3Sixty Insights #HRTechChat​ with Lilith Christiansen, Chief Strategy and Product Officer of SilkRoad

Welcome to 3Sixty Insights’ latest #HRTechChat. SilkRoad Technology Chief Strategy and Product Officer Lilith Christiansen current vendor member of 3Sixty Global Executive Advisory Council joined us this week to discuss just how profoundly COVID-19 has affected the workforce and influenced philosophies moving forward around how we manage people and the direction of technology for human capital management. The idea that this pandemic has changed HCM is a well-worn trope, sure, but Lilith and I dug just a little bit deeper. Here’s a sampling of the ideas we explored:

  • Why it’s OK to use cliches in describing the profound nature of the before and after of 2020
  • How plans for extreme emergencies such as hurricanes or forest fires could have been a benefit last year to organizations struggling to adjust rapidly to massive disruption attributable to COVID-19
  • How the concept of employee experience and the related best-practices themselves shatters partitions separating the conventional silos of talent management
  • What it is that makes human resources and internal employee communications such a natural fit, why they originally evolved separately, and how they merged this year (because of the pandemic)
  • How communication technology supporting HCM can at once be as readily accessible and unintrusive as possible
  • How natural language processing in a learning management system might help curate and deliver content to groups of employees in real time for their urgent in-the-moment needs
  • How onboarding isn’t just about external hiring in the emerging post-pandemic future of work
  • Why onboarding has evolved and matured to apply to all the major milestones across the entire individual employee’s experience
  • Why the action of onboarding encompasses far more than compliance — for example, incorporating in-the-moment learning
  • Why onboarding might not even be the best term for onboarding anymore
  • What an even better term might be for employee experience

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Brent Skinner 00:02
HR tech chat. Here with me for this episode is Lilith Christiansen chief strategy and product Officer of SilkRoad. Welcome Lilith.

Lilith Christiansen 00:12
Thanks for it. Glad to be here.

Brent Skinner 00:14
Yeah, yeah. Thanks. Thanks for agreeing to this. You know, just the other day, you and I, we had a great discussion we discussed a lot. I think we touched on work from home, what it’s going to be like, as we all emerged from the COVID, fog, if you will, the employee experience, how it breaks through barriers of conventional silos and talent management, lots of interesting stuff there. And we had this crazy, crazy idea after our discussion last time that this might actually be worth putting up on an episode of HR tech chat. So here we are. And, you know, let’s, let’s see if we can recreate some magic here. I know that we, what do we start with, COVID? And how that has affected HCM, then, in terms of, you know, HCM leaders and what they’re having to deal with, and how technology vendors can help them with that.

Lilith Christiansen 01:15
Yeah, I mean, I think every organization went through such a dramatic change last year with COVID. And, you know, I feel like we started the beginning of the year, anticipating change and thinking that it was going to be driven by AI and changes in the way that work happened, and was going to be maybe more technology driven. And then here, we had this virus come in, that turned the whole world on its head. And I think many look back now and think, you know, I hate to use the like overused phrases, but it really is true, like the three years of transformation happened in months and dead, right. And seeing the way that HR leaders and their colleagues in the C suite, really were able to come together and react to that, I think most didn’t anticipate it. But being able to change the way that they supported their employees and move to more remote models and being able to enable a digital way of working. I think the piece that I you know, I guess if have found to be maybe the most positive element of it was really the focus on the employee experience. And then I feel like that’s something that we’ve been talking about for years now, or you hear a company say, employees are most valued asset. But yet, what were they really doing to demonstrate that and I feel like that’s something that really came out and you see and heard stories of so many organizations that really that’s what they started focusing on where their people how to keep them safe. Yes, how to keep the business running, and how to serve clients, but, but really, the people came first in terms of getting them what they needed, making sure people were, you know, felt safe. And we’re all dealing with very different circumstances and children at home or sick family members and trying to work at the same time.

Brent Skinner 03:21
Yeah, yeah,

Brent Skinner 03:22
I think you’re right.

