Employee Engagement in the Digital Age

Robert Ruocco, VP & CTO, HealthNow New York Inc.
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Robert Ruocco, VP & CTO, HealthNow New York Inc.

Today, the single word most heard by CIOs is “digital.” The term digital is so widely used in our industry that most people get confused as to what is actually being referenced at any given time. Most often, digital refers to the cloud, mobile, social media, and the all-important analytics. An important aspect of digital that is often overlooked is “digital employee engagement.”

As digital cloud, mobile, social media, and analytics have created a paradigm shift within our organizations, it is time to redefine how we engage and acquire our staff. The engagement from pre-employment through separation must change to support the rapidly changing digital age. Organizations that fail to, or are slow to change will face an uphill battle acquiring and retaining the best talent.

I can recall the generations prior to mine focusing on seeking an organization with the best pension offered. Longevity and an individual’s pension were how career success was measured and switching jobs on a regular basis was seen as detrimental to an individual’s career. Hiring managers perceived a candidate who moved around frequently as unreliable and not worthy of a long-term investment.

Things have changed and continue to change at digital speed. Today, it is rare to find a pension like our grandparents and parents knew. We now have 401k and 403b plans.

Recently, I met with some of my best and brightest staff, where the mention of a pension brought laughter and a question in jest, “Whatis a pension?” The new workforce does not necessarily strive to be experts on a particular system, business process, or programming language. Rather they want to learn as much as they can about as many of a businesss applications, and collaborate with as many teams as possible. They have a desire to learn what others know to best pool resources and implement across the IT organization.

  ​To be successful with the new norm, simply engage and keep an open dialogue with your rapidly changing workforce  

This new workforce does not fear change and they often struggle when faced with tenured staff that are less accepting of new ideas and processes. In this era of constant change, it is imperative that we continue to build our workforce around teams that are equipped and supportive of the change in order to support our collective strategic plans.

Much has been written regarding millennials—from raves to how narcissistic their generation is. My advice to you is to adapt. Millennials are not going away, nor are they conforming to the norms by which our careers have been molded. Rather, this generation is rewriting how we do business. If we do not adapt to the new digital employee engagement norm, we will struggle to be competitive and successful.

No longer can you expect the best and brightest talent to want to work for your organization—unless you are Apple, Google, Amazon, and the like. We must go on the offense and engage them while they are still in school. In order to successfully do this, we need to begin to build relationships with local universities. This pipeline will begin to define how raw talent with new skills can be cultivated to counter those with just a few years’ experience who are likely commanding large salaries. These partnerships can only be as successful as the time, effort, and money invested in them. Engagement could be as simple as an internship program or as complex as a sponsored lab, where the university models their curriculum around technology needs.

Today, finding talent is a team sport and you must participate. How many of us have LinkedIn accounts with hundreds if not thousands of contacts? I have found it very beneficial to leverage my LinkedIn network by making connections and targeting by level within my market.

After connections are made, you are now able to target talent that may only be passively looking for a position. Have your TA team draft up the job posting and simply share it with your network. This is an inexpensive and quick way to attract candidates.

By now, you have heard of, or even seen the radical working environment offerings at Google and similarly hip organizations. Boxy cubicles are not the desired environment for the talent we all wish to attract. None of us wish to go to our CEO or CFO asking for a complete overhaul of our workspace—let alone, sleep pods or all you can eat lunch buffets. Something, however, must be done. Several options range from low to moderate cost.

Staff today values team rooms and collaboration space. This can be easily achieved by repurposing general space and adding some focal points that destress and foster creativity among staff. One organization I was previously with created a room with a foosball table and two Xbox systems that were donated by Microsoft. This room became a desired outlet for staff and was rarely abused. Many meetings were held over games of foosball or Call of Duty, both during and after business hours. For minimal cost, an outlet was created where staff wanted to not only come to work, but stay long after their regular shifts.

I recall a C-Level executive at a former employer who used to say, “Employees are lucky to have a job.” In the new Digital Age, we are the ones who are lucky to have the best and brightest talent. It is time we think beyond what we know as the norms and proactively seek talent and surround them with an environment where they not only want to be, but also thrive. We need to give them access to multiple tools for learning that they will not only learn, but that they will master.

The bottom line? To be successful with the new norm, simply engage and keep an open dialogue with your rapidly changing workforce. You will be happy you did.

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