Individuals Adapt to New Technologies Quickly. HR Needs to Catch Up.

To keep up with the pace of digital transformation today, organizations need to build an innovation mindset from within, starting with their human capital management. On this episode of Mastering Innovation on Sirius XM Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School, guest Erica Volini, U.S. Human Capital Leader at Deloitte Consulting, discussed emerging trends and technologies within human resources.

In a tight, fast-changing job market, organizations need to constantly consider how they are interacting with their workforce and providing them opportunities for growth. Volini explained the importance of rethinking every stage of the employee experience, from on-boarding to retirement. She emphasized that opportunities for innovation exist across many aspects of the firm: organizational structures, talent acquisition, degrees of collaboration, employee motivation, and even the firm’s social impact.

An excerpt of the interview is transcribed below. Listen to more episodes here.


Erica Volini
Erica Volini (U.S. Human Capital Leader, Deloitte)

Erica Volini: In today’s world of disruption, there are issues that every single organization needs to face, and that’s probably the biggest difference from the past. It’s not just the tech companies that are dealing with this anymore.

In the labor market we’re in, which is extremely tight right now, every organization is looking for the best talent. They’re looking for talent who will have a digital mindset and bring an innovation mindset. Every organization really needs to be dealing with this particular issue. What’s different about now versus before is the pace of innovation: how quickly it’s coming and how quickly you need to adapt to it.

We do a human capital trends study every year. We’re actually launching our next trends report on April 3. Last year we asked, how is digital actually impacting productivity? Because what we saw is, in this digital industrial revolution, we’re not seeing the productivity gains that we expect to see. We looked and tried to diagnose why. What we found is technology is continuing to enter into our world at an exponential rate. Individuals are adopting that new technology very quickly. A new app comes out. Individuals adapt to it right away, but where there is a significant gap is between the individual and the organization. Organizations are extremely slow to be able to adapt to that new technology, so they’re not getting the productivity gains that you would expect. That’s what’s very different right now, and that’s what’s putting so much pressure on organizations to go through the digital transformation they need and fundamentally change the way their organization behaves to allow that digital mindset to come in.

“Individuals adapt to it right away, but where there is a significant gap is between the individual and the organization. Organizations are extremely slow to be able to adapt.” – Erica Volini

Nicolaj Siggelkow: Just pushing again on digital because clearly, we see a lot of these new technologies arising. What kind of pressures do these digital technologies create inside the firms?

Volini: One is proliferation of data. All these digital technologies are putting data at people’s fingertips. That’s amazing in one sense of the word. Think of all this access to information that you have, but on the other side of it is risk, especially when you’re dealing with personal data and everything that goes around it. How do you have the right controls and the right monitoring in place? How do you have the right policies in place to make sure that you’re using data in the most appropriate manner? That’s definitely a huge concern as digital continues to proliferate.

You have the impact of these new technologies on the way that work’s getting done, or what we call the future of work. These new technologies are coming in. They can help you automate certain processes. They can help you redesign the way work is getting done today. What impact does that have on the workforce? Will the people in the workforce have the right skills? Will they need to be retooled? Will they potentially lose their jobs? How you deal with that impact, the societal impact of that, and the impact on your employment brand and ultimately your corporate brand, is a big challenge that companies are facing today. Actually, that’s a big topic in our trends report that’s coming out because as business is playing a much greater role in society and is more visible to broader society, organizations need to be more thoughtful about the impacts of some of the things they’re doing.

“As business is playing a much greater role in society and is more visible to broader society, organizations need to be more thoughtful about the impacts of some of the things they’re doing.” – Erica Volini

Then, finally, the availability of social media. Digital is great when you think about social. You can put a tweet out there, and millions of people could see it right away. We see that happen all the time. Organizations have to think about how they want to put information out there and how are they are going to make sure that when information gets out there, they have the ability to control it before it starts controlling them.

I would say those are the top three challenges, and they’re really new challenges that organizations need to face. Frankly, it’s not just HR that needs to tackle them. We really believe that in order to meet the human capital challenges that are out there today, the entire C-suite needs to start to work together. It can’t just be delegated to the HR organization. That’s another big shift that we’re seeing for companies.

Siggelkow: You mentioned earlier that the labor market is pretty tight right now. Every company that comes to Wharton says, “Our people are our key assets,” but if we all have the same talent, how can this talent ultimately create a competitive advantage for us? What have you seen of how firms have been able to make this work for them?

Volini: It comes down to a couple of things. First is creating an environment of continuous learning. A lot of organizations are grappling with the millennials coming in, on one hand. On the other hand, they have increased longevity of their population. People are working longer. What the workforce is looking for is an ability to constantly learn and develop that new skills. So, how do organizations create an environment where you can continuously learn, where you have the ability to constantly evolve your skills, so that you are consistently relevant to the workplace, even if it’s outside the four walls of that company? That becomes a very attractive value proposition for talent because they’re sitting there saying, “The new generation of talent might work for 60 or 70 years.” That’s a long career span.

If you compare that to the fact that the average lifespan of a Fortune 500 company is 15 years, then anyone coming in says, “I know I’m going to need to work for multiple companies, so I know I need to constantly be thinking about how attractive I am to the job market.” To me, that’s going to be one of the biggest differentiators out there: growth opportunities.

The other thing that’s important is trust in leadership and the creation of a positive work environment. It goes back to the theme I mentioned earlier about the social impact for organizations. Especially the millennials – we’ve done a number of studies on this – they want to know that the companies they’re working for are making a positive impact on the world. They want to know what the mission and the vision is, and they want to trust that the leaders of that organization are driving that mission and vision. That’s becoming increasingly more important, especially as society is asking businesses to play a bigger role. You can see a lot of organizations, especially in the tech space, have stepped up to play that role and had a much bigger voice out there. That’s becoming increasingly more important to attract this next generation of talent.

“I know I’m going to need to work for multiple companies, so I know I need to constantly be thinking about how attractive I am to the job market.” – Erica Volini

About Our Guest

Erica Volini is the U.S. Human Capital leader for Deloitte Consulting. In this role, she is responsible for the 4,000+ practitioners focused on helping organizations solve their most complex and pressing Human Capital issues. In today’s world of constant disruption, those issues include: Determining the future composition of the workforce; Enabling the digital organization; Managing the cost of labor; and Optimizing the employee experience–all centered around how to optimize the intersection of people and business performance. Throughout her 20 year career, Volini has worked with some of the world’s leading organizations across multiple sectors and geographies and is a frequent speaker on how market trends are impacting the HR organization and profession as a whole. Within Deloitte, she serves as a member of Deloitte Consulting’s Management Committee and Board of Directors. She has a Bachelor of Science in Industrial & Labor Relations from Cornell University. You can follow her on Twitter, @erica_volini.

Mastering Innovation is live on Thursdays at 4:00 p.m. ET. Listen to more episodes here.

Somina Lee is a Production Assistant for the Mack Institute’s radio show, Mastering Innovation. She is a senior in the Huntsman Program, concentrating in Finance and Marketing & Operations Management at the Wharton School and majoring in International Studies in the College of Arts & Sciences.