Podcast: Marcus Buckingham and ADP’s HR XPerience Score

Business People

Mark Feffer:

Welcome to PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. I’m Mark Feffer. The HR experience score, it’s a metric developed by ADP Research Institute. It measures the quality of HR services, HRs impact, and other attributes that correlate to a strong, talent brand seen through the lens of employee experience. ADP unveiled it at the HR Technology Conference. Joining me today is Marcus Buckingham, head of people and performance research at the ADP Research Institute. He’ll talk about what the score does and how it can be used all on this edition of PeopleTech. Marcus, thanks for being with us. So I was reading the reports this morning. And could you explain the HRXPS and why it mattered?

Marcus Buckingham:

Yeah. Well, it began actually with Srini, who’s a CHR of ADP saying, I want to figure out how effective the HR function is. We’re spending so much money on technology and so much effort on HR transformation and doing the right thing for our employees during this time. And I want to know how we’re doing from an employee sentiment standpoint, an employee experience standpoint. And when you go and look for anything that actually measures that reliably, it’s bizarre that the HR function doesn’t have anything like that. We don’t really have a way, a reliable way to measure how people are responding and receiving the experiences of the HR function. So we set out to build one. We set out to build a thermometer, if you like that measures in a way that’s distinct from your experience of your team, experience of your team leader, that is actually measuring something discreet that relates to your experience of the HR function.

So we set out to do that. I interviewed about 33,000 people around the world, four different stratified random samples of employees around the world. Experimented with close to 70 different items that capture people’s experiences of HR, whittled it down, because no matter how much we loved some of the questions, some of them just didn’t add much explanatory power. Some of them were redundant. Some of them simply didn’t perform the way that we expected them to perform. So you cull, you kind of cut out all the ones that don’t work from a psychometric standpoint. And we ended up with 15 items and these 15 items, they’re not necessarily every single item that you might want to ask someone in terms of their experience of HR, but they are as we’ve currently analyzed through the research, these are the 15 best questions to capture what people really want from HR.

And when you start measuring that, just start looking at whether people see HR as value promoting or on the other extreme value detracting, you can start seeing what behavior that then predicts. And for the first time ever, we’re in a position to be able to say people who see the HR function as value promoting are far more likely and inside of the presentation, we can actually see the exact percentages, but far more likely to advocate the company to friends and families as a place to work. Far less likely to be actively interviewing to leave. And in terms of actually following their behavior three months later, far less likely to actually leave. So if any HR person wanted to be able to establish for their CEO, just how powerful the HR function is in driving the company’s talent brand during some of arguably the tightest labor markets we’ve ever seen, this research can give them the ammunition and the data that they need to be able to prove the power and the influence of a really well run HR function. We’ve never had that before.

Mark:

Yeah. That’s interesting. Especially when you consider how out of step HR often feels with the rest of the company.

Marcus:

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it’s funny, my grandfather was in HR, my father was in HR, everyone’s doing kind of important work. My grandfather was doing demobilization after the second world war. My dad was doing collective bargaining agreements and relationships between trade unions and management, all sorts of interesting stuff. Today, of course, we’re doing all sorts of fun and interesting things around hybrid work and remote work. And all super interesting. What we’ve never really had is a way to say, how does the performance of the HR function drive some of the most important things that concern the business as a whole?

In this case right now, does the HR function at all drive talent brand? How much? And right now it’s really, really clear that how I experience whether the experience of the HR function is just changing my status in terms of married and single, or maybe it’s changing my new role, because I just got promoted. Or maybe it’s an employee relations issue, almost kind of any interaction with HR isn’t a cost to be reduced. It’s an opportunity to create value, which gets manifested in whether or not I’m going to go advocate the company is a place to work in my community, which is huge right now.

Mark:

Right. Now there are a couple things that struck me. The idea of employees having a single point of contact in HR, the number of interactions they have with HR.

Marcus:

Yeah.

Mark:

Use of multiple HR services. These all seem to matter in putting this together. And so it seems like a personalized, active HR experience is a key. And do I have that right?

Marcus:

Yeah. Well, we looked, I mean, first of all, we looked at what does the experience of HR drive? And it drives some of the things I just mentioned, talent, brand, whether or not I stay with the company. And then of course the other side of that is what drives it, what drives people’s positive experiences of HR? And the two biggest findings there Mark, are really counterintuitive and certainly fly completely in the face of the direction of most of the mega trends in HR. The first one is, yeah, we ask people, do you have a single point of contact? Do you have multiple points of contact? Do you have no points of contact? If you have a single point of contact, more than multiple, a single point of contact, you are far more likely to have a positive HR experience and therefore far more likely to advocate the company.

So initially what that means is I’m a full human, I’m not a segmented human. Whether I’m calling HR to talk about a family leave issue or I’m calling HR to talk about some health benefits issue, I don’t want my first move to be sent off to a call center in some vertical parallel center of excellence. And then when I have a different question I want to be sent off to a different call center. I don’t want immediately to be split up as a human. I want someone, or maybe some piece of tech to go, I get it. You’re a full human and let me help you navigate what can otherwise be a really complicated world. And in this sense, HR is a bit like healthcare. We don’t want the person who’s working on our physical therapy to not be speaking to the person who’s operating on our body or a person who’s trying to figure out how to help us retain our mobility.

We want all of those people to come together. We want them to see us as a whole patient, same is true in HR. We want apparently, we want the first point of contact to be someone who gets us, who gets us as a whole human. Now immediately after that, they could send us off to, Hey, you want to talk about insurance, go over here. You want to talk about health benefits, go over here. But we want somebody to play quarterback for us. And then the second thing as you mentioned Mark is, we looked at all the different points of contact that you could have with HR. And of course there’s a pretty big movement in HR to kind of disintermediate, like just remove HR from the equation. So it’s like self-service for employees. And while some of that may be useful, it does seem as though from this data anyway, the more frequent interactions you have with HR, the more likely you are to advocate the company as a place to work.

