For years the world of work has been experiencing a rapid digital transformation, but once COVID-19 hit, digitalization skyrocketed even further. Ep. 50 of the Talent Experience Podcast features Talent Analyst Mervyn Dinnen, as he discusses his passion for HR Development and the rapidly evolving digitalization we are now experiencing within our organizations.
Together, Mervyn and host Rhonda Taylor dive into topics including educating for digitalization, the digital transformation within HR specifically, improving the employee experience, and the profound influence that business leaders have – this is an episode truly filled with wisdom and meaningful insights!
Tune in to Mervyn’s episode below, at tlntx.co/e50 or wherever you like to podcast!
Here’s how the conversation went… This interview has been edited and condensed.
Rhonda Taylor: Welcome to another episode of the Talent Experience Podcast. I’m your host, Rhonda Taylor. The buzzword during COVID was digital transformation. Before COVID, many companies were trying to dip their toe into the digital transformation world. But with COVID, many were forced to ramp up their transformation at warp speed. My guest today from the UK, Mervyn Dinnen was in the process of writing a book called Digital Talent before the arrival of COVID. But with the arrival of COVID, he saw the digital talent journey change. Mervyn is a well-respected HR analyst and writer. He consistently is identified as one of the top 100 influencers globally, as well as an international keynote speaker. Mervyn, welcome to the talent experience.
Mervyn Dinnen: Thank you, Rhonda, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Rhonda Taylor: Did I miss anything?
Mervyn Dinnen: No, I don’t think so. I don’t think so. I could go on and on. But no, I think that’s fine.
Rhonda Taylor: What drove you to write the book that Digital Talent?
Mervyn Dinnen: I co-authored with a guy called Matt Alder. And we wrote the first book Exceptional Talent back in 2016. And that was really just a look at how what we call the talent journey, so from candidate attraction all the way through to retention, was now all underpinned by tech, there was tech underpinning everything, how we hire, how we onboard, how we develop people, performance management, recognition, and even retention. And what we noticed after that, when we were out talking about the findings of the book, as we were kind of researching 2018/2019, most of the companies we were talking to, were talking about digital transformation, and how they needed to digitize so much more of the business. And you know, people like it, you know, digitizing HR, or even just basic things like you know, booking leave and things like that. People really love it, it puts them in control, it’s how they live their personal lives. And so, we started kind of doing some research into what how well prepared, how well prepared are our people? Because if you’re used to doing something one way and say, I’ve got some great news for you, it’s now all being done on a piece of tech, it’s a little bit yeah, the way you’re changing their job is changed the way they do their job has changed. And do we support them in that? And what came through was no, it’s kind of like it’s a digital transformation is an organizational change. But we don’t treat it as such, we just treat it as hey, we’ve got a new toy for you now. And so, there was something a bit missing there. And of course, we started writing and researching and then COVID hit. So, whilst we didn’t want to write the post COVID playbook, clearly some things have changed a lot more stuff was being done remotely, it was people being hired without being met, people working from home, a lot was changing. And what we noticed was the digital transformation was rapidly accelerating. Because to keep business as usual, you needed to do more tech. So that’s what we began to find. And then we just started speaking to companies and doing some research around how I suppose remote and fully tech approaches things like performance management, learning, and also kind of sourcing and attracting how that was changing the way things were done. And we found a really, it was quite a huge change. And the biggest thing that came through and I might be jumping to your second question already, is that, you know, digital skills, most companies don’t really know. They don’t really know what they’re looking for. So, it’s kind of they just assume that people have digital skills. And a lot of the focus groups, we did focus groups amongst employees and things. People weren’t finding that transformation that that easy. It’s kind of like they needed more help; they don’t understand why everything they’ve done before is now in a different place and done a different way. So, it was kind of an interesting one to explore. And we go right through the book is not just looking at that but looking at how it’s changed performing things like performance management, you know that the employee experience, the candidate experience and looking at things like leadership as well and obviously topics like DI&E an AI the role that’s beginning to play and stuff. So, it was a fascinating thing to research and write.
Rhonda Taylor: You know, one of the things that caught my attention, as you’re speaking, there was, all of a sudden digital transformation was throwing on to the HR function. Now, and many other parts of corporations were going under in the process of digital transformation. But everybody kind of thought that HR would be the last. There’s a real education that has to occur as corporations go through the digital transformation. And I was just wondering, how did that in your research, did you find out how people learned? And how HR made the strategic right moves in going through the process of transforming their talent?
