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Fostering a Connected Workforce Through Technological Tools

By Jerrold Williams, Chief Human Resources Officer, Hostess Brands, Inc.

Jerrold Williams, Chief Human Resources Officer, Hostess Brands, Inc.

Little excites me like innovative technology – at least in my personal life. When I learn about new technology – from the latest smartphone to a new generation of TVs – I immediately consider how I can benefit from and enjoy using it.

Conversely, whenever I hear about new technology at work, I feel inconvenienced that I must change my habits or learn a new method. I believe that the reason for this resistance is that, in the workplace, leaders generally don’t take the time to promote and educate employees about the new tools we’re using and why.

Technology is an enabler within an organization that serves one main purpose: to foster a positive relationship among leaders and with team members (individual employees). Technology allows us to communicate data and information in ways that we simply could not do in the past. In addition, technology empowers an organization to build capabilities that bring out collaboration and capabilities to drive cutting-edge creativity and actionable insights.

Overall, an investment in technology is a direct expression of a company’s culture. Technology reinforces the message that you want your employees to be successful. When an organization invests in information and tools that team members need to make their jobs and lives easier, they will understand how important their success is to the entire organization.

At Hostess, we are concentrating on how we can leverage technology to connect our team members in ways that are meaningful to them. With employees that span four bakeries, offices in multiple cities and a geographically dispersed sales force, we want and need everyone to remain connected.

We start with asking ourselves four key questions whenever we are implementing new technology and/or communicating with our teams: 1. “What do they need to know?” 2. “Why do they need to know it?” (Does it matter to them?) 3. “When do they need to know it?” 4. “Will they even receive it or pay attention to it when we say it or send it to them?”

It is extremely important that each of our team members understand what it is they individually need to know. Culturally we say everyone should know, “What’s my part?”, which leads to understanding what each team member needs to know what the technology is, what it is going to deliver, and how it links to the overall performance of our Company.

The “Why?” is the easiest part to miss. Assumptions are often made about why we should share something and why we chose a certain technology platform to communicate. We try our best to focus on the result and not the activity leading to the result.

"An investment in technology is a direct expression of a company’s culture. Technology reinforces the message that you want your employees to be successful"

As an example, we are investing heavily in a web-based platform called Tableau. This knowledge platform allows multiple functions – Sales, Marketing, Finance and Operations – to see financial data and information in real-time. That sounds great and makes sense, right? Not so fast. The home run here is making sure that everyone understands why we need to see financial data in real-time and what those advantages are. We must communicate with them about the technology so that each team member who uses it or is impacted by it understands that this is something that the Company is doing for them – not to them.

From an HR perspective, our main technology solution is Workday, a platform that is central to all our individual team member employment and personal information. As each team member understands his/her part, this makes the conversation regarding permissions and accessibility within the system far easier to explain. For example, if one of our bakery HR managers understands very clearly that her part is to support and lead our team members at her bakery, she has a clear focus. She will not ask why she does not have system permissions to review salaries of team members in the Sales Function. “What do they need to know?” provides clarity and focus. In addition, it gives the technology platform real and meaningful use for each of our team members.

Then there is the ever debated, “When do they need to know it?”. Technology should be leveraged to provide “speed”. Providing needed and critical information “on-time” or even early, sends the message that we are giving you timely information to help you do your job. When we as leaders learn something that might impact our team members, we should share it.

We have found that traditional methods, like email, are often not the best method of getting information to the “masses” in quick-time. In addition, emails create a certain formality that shifts us away from who we are at Hostess. The more informal the better.

Currently, we are exploring platforms that allow us to send out short “tweet”-style communication to our team members, a tool that leverages the use of mobile devices.

We have all looked at announcements or emails and figured out in the first five seconds that it does not pertain to us, before dismissing it without reading the message completely. We are implementing a platform that allows the sender to connect to specific team members and groups. Therefore, if you are sent a message, you know that it concerns and/or impacts you.

Our overall focus is to leverage technology that allows for open, two-way communication, resulting in an engaged, and thus more efficient workforce. We continue to explore technology to further engage our team members, knowing that technology is at the heart of fostering company-wide relationships.

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