Brent Skinner 03:23
I I liken it to an HR fire drill. I mean, it was just a meet and it wasn’t, you know, it wasn’t just a practice run, it was a real fire. It was it was a fire alarm. Not it’s real. And so, and, and it forced organizations to, to actually think through and execute on their rhetoric around employee experience and caring about their employees first and all about their people, and culture and all that. And in and also, frankly, I think stressed a lot of those, a lot of those intense versus out there intent versus they’re the outcomes, which is really interesting. The three year, you mentioned a minute ago, just not wanting to use cliches or overused terms and whatever. But but I think these cliches and overused terms are really designed for a COVID moment. Right. And so, you know, that’s fine. And you know, I would use another overused term or one that’s,

Brent Skinner 04:32
I mean, we

Brent Skinner 04:33
think we saw an actual paradigm shift. You know, somebody who talked about paradigm shifts all the time, or was that really, this really was a paradigm shift. You think about COVID as 2020 was really a wormhole and we’re so much closer to the future of work now than we were than we thought we would have been just a year ago, right? We would have thought, Oh, just be a year. We’ll just be a year closer to the future. We’re actually 10 years closer to the future of work. Now you mentioned something that was now coming back to me from our from our previous conversation that was super interesting. Because you guys, you guys at SilkRoad are really looking at this, I think, really intelligently and thinking about it in terms of, okay. COVID is sort of the mother of all emergencies. Right. And I think you looked at at some of your users or some other users where you wanted to see if there was any correlation between companies that had a robust emergency plan in place for HCM in general, could you just maybe elaborate on that a

little bit?

Lilith Christiansen 05:40
Sure. Sure. What we were thinking about was reflecting on our own experiences, and where we have offices and how we reacted as well as those of our clients that I’m a hypothesis, I guess, really, that organizations that were located in places that had contingency plans in place for, say, environmental driven, emergencies, hurricanes, flood, you know, gosh, we’ve had tons of fires and things like that these days, too, but, but organizations that were located in places like that, say, the Gulf Coast of the United States, you know, that they had to have in place a plan, should a hurricane come in, what’s going to be our backup plan, what is our continuity of operations in order to ensure our people are taken care of, and our clients are as well. And when we were putting in place some of our own procedures and thinking about how we could support our clients best, that’s something that we relied on ourselves, having locations in those areas, that there was an ability to just enact it, we had already gone through the process and documenting what needed to happen when, and then even leveraging our own technology to enable that process. And so that’s what we saw with some of our clients as well, located in areas like that, that they’d already kind of done some of the hard work, maybe for a different reason. But we’re able to rely on that as a starting point, or even, you know, something that got them halfway or more to where they needed to be to support people working from home different locations, and have that continuity of operations still in place and working.

Brent Skinner 07:34

Brent Skinner 07:34
yeah. It makes sense. It could be that this this, this entire episode, extended year long episode has, has taught us maybe that, that we all need to have contingency plan in place as organizations, not just if we’re in, you know, the Florida Panhandle for your hurricanes, or, you know, Northern California for for forest fires are something like this, that maybe that’ll be one of the outcomes. This reminds me of, of a user that we were speaking with, at 360 insights just a couple of months ago, where she was coming in as I think chief people officer or chief culture officer. And it was right, in early it was in early March of last year, and she was hired. And she came on. And immediately she became, I think, director or vice president of corporate internal communications for the firm, like they just needed her to be that


Brent Skinner 08:41
right away.

Brent Skinner 08:43
What is, you know, and what are some of the ways I think that I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on this, what are some of the ways that that communication, you know, the, the, the,

Brent Skinner 08:57

Brent Skinner 08:58
you know, the role of communications in the organization can work better or actually cross train like, actually, you know, sort of concrete examples with HCM? Because it seems to be such a natural fit, but they’re but they’re separate silos?

Lilith Christiansen 09:14
Yeah, that’s interesting. Brent, and I, you know, I can feel for the woman coming into this new role, you know, being ready to lead the people part of the business and the culture. And just the basic, I mean, almost, when you think about it, it’s like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, right? That the culture and those pieces are kind of that higher point in the pyramid, but that communication and just making sure basic needs were met, and how are we communicating that out to our people in theirs? It’s no surprise that that’s how her role shifted as a result of that. And I think, you know, communication is so critical in in supporting any type of change. And I, what I have seen in my experience is that organizations that often have the best cultures, that their employees are highly engaged, that I actually do see the HR and the communications piece being highly integrated, that it really is something that there, if not one in the same, you know, really teamed up, you know, a hip in order to not only make the decisions that are required for people and culture, but also communicate it in a really effective way. And keeping in mind, you know, the people absorb information in different ways. We need to hear it multiple times in order to really believe it, there’s a big barrier to change just as individuals, you know, even if you just look at inertia, you know, you it’s harder to get moving and get going. So to have a strategic partner on the communication side that can think of what are the different messages that we need to hit? What are the different communication vehicles that we can utilize? How often do we need to reinforce the same messages, I think, is really critical. And probably those organizations that, you know, as, as companies are reflecting now and how they did, I bet it’s an easy bet that those that really focused on the communications part of it, are going to be seen as having fared better on from their employees. Yeah, I

