can start to erode the relationship. If they are, the relationship is solid but this is just the start.
“Long-term engagement or motivation is more about a personal dynamic, what drives the individual and how the company can match up to this.”
This is where layers of purpose, development and mastery, autonomy, achievement, connection to others (team and organization) and culture come in, with each layer varying in importance for every individual. This is a dynamic relationship and so continues to evolve, due to changes the employee goes through in terms of what is important to them, or the shifts a company can go through. It’s one that needs to be worked on continually.
How do you think the employer brand plays a role in making organizations irresistible for candidates and sticky for employees?
The employer brand is key. For me, the employer brand is a combination of the employer proposition (what does the employer offer?) and the employee experience (what the employee actually receives). The employer proposition helps to position the company in what it does, how it does it and what it offers employees, for example, development, exciting clients, progression, a logo on a CV. A strong brand differentiates a company from its competitors.
For me, it is critical that the employee experience validates the proposition. If you say you offer something and end up failing to deliver, you lose credibility and people’s trust. This is hard to gain back. Part of our work at Wavemaker has been to build our employee value proposition (EVP) while staying in constant touch with how our Future Makers feel. It is a constant cycle – we continue to adapt our culture and offering to meet the changing needs of our workforce, ensuring that people want to work for us, and feel proud that they do or did work for us.
What are some of the components of a culture that makes an employer brand a destination employer and engages employees over the long run?
We have worked hard in clarifying our purpose as Future Makers based on three simple elements:
Caring – about clients and each other. Celebrating the unique talents each of our 8500 employees bring to the office everyday and building an environment that allows each of their whole selves to flourish.
Creating – amazing work using a magical combination of insights and creativity that fuels our clients’ growth, builds our company’s reputation and makes our employees proud of the caliber of work they do with brilliant brands.
Growing – growing clients but also employees in their jobs so that they can have amazing experiences and careers that help them develop beyond what they thought possible.
I am reminded of a great quote – “culture are the actions we take when no-one is looking”. For me, it is important that we support and nurture our culture so that we can live it, rather than be told to do so via posters on a wall.
While technology is rapidly transforming the world of work, why do you think the future of work can still be human?
Technology is a great enabler and is developing exponentially. But work will still rely on interaction and this requires human contact. As we see more automation and greater efficiency, I think we will also see a shift in the type of work available.
“The entry points that I had into work are not the entry points that my children will have.”
This will disrupt traditional career paths but I hope it will also create new opportunities for employees. Being a quick learner, adaptable and curious will be key in this new landscape. These qualities, with the ability to see connections and work within an ecosystem (not just one team), will all require uniquely human skills.
How do you think HR technology will transform the future of work?
I don’t think it is about HR technology, but technology in its widest sense. We are now seeing the impact on employees of an ‘always-on society’, speed and connectivity, and this requires careful thought about how we can connect virtual teams, and create culture and identity in a more fragmented world. There will be an increased currency in collaboration and knowledge sharing supported by technology.
There is an interesting dynamic in the new employment relationship. We are moving from one employer for life to a string of employers, as well as more people setting up ‘side businesses’ or working for themselves. New generations with new expectations will change the way we plan our workforce and contract with them. I think we’ll employ people on new terms, with more project/timed-bound relationships. Twinned with automation and AI replacing some roles, the shape and size of organizations are likely to change. This will have an impact on traditional views of recruitment, selection and career paths.
I also think there will be a change in the organization’s role in wellbeing. In a world where aspects of our lives are becoming blended, e.g. work, caring and social, there could be a need to rethink mental and physical wellbeing and the role of the organization in this. This is something that is very close to my heart.
How can technology help organizations to build a culture that can engage and retain employees?
I see a parallel between what’s happened in the consumer experience with what will happen in employment experience. This ranges from the type of technology we use and how quickly we adapt to it, to changing expectations of the employee experience itself. Data and insights will play an ever-more important role in evolving what employees want from their employer.
As a result, I am a big believer in using approaches and technologies to benefit the employees that we use for clients. For example, we are seeing rapid advances in how we use data to serve consumers with relevant and tailored messaging. I believe that this same technology can provide more personalized experiences for employees – an end to one-size-fits-all offers. We can develop more effective ways to gather employee feedback on changes, co-creating experiences and providing more choice. I see new systems and platforms that are supporting this but nothing that ties the whole journey together yet.
Another example is the rise of virtual reality and technology. VR provides huge opportunities in supporting consumer journeys but also supporting learning and development for employees. Technology is also breaking down barriers and making things more transparent. Platforms like Glassdoor and Linkedin have democratized information and employers need to manage both what employees think of them and what exists about their brand externally.
This will have a knock-on effect on the skills and capabilities that a People function needs. The use of data, insight, analytics and a focus on employee experience will grow. There will be much more of a marketing approach and product development thrust to help harness and deliver this.
What is your one advice for employers to improve the employee experience and create a great work culture that people will love?
Take it seriously, invest time and resources, and be authentic.
“Company culture and the employee experience are dynamic – they need to evolve to stay relevant and will be undone if you don’t live up to what you offer.”