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The metamorphosis mindset

Before embracing next-gen technology, leaders must start with an intellectual reset


Rudy Abrahams is Head, SAP SuccessFactors Southeast Asia

Transformation is not just about technology. That might appear counter-intuitive, but when customers want to fundamentally transform the HR DNA within their organisations, they need to understand that is NOT achieved through technology alone.

To explain, there are so many levels of complexity in modern business, just as there are multiple layers in everyday life. Ironically, this is often due to the very technology that is designed to simplify it. The natural tendency then becomes to engineer more processes to manage the professional (and personal) complexity.

But over-engineered processes only make the workplace (and life) experience more convoluted and stressful. Business leaders often forget that the purpose of technology is to add sophistication to a process in order to make it simpler.

Next-generation technology is transformative insofar as it enables innovation, but some customers buy software with the expectation that it will have an independently transforming effect on legacy procedures. Semantics aside, it’s not the technology’s fault when that doesn’t happen.

While contemporary work has evolved from an employee experience to a “human experience”, the transformation has to start with the leaders themselves. They need to let the implementation of new software challenge their own mindsets, starting a chain reaction that also challenges the mindsets of their people. That’s when the real tech implementation begins.

The da Vinci coda

I love the quote, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”, attributed to Leonardo da Vinci five centuries ago. A visionary with a multi-faceted mind, he was a painter, draftsman, sculptor, architect, theorist and engineer. He knew that technology was necessary for societal development, but with the intention of minimising additional complexity.

Real innovation is supposed to simplify ideas, products or methods, yet people get confused by digital transformation FOMO and a compulsive urge for constant reinvention. Next-gen technology enables a complete re-evaluation of policies and processes relative to new capabilities. But companies have sometimes spent so much developing the previous generation of tech that they find it impossible to let go.

We all seem to have an eccentric family member who hoards useless junk in case it comes in handy one day. You know that if they threw everything out and started again, their lives would be far simpler. But until they do, it just gets in the way. Which makes it a mindset issue, doesn’t it? The same reasoning applies in the corporate world, too.

So let’s think outside the cocoon here. Mixing metaphors with metamorphosis, HXM is the winged, social butterfly that has emerged after being cocooned as the flightless, solitary HCM caterpillar. They are two incredible creatures and yet while the fantastical butterfly has evolved into a more complex creature, its attitude and behaviours remain rooted in simplicity.

The path to HXM

You can see where this is going, right? HXM is next-gen software which, if executives permit it to challenge their mindsets, can enable companies to metamorphose from outdated HCM thinking to become far more sophisticated - and yet much simpler.

I call this the Metamorphosis Mindset. HXM software, after all, is just a tool. Leaders must first transform themselves and also the hearts and minds of their people before they can unlock the full potential of transformative technology.

Recently, a celebration post for another company flashed through my Linkedin feed. The gist of it was that 60% of the author’s team had quit and been replaced since the pandemic began. Amazing, isn’t it? In pre-pandemic times, change on that massive scale would have been unbelievable, but feel free to pick your buzzword or buzz phrase: hybrid work, new normal, great resignation or whatever, the seismic shift in employee attitudes to life and work is permanently locked in.

The loss of employees is not just about balancing the numbers of those who leave and those who replace them. Those are quantifiable. But there are no comprehensive metrics to measure the unquantifiable – the erosion of intellectual capital.

A colleague once told me about a prominent company that enforced major staff cuts around the time of the Y2K issue. Within a year, 50 senior people had left. Assuming that each of them had an average of 20 years’ experience, the company was suddenly stripped of 1000 years of cumulative experience. In this case, the quantifiable factor was the amount saved on the payroll. However, the unquantifiable element was the loss of established experience and operational wisdom and the flow-on effect in the workplace.

Back then, human capital management was not even a blip on the global radar. The concept of “employee experience” is still relatively fresh, but in the HCM (human capital management) context, people were seen more a resource than an asset. The advent of HXM meant that this equation evolved so as to manage people-assets in a way that HCM never could.

The twist in this tale is that the employee experience tended to start and stop at the entrance to the building. Now, in the hybrid work era, the building no longer plays such a significant role!

Hybrid-era empathy

During a recent virtual meeting, a customer suddenly leapt out of his chair and ran out the door, only returning minutes later to apologetically explain that he had to break up a fight between his kids. Everyone understood immediately. Each of us empathised. No one judged him. That could be us at any moment.

Life is asynchronous and messy, but where work once was predictable and well-defined, it has blended into life’s colourful background. Life and work are now integrated, wherein emails, family, colleagues, housework, video meetings, friends, home-schooling, health, meals (and meditation) have all merged in a way that was not previously considered possible or even homogenous.

Perhaps the adage about people spending one-third of their lives at work needs to be updated to say that work now spends one-third of its time in people’s lives.

A chameleon’s skin changes colour to blend into its natural surroundings, in response to emotion or danger. And in much the same way, to their undeniable credit, employees the world over have adapted, chameleon-like, to changed circumstances, even while they were filled with fear and uncertainty. As distinct from loyalty, leaders must recognise the humanity, grit and perseverance our teams have displayed in the most trying of times.

After almost two years of life-work integration, the world has changed, our people have changed and we leader leopards must change our spots. Now is the time for leaders to focus on the overall well-being of our teams and the HXM revolution unlocks that.

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