Empowering employees' HR activities: Johnson Controls' Karen Tan
HR technology has already streamlined the work of many people functions: the next step is to use it to streamline employee experience. For insights on how this can be done, People Matters asked Karen Tan, Director of HR Shared Services at Johnson Controls APAC, to share the approach that she and her team of some 70 people have taken in transitioning to digital tools and worktech.
Johnson Controls started its digital transformation journey several years ago, and the HR department was the first to consolidate its processes into a single global platform; that experience of being a first mover and having to learn the new technology, she says, gave the HR team a leg up when it came to transitioning to tools that employees themselves are expected to use.
Could you share a bit about how HR's digital transformation journey is progressing at Johnson Controls?
For us, the adoption of technology is about talent retention through competitive advantage and enhancing employee experience. We started several years ago with the rollout of a global system to manage HR processes, and we were actually the first department in the organisation to have a single consistent system of this nature.
Our digital technology is categorised into three key areas: AI, automation and robotics, and big data. The AI, automation, and robotics segments are aimed at providing employees with on-demand access to services, allowing them to have control over when and where they get things done. We have a global HR virtual platform which allows employees to access all functions of the global system, and a regional version for APAC. These capabilities played a very important part in our ability to adapt when the pandemic started and everyone had to work from home.
How have you been handling the technology adoption curve?
Change is always a difficult thing, and so we try wherever possible to engage people. We have to help employees understand that the change is to their benefit, and also help them become comfortable with utilising the new tools. And we also spent a lot of time reassuring employees that even though they can now self-service, we aren't going to just leave them to figure things out by themselves.
The learning curve can be very long, and change management is a continuous process. After launching a new system or new tools, we have to take every available opportunity to remind employees that the technology is there for them to use.
Learning becomes a very important part of the journey, especially as we have different employee populations who have different levels of understanding. So our learning department works very closely with the people implementing the systems, in order to equip everyone—starting with our own HR team members—with the necessary skills. Johnson Controls is a digital company, and so it's very important that employees have the relevant digital knowledge.
As I tell my team, “We are not here to fish for them. Our job is to get them to fish by themselves.” Right now, we are walking them through the process, hand-holding them through learning the new systems if needed, because there are always employees who will struggle and we don't want them to feel abandoned to the technology.
When you're investing in new technologies, how do you evaluate their suitability? What kind of returns do you see as the best measure of the investment?
HR might not always be the first department to embark on the digital transformation journey, but when we do, it impacts the whole organisation. So when we bring in new tools, we have to bear in mind that it is not about what HR wants or what the business leaders want. It is about what works for the employees and what they can accept.
We try to ensure the suitability of these tools by engaging users right through the process of development and implementation. By taking in their feedback about what works and what doesn't, we can make changes along the way.
There's no one factor that indicates the success rate of an investment. We do look at the adoption rate: if it is high and people are able to manage HR processes themselves, without having to call on us for assistance, that is a form of success, but it's not meaningful in itself.
What's more meaningful is when the use of the technology leads to greater efficiency and accuracy.
For example, a measure of the success of a learning technology would not just be attendance rates, but also sales performance and the efficiency of the sales teams. Indicators like that do give us comfort that we are on the right track.
A high adoption rate would eventually mean that employees can handle the majority of HR processes themselves. How do you see HR's role evolving as a result?
Of course, the next question is: “Are we in HR going to lose our jobs to automation?” Because the day will come when our assistance is no longer needed.
At that point, we will redirect the time we have saved through these efficiencies, and instead focus on areas of work that the business demands but which we may not have had time to do before.
One of the important areas we focus on is big data. Our systems collect a lot of data, and we're able to turn our resources to cleaning this data and presenting it in a form that's useful for the business. For example, we provide the business leaders with dashboards showing statistics that they can use to make decisions.
Another very important area is talent development. Learning has become more critical with the speed of business change—as I mentioned, just ensuring the digital literacy of employees needs quite an investment of time and effort in learning. It can also be more challenging because of the online format. So it's good that automation allows the team to spend more time on talent development.
It seems the HR function will become more of an analytics function: where do practitioners start in making this transition?
There is quite a lot of learning involved just to get started. The team has to know the basics such as where the data comes from—payroll, HCM, Salesforce—and how to access it, then how to clean, analyse, and present it. For example, we rolled out Power BI within HR to help us present statistics more effectively to the business leaders and share information with them before issues arise, and that required the team to learn how to use the tool.
Training is very important, and our learning team played a big role in preparing the team to understand not just the data itself, but also what part of the data is important to the business. A lot of work also goes into guiding the users of the data, such as managers, to understand what the data means and how to make use of it.
In fact, we have an entire team now that specialises in handling data. Because of this expertise, we can provide managers with predictive data and help them utilise it efficiently.