Mervyn Dinnen: Now, that is an interesting question, because the, I suppose the answer is mixed. I mean, HR itself, there’s a section in the book about kind of HR needing to digitally transform itself. HR people aren’t by nature, that comfortable in a digital environment. And that’s one of the things we found out. And there’s quite a bit of research around that. The HR aren’t great at being anticipate, as they’re better than reactors and things like that. And I don’t mean about all HR people, but in general, when it comes to things like this. And so, there is hope at hand, because employees, whilst I said earlier, weren’t necessarily ready for digital change certain things they have embraced. So, you know, help is at hand in that, particularly for the day-to-day HR interactions. Most employees seem to be relatively comfortable. Doing things online doing things through the tech areas, like I suppose the one that often gets flagged up is things like remote performance management, for example, which can be quite difficult. And of course, it is difficult because you can’t have the same conversation in person that you have for a screen. Silence in person in an in-person chat, it sets a rhythm for the conversation. But when you’re talking across the screen, it just, it’s a big gap that needs to be filled. And it’s negative. So, there are things like that, that people were having difficulty adapting to on both sides, both the HR side and the line manager side, and the employee side. But in the main employees quite liked, I suppose having access to information to learning and things like that as and when they needed it. So that I think was a positive that came out of it. But again, another finding was that most companies when they invest, particularly in areas like Learning and Performance Management, whilst the employee experience is important, it’s not the deciding factor. So, it’s kind of in like one in five companies said, yes, they really take into account what their employees want and think. So, there is this gap, and as I’ve said before, where billions and billions are being invested into HR and work tech, and yet employee experience and candidate experience doesn’t seem to be improving. And part of it is because we’re investing some of the time in tech that makes it great for the company, and it gives us loads of things we don’t even need yet we’re going to need in the future. But the employee can be a bit overwhelmed.
Rhonda Taylor: Yeah. Yeah. And following up on that, in the earlier conversation is what are the surprises that you encountered when doing this research?
Mervyn Dinnen: I think, I suppose several, one was that organizations themselves didn’t seem ready and didn’t really know how to support their people. So, I mean, I use a very simple example, at the beginning of the book of focus group we did, and it was to do with reclaiming expenses, which I know is a very, very simple, everyday transaction, but it’s gone. You know, once it’s digitized, it becomes more complex. And, you know, there was a focus group, about half a dozen employees from different organizations and they all said the same thing they said is, it’s not unless it’s a significant amount, it’s not even worth bothering to reclaim because it’s just so difficult and it just seems so fiddly and you’ve got to you know, scan on this and AirDrop that and kind of you don’t know if you’ve been because it’s not like the old days when you and I started Rhonda use, you handed in a petty cash slip and then gave you the cash back. This is it may be in your pay slip. It may not be in your pay slip. So, we found some of the I suppose the day-to-day changes that were being made, weren’t really sitting well with everyone. And I think that was a bit of a surprise because you’ve assumed from the way we live our lives that that everybody just wants more tech, and everybody expects to do things seamlessly And I think that that’s where it breaks down. So, when you subscribe for Netflix, say you know what’s going to happen next. Whereas when you apply for a job online, you don’t actually know what’s going to happen next. And you’ve got this silence. And you don’t know if they’ve got the application, you don’t know if it’s been looked at you don’t you don’t know. So, there are lots of mismatches there that I suppose surprised me to a certain extent. But I think that the fact is that most employers are ready to embrace it, that I think they just need a bit of help. And that’s, I think, what I suppose I was surprised that seemed to be lacking with some of the organizations where we spoke to, and where we interviewed. And just looking at third party reports as well, there seems to be this gap with a certain number of organizations where it’s the tech they’re using kind of thing. And we use it, you and I have gone to conferences all over the world in the last few years. And we’ve seen loads of research that says, you know, if the technology doesn’t work, you know, people will leave and join another company kind of thing. So, I mean, that’s, that’s something I think that’s still there.
Rhonda Taylor: Yeah, and going back on that statement is, you know, is how can we, HR, provide a seamless experience for the employee, so that there is a high level of engagement, so they don’t stop using the platform? How do we ensure that?
Mervyn Dinnen: I think that the things like employee experience, for example, we’ve tended to look at historically as an experience we create. So, it’s a bit like inviting somebody in your home and the create the ambiance, you create that. And yet, kind of, you know, we’ve created a good experience for our employees, this and this. But of course, for the employee, the experience is what they experience and what they process, it’s not what we’ve necessarily created. I know, that seems quite a fine point. But it’s actually quite important. Because if you look at surveys of employees, and you ask them, what they believe the employee experience, they believe it’s their day-to-day interactions with the company, the tech, the colleagues of everything. And it’s not kind of, you know, we’ve made this such a seamless process. That should be so easy for you. It’s kind of it’s more than that. And I think that both of candidate experience as well as employee experience, it’s the understanding that these aren’t things we create. But we set up the framework, be at the tech, be at the systems, be at the processes, and it’s how the employees experience that is how easy is how difficult it is, it’s whether it makes sense to them. Those are the kinds of things that determines if they’re engaged.