Each interaction point is an opportunity to add value to that employee’s experience if done well. And so, although we probably should be using tech to do what tech does well, some of the immediate responsive, or immediate accessible, or immediate accuracy things that we need, we still as humans, because sort of everything to do with HR is fraught. It is emotionally fraught. We see each interaction point as a chance to feel heard, and seen, and taken care of. And so just to say to employees, Hey, from now on no HR function, you can do it yourself, everything, would seem to be a missed opportunity. Although, we might be able to build tech that does that, we ought to at least ask ourselves whether we are missing an opportunity to add value through individual contact, individual understanding, individual empathy.

Mark:

In your experience, how do HR leaders use benchmarks and and how can they use this one?

Marcus:

Well, our hope for this one is that we would give a thermometer rather than just a benchmark, think about it like a thermometer. Can we give senior HR professionals a way to ascertain what’s working and what’s not? And can we guide people toward the most value adding elements of the equation? What is HR doing that’s actually not just… Quite a lot of HR is thought of as sort of a cost center and we need to reduce the cost. And obviously we do need to reduce the friction. We don’t want to add friction to our people’s worlds, but what can HR leaders do to really add value to an employee’s experience? Everyone’s talking about employee experience these days, which they should. And so where’s the HR role in creating a really, really positive employee experience? We could all have theories about it.

We could all have sort of ideas about it, but what we were hoping with this thermometer is that it would enable you as an HR professional to really take your responsibility seriously. And to be able to ascertain which of the things we’re trying works for which audiences. We’re living in a world Mark, of a ton of opinion. So many presentations, so many articles beginning with the words, I think that, well, I think that this, and I think that that, and some of those opinions are just fine. But what we were looking to do is to put some data into this. I mean, that’s really the mission of the ADP Research Institute is bring primary quantitative data to opinion.

And so you think about what HR leaders can do. It’s like if you’ve got a thermometer, you could start going, all right, well, let’s try a few different prescriptions, try some different tech, try some different HR transformations. But in the end, we need to have some way of going what works. So our hope with this thermometer isn’t that it becomes the only dial on your dashboard, but it becomes a really important dial on your dashboard as an HR executive to figure out what’s working for you and for which populations is it working for you.

Mark:

Now, one of the things the study mentioned is that employees tend to have a pretty uniform view of HR, no matter what their education, type of job, things like that didn’t really seem to matter. What does that tell you about HRs place in the organization?

Marcus:

Well, so what you’re referring to is that we looked at like, what drives people’s experience of HR. And we looked at full-time versus part-time, we looked at education, we looked at level. None of those really do a very powerful job in explaining the variation in how people experience HR. And so what that implies to me anyway, and of course, somebody else might have a different interpretation of the data, but my interpretation of the data is that humans are humans are humans are humans. And when we look at the experiences that humans want from their HR function, we identified five. We don’t find a difference in how people perceive HR according to their level, according to their education, according to what their employment status is. Instead, we find that every single employee seems to want the same five things from HR. We want to feel, first of all, that HR gives us what we need.

Second, that HR makes us feel safe in terms of what we share or in terms of retribution if we share difficult things. Third, we want to feel as though HR values us and understands us as a human, as an individual. Fourth, we want HR to be part of helping us grow and get better. And fifth and finally, if you have all those first four experiences, do I feel as though HR truly cares about me as an individual, like truly do I trust that HR cares about me? You put those five things together and it seems as though those five things, those five experiences are things that every single employee wants regardless of their level, their role, their title, their geography, everybody wants them.

Mark:

My last question is what does all of this say about technology’s role in HR? And let’s call it people operations. Do you think the use of this benchmark will impact technology’s role or just confirm what people already know?

Marcus:

I hope it completely transforms how people think about the role of technology. I think without a metric such as this, we might continue on down the path that we’re currently on and the path we’re currently on at a slight risk of generalizing but, it sure seems to me is that the part we’re currently on is one where we’re trying to use technology. And in some places replace the HR function entirely. This data would suggest that’s a serious mistake. That each HR interaction point has the potential to make me as an employee feel seen, feel safe, feel heard, feel understood. And when we do that, well, that employee charges around advocating the company is a place to work to friends and family. That employee charges around amplifying the company’s talent brand, which is huge. And so technology, what we should be doing is thinking really carefully, not how technology can replace empathetic human interaction, but how technology can provide a platform for and inform empathetic individualized human interaction.

We need to stop seeing HR as a cost to be reduced and start seeing it perhaps as a value source to be amplified. The role of technology is to increase that value, not to try to replace the interaction that’s at the core of that value. Humans, we want to be seen at work. We want to be seen. And one of the causes of our current epidemic of anxious, stressed out alienated workers, is that an awful lot of what we do in HR at the moment, hides people, almost deliberately makes them not seen. And if technology can be refocused to help people feel seen and to provide a platform for an actual human to talk to us and respond to us, then it will be doing a really, really valuable thing. Now that’s not easy to do, Mark. I’m not saying it’s easy, but right now, it seems as though we’re simply using HR to try to replace human understanding and human interaction and that a really significant underutilization of HR.

Mark:

Yeah. Well, Marcus Buckingham, thank you so much for joining us today.

Marcus:

It’s my pleasure as ever.

Mark:

My guest today has been Marcus Buckingham, head of people and performance research at the ADP Research Institute.

And this has been PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. We’re a publication of recruiting daily.

We’re also a part of Evergreen Podcasts. To see all of their programs visit www.evergreenpodcasts.com. And to keep up with HR Technology, visit HCM Technology Report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry, find us at www.hcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.

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