Brent Skinner 11:33
think that’s a pretty safe bet to make, too. I totally agree with you. And I’d be really surprised if the companies that ended up ended up sort of merging corporate communication, internal communication with HR, those that were where they worked more closely together, by necessity because of this, this whole episode, I’d be very surprised that they would walk that back and then go back to separate silos, it just seems like, once you come together like that, you’re not going to, you know, split afterward, it just seems that makes sense.

Lilith Christiansen 12:10
Yeah, and one thing I was even further on that is the importance of not just cascading down the communication in the message, but the skills associated with it, I think that was probably a big shift that was required for a lot of people, as managers to now not only did they have to get used to this, like I’m managing someone, but I’m not going to see them every day. And when you’re used to being able to wander by someone’s desk, and that was the way you could check in on them and see how things were going or you bump into each other in the you know, the cafe or the lunchroom in your office that all of those opportunities for more organic communication went away. And I think there was a real need on the part of organizations to support their managers and helping them to now have more structured conversations, because that was the only way to do it, or add structure in the form of regularly having one on ones and helping to coach managers around Well, what should you talk about? And in fact, it’s okay to spend the first 10 minutes just talking, how’s it going? How are your kids? How’s your family? You know, how are you coping with this? And I think that was a real another when I guess in at the end of the day, that organizations when they focused on communication, really needed to help enable the managers in a way that that they could not only carry on the message, but also elevate their communication skills to support their teams.

Brent Skinner 13:57
Yeah, because not just one to many communication of, you know, corporate to the entire workforce. But it’s also that peer to peer manager to individual employee or within a meeting context. Communication, absolutely. That needs to be facilitated and as smooth as possible in a couple of things. So first off, this are minds me of something that we were having a discussion the other day with, with another person and the idea came up that you know, that some of this, so there’s a fine line some of this technology can be that’s facilitating, that makes work from home possible, right. Some of it can be unintentionally, it can unintentionally facilitate interruptions, unwanted interruptions in the day, you know, and what’s the difference between being interrupted say you’re in a cubicle, and your coworker is walking down the hallway and pokes their head in, and maybe you’re focusing on some PowerPoint and breaks or press your concentration. Now you’ve lost probably about 45 minutes worth of productivity until you can get back into the zone in terms of your focus. It’s not that you necessarily are not welcoming that person saying hello, and having a quick chat. But there’s an analogue there with with, say, chat technology, right, where someone might send you. I mean, this and this is old, right, this email, right? Email can be just as intrusive, but it just occurred. And there’s one other thing I want to get to after this specifically, that’s unrelated, but I’m very curious what your thoughts are that from, from a product standpoint, you know, product design? What are some ideas that that maybe you folks are thinking about around? How can our technology be as helpful as possible and also as non intrusive as possible? Yeah,

Lilith Christiansen 15:59
that’s a great question. And I think finding what that sweet spot or balances between them is, is going to be absolutely critical, not only for us, but for any technology that’s getting developed and being rolled out. And I think about myself, you know, the reminding myself to put on Do Not Disturb. That I said that the chats don’t pop up so that I can focus on, say, our conversation today, right? Or when you’re engaging with folks that you actually just totally shut down email so that you don’t have those pop ups that can distract it like that one. thing. Obviously, I didn’t serve. And in fact, I’ll take this moment and do that right now. So we don’t hear anymore.

That’s fine.

Lilith Christiansen 16:53
Though, it was as if we timed it, I think we’re playing it that way. So for us when it comes to, you know, what are we thinking about to strike that right balance, I do think it’s around being integrated with the work tools that people are using on a regular basis. So whether that means being able to engage with learning, you know, while you’re in the middle of a project, and you encounter something that you maybe don’t know quite where to go next, or the answer to something just like people might go to Google quickly and do that to search to inform their knowledge base in order to kind of move forward on something that we can do that same kind of thing when it comes to learning, and being able to access a variety of data and information that can be accessed at the moment in time where someone just needs it. You know, that just in time peace. So that’s one aspect that we’re looking at. Another one is kind of ties to what we talked about a few minutes ago around the manager piece. And this one’s very important to me is thinking about how can we really enable the managers in a more effective way, that we’re equipping them with prompts to engage with their staff at the right moment in time. So whether that’s a notification that they’re getting via email, or that they’re getting via text or through a chat, that it’s equipping those managers not only with the reminder to have a conversation, but what are the top three things they should cover and that conversation with their team? I think that,

Brent Skinner 18:40
like I’m sorry to interrupt, but that’s super interesting, almost like a brief, right? Yes, these people are super busy. You know, if you’re preparing, like, if you’re paying a CEO for interview and interview with the news media, you provide them with a quick fact, like, easy to easy to digest collection of information that they can look at super quick and be ready for that in the moment, because they don’t have time to really study. because everything’s coming up, like a fire hose.