Rhonda Taylor: Right. And once you have them engaged, what’s really important is the next topic that I’m going to address. And in your, in your book, you write about transparency governance. How do we ensure our leaders are employee centric, and are being clearly visible to the employees?
Mervyn Dinnen: This actually is I’m glad you’ve raised it. It’s a huge topic. One of the things that surprised me in the research was that in the US, I think it was Pew Research and other places have done research on during COVID, who were people, the general public, looking towards for guidance, and business leaders came out hugely high. You think it’s politicians, its scientists, but business leaders came out high. And I think that’s probably because of the way people’s jobs were changing because of the pandemic. But it puts business leaders in a very important position and a very influential position. I think that there are expectations that kind of generational the workforce, but I think we understand that the people who haven’t been in the workforce for as long as we say, without giving them a title, maybe expect more transparency. They’re more attune with how they expect, I suppose their leaders in the business to be operating, who they do business with who their collaborators, are we transacting business in the right way, that kind of thing. Are we being supported in not just kind of our work always been supporting our wellbeing and mental health and those kinds of things? Clearly, during the pandemic, there was with the Black Lives Matter, there was an opportunity for businesses there to show how they could react, respond to something like that and embrace it, which from what I see most businesses seemed to do well, but of course it can’t be tokenism, it has to be hardwired into culture. And I think that it is more visible. I use some examples in the book coming from UK and Europe as well, where the employees, ex-employees of organizations almost getting together and creating an online presence to talk about how badly they were treated when they worked in a certain place. And it’s, you know, they’re reaching out to other ex-alumni to say, you know, would you join us? Would you, you know, what was your experience, and something like that is a kind of a transparency that leaders have not had to think about before, that once somebody leaves, or once people leave the organization, they are a voice, what they say about their experience of working here is going to impact if somebody else joins us the way other people think about us. And I think that kind of transparency is something that business hasn’t had to think about before. So, it’s kind of what goes on within the boardroom, what goes on within the managers meeting stays in managers meetings, because it doesn’t. And we had that in the UK recently. Where it was a political thing, but then adviser to the Prime Minister left, and then shared his private WhatsApp threads with the prime minister made it public. And it’s kind of okay, no state secrets were given away. But my first thought was, well, this could happen in any business. Somebody could leave the business and say, you won’t believe it. But here’s a conversation I had with the CEO last week and everybody knows.
Rhonda Taylor: We have to tell an experience, have a favorite question Mervyn to ask all of our guests. We believe everyone should enjoy their work and be thrilled with what they do every day. Not only do you do you enjoy what you do, but you excel at it. How do you stay on top of your game at such a high level of performance?
Mervyn Dinnen: What a great question. You ask everyone. Oh, yeah, I think because I really like it. I really enjoy it. And I, I’m fascinated about the world of work. I mean, I’ve done my career, I started off as an accountant. And then recruitment, then HR. And my career has gone through a number of different phases. And I love the world of work. And I love finding out about what what’s happening next. I think this is a very exciting time. And a lot of that is because of tech, because the digital, but I think it’s that interested in kind of wanting to know what’s going to happen next, and what’s the next research going to be? And I suppose sometimes, I’ll read things and think actually, I’d like to know a bit more about that. So, you know, maybe we can create some data, and maybe we can do some research with someone. And it’s, I’m always fascinated in knowing more.
Rhonda Taylor: Yeah, you know, and, and you’re so right. And we’re so fortunate Mervyn, to be working in HR at this time. We see a lot of trans transformations occurring. But the past two years, you have to admit, it’s been exciting.
Mervyn Dinnen: It’s been different, but yeah, it’s been exciting. What I think it’s been interesting is that a lot of organizations have had to respond very quickly. And a lot of individuals can’t respond very quickly. And the thing is, we’re still trying to find, I guess, the happy medium afterwards. Because, you know, we’re, I suppose coming into a situation just like the working from home thing, you know, that’s not going to work for everybody. Although you and I both know, from our daily digital interactions, that there’s lots of people out there who say this is the future and others say it isn’t. But for some people, it really works. For some people, they need that human connection, they need to be mixing with people they need. So, to see how this I suppose almost unravels, and where we are in a year or twos time, because COVID is something we’re probably going to have to live with as opposed to be over. It will be fascinating, and it’s another thing to keep me going, what’s the world of work going to look like in two three years’ time?
Rhonda Taylor: Well, Mervyn Dinnen, the Co-Author of the Digital Talent, I’d like to thank you for being a guest on the Talent Experience.