Lilith Christiansen 19:10
Yeah, that’s exactly right. And I think managers are always well intended around how they’re going to support their teams and help them grow and develop, but they are also busy in their own work as well. So a lot of times those intentions don’t match up with their actions. So I think that is a real opportunity to support managers better through technology, giving them those briefs, like you said that that gives them what they need when they need it. They’re going to have a one on one today with a new hire. What should they cover today versus a one on one with a 15 year vet in the organization? You know, those are going to be different conversations that require different types of prompts

Brent Skinner 19:51
is a big part of that. Do you think AI plays a role in that?

Lilith Christiansen 19:55
Yeah, I definitely think it does it and that is a piece that we’re Further exploring, particularly for our innovation, I mean, it might not be just two or three months down the road, it might take a little longer to pull that scene where I envisioned the AI helping with it would be even taking a look at the the work that individuals are doing or the collaboration that they’re having on the business platforms. And using those to potentially identify patterns of where someone’s asking for the same type of questions, or the same type of information is coming up from different pockets of the organization. And being able to utilize AI to say, Oh, we have an opportunity here, three people have asked about communication skills in the last week, maybe there’s a real need here for that, and then being able to push something out to the managers, or vice versa. Yeah, through the LMS that says, you know, we’ve got this 10 minute course on communication skills, this might be good for you or something like that. So that’s where I see the AI piece coming in as being able to identify needs, and then propose solutions to it, and even deliver that, you know, that through the technology to the users, whether they’re employees or managers or others in the organization.

Brent Skinner 21:23
That’s super interesting. So just kind of you have my mind racing here a little bit, because if you think about curation, like curation is becomes sort of it now. It’s baked into the best LMS solutions out there with the content that they draw on, right? There’s a curation and this is the curation is, is a is informed by an accumulation of data from each individual user. So it knows what to curate, to curate for each user. But this is kind of like that, but you’re talking about sort of an in the moment real time. Yeah. I, yeah, the identification of a need in real time. It’s almost like it’s kind of like curation, like a one time one shot curation. And it pushes it out to those folks and maybe others. And you’re also talking what you really, you’re also talking about NLP in a way, right? There’s because there’s that natural language processing is, is applied to that, you know, company wide it. So here we have, you know, a perfect example of where we’re at, you know, collaborative communication technology that for all for the entire workforce, and there’s an AI or an NLP engine, or whatever you want to call it, that’s, that’s paying attention to that from the from the AI, maybe it’s a point solution. HCM application. And, yeah, this, when you think about all the different possibilities in the future of work, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s fascinating. One thing I want to get back to, in the time we have left here is onboarding. Because we had an interesting, we had an interesting discussion last time around that. And I want to give you an opportunity to, to really kind of paint this picture but just to set it up here, this idea that onboarding isn’t just for new hires. It doesn’t just happen at you know, at the edge of the organization. When the person is first coming in. It’s a, it’s an ongoing thing, if you want to elaborate on that I thought, and how it fits in with work from home and, and all this new normal.

Lilith Christiansen 23:45
Well, thanks for teeing that up, Brent. I mean, I obviously love to talk about it and goes back from when we published the book, which I can’t believe is already like 11 years ago now. And when you know, the term onboarding, is, I feel like a misnomer. It’d be nice if we could go back in time and like try to harness that to come up with a better term, because I think it is often considered to be just what you said, you think about just onboarding someone, for the first time they’re joining the organization. And that’s it. But really, to do it, effectively. onboarding is so much more than that. It is an experience that supports someone entering into something new. And yes, that applies when you’re a new hire into the organization. And then it’s getting the paperwork done. So they can get paid on time. And they get cleared for work, but it’s also introducing them to the culture of the organization and what does it take to thrive and be successful in that organization. It’s making connections for them to the strategy so that they understand how their day to day connects to the overall success of the organization. It’s getting them networked with other individuals so that they know you know who’s influencing the work that they do, and How do their outputs influence someone else’s. And it’s the career support that needs to happen and the learning that needs to happen. And it’s very obvious to folks, when you just join an organization, you need all that. But when you move on to your next role, you get promoted, well, there’s new responsibilities. There’s different expectations, there’s new people that you need to engage with. So all of those things, again, really come into play. So what we’re seeing is the most successful organizations are thinking about onboarding is something that happens at every transition point. And to take it into what we just experienced with COVID. Well, we almost needed to onboard people into remote work. Okay, so what’s different about our expectations? Now? Do we need to re establish some working norms now that you’re working from home, the provisioning pieces were even required, because now maybe people had desktops or workstations at home at the office? Well, now we needed to get them technology, get them provisioned. So they could be up and running at home, maybe their stakeholder network is going to be different now. So it’s important to introduce them to those folks, maybe your employee resource groups actually even become more important because you need that additional network of support outside of your day to day workflow. And when we return to work, or those that do return to the office, you will need to rethink that again to Who are they going to engage with what’s different in terms of their requirements? And so it really can happen every step along the way. Even when someone leaves an organization? Well, let’s think about doing that in a strategic way. How do we recapture the equipment that they might have? Let’s take care of knowledge transfer, and then let’s set them up for success when they are alumni that they might refer other people back to the organization, let’s connect them with a network that keeps them in aware of what’s going on in terms of our strategy, that maybe they become a future customer or Boomerang back again, themselves, you each one of those transition points along the employee lifecycle is an opportunity to onboard someone into that role. And with that kind of care and attention, they’re going to be more successful in the role, they’re going to be more engaged, and that’s beneficial to them. And of course, the organization as well. Yeah,

Brent Skinner 27:29
every time it reinforces the positive nature of that employer culture, too, right. And so you, those folks, you know, ultimately win and if they leave the organization, that and the reality is, is that they will, especially in some industries, it’s just that they will, they will have a fond memory of the organization as opposed to just sort of a neutral mind or in a niche, even a neutral. One is even, you know, almost as bad as a bad one, right? Because there’s no real goodwill, there is just, you know, bad, bad feelings, but just nothing sort of. So. Yes. But there’s one other thing that this reminds me of that was super interesting for him last call, and it fits into this because Yeah, what would what would be a better term for onboarding? And we may or may not, you know, happen upon it in the next couple of minutes. But, but also, it also fits into employee experience, right? What’s a better term? Because employee experience, I think is better. I think we can agree you and I think we agree, and I think others will do this better term than talent management, talent management was better than human capital management, which is better than HR. Right. In terms of right, in terms of really capturing the true essence of what we’re trying to do in this profession, but what do you think? Yeah, what are some other terms that might be used in place of employee experience, or, or even onboarding? Take one or the other?

Lilith Christiansen 29:10
Yeah, I mean, I do is you just said, Brent, the experience piece I think is super important in in is a word that I think better encompasses what we’re talking about here. Because, to me, the experience will include the process piece of it. The experience also includes the technology that helps deliver in influence aspects of how you experience it. And it’s, you know, the onboarding piece just always seems to many times be relegated to just be that administrative pieces and the provisioning pieces and maybe orientation. But orientation is really just a moment in time, right? You can get oriented to your role and expectations but then then you’re living it and experiencing and growing and developing from there. I don’t know we’re gonna have to talk. Right It’s a tough one but I but I do like employee experience a whole lot better and thinking about how to enable that experience or this activate that experience activity i

Brent Skinner 30:25
like i like activate employee activation, I like that term a lot.

Lilith Christiansen 30:30
And then even thinking maybe it’s not employee, it’s talent or something else more broad, right? We have so many different types of workers these days contingent workers and folks that are on flex schedules. I think we do want to be even more inclusive than just employee.

Brent Skinner 30:49
Yeah, yeah. activation is a good one because it really gets to the to the Lakers to the none of it. You know, what, what is? What is that the organization and the talent both need to be successful in the next? The next thing? Yeah, that’s, that’s super interesting. Thank you so much. I mean, this has just been a fantastic conversation. I think we did recapture the magic. Absolutely. And, and, and, and I just want to thank you Lilith for taking the time to join us for HR tech chat.

Lilith Christiansen 31:26
Well, thanks, Brent. I enjoyed it a lot. Hope to come back again sometime soon.

Brent Skinner 31:31
Absolutely love to have you

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