Human-Centered, Tech-Enabled: Sparking A Cultural Transformation Within Your Organization

IRI Podcast episode on Human Centered Digital Transformation

“Putting the human back in Human Resources” – we’ve all heard the phrase, decrying our industry’s perceived focus on process, paperwork, and, in more recent years, technology. But humanity and technology don’t have to be at odds with one another – in fact, when they work together, they can drive successful business transformations and help create high performing teams! Joining us today to help us answer these questions is Larry McAlister, a three-time CHRO and the number one international best selling author of The Power to Transform: A Field Guide to Building a Human-Centered, Tech-Enabled Work Culture! Here, he explains:

  • Why we are living in "The Golden Age of Technology";
  • Common reasons why digital transformation efforts can fail;
  • The value of "golden-threading" your organization; and
  • The four key elements to create a thriving, engaged employee ecosystem!

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The Golden Age Of HR Technology

  • The time we live in is often called “the golden age of HR technology.” This is because of three key elements:
    • How fast the technology is moving 
    • How much HR technology is out there
    • How HR tech affects every part of the employee experience. 
  • The role of data in talent acquisition, employee development, and employee retention is another example of how we’re in the golden age of HR technology. 
    • This means HR professionals can cross-reference pulse surveys with AI recruiting and peer coaching tools. This can yield a more encompassing picture of where the workforce is at. 
  • Despite this, only 15% of companies are fully engaged in a full HR stack. So while there is more HR technology than ever, fewer companies fully utilize it to its full potential.
  • HR team members must act quickly to get buy-in from everyone; they need to be the ones driving human-centric digital transformation. 


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People Have To Be First: Understanding Human-Centered Digital Transformation

  • Mr. McAlister started his HR career by developing a welfare-to-work program for his then-employer Citibank. This program aimed to establish entry-level job opportunities and teach those hires how to be employed in a professional environment. 
  • His program was successful, with 19 out of 20 individuals maintaining their employment with Citibank. His HR department then brought him on to the HR team. 
  • But what caused Mr. McAlister to choose HR as his long-term career path was working for a company with a “mean” attitude towards firing, layoffs, demoting, and the organizational chart. 
    • After being eventually laid off from this organization, Mr. McAlister realized that in workplaces, people have to be first – and he devoted the rest of his career to making sure they always remained first.
  • That’s one reason Mr. McAlister wrote a “field guide” rembracing human-centric digital transformation, intentionally designed as a step-by-step guide for HR professionals and corporate leadership to follow. 
  • All HR professionals can be technology and transformation experts with the right guidance and strategy.

Why Human-Centric Digital Transformations Can Fail

  • A silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is that almost all companies experienced a major transformation. 
    • During the immediate aftermath of COVID, it was a lot easier for everyone to embrace this human-centric digital transformation as everyone had to do it simultaneously. 
    • After COVID, companies face the challenge of handling employee feedback as employees are now more empowered in their workplaces. However, there’s no clear best way to manage this feedback.
    • The key solution to this is to embrace the same skills developed during the pandemic for managing worker needs now that the severity of the pandemic is largely over. 
  • Unfortunately, for many companies, moments of growth are almost done in a reactionary way, just trying to “get through it” instead of focusing on the strategy behind it. “We’re all in a transformation, whether you like it or not.”
  • Another reason human-centric digital transformation fails is the focus on the platform first, not the workplace ecosystem it will live in. There is an expectation that tech will transform their company instead of HR or talent strategies. 
    • Buying an HR platform, turning it on, and hoping employees will use it will not work. 
    • Often, companies will see the HR tech stack of another company and attempt to copy it because “it looks like a good idea.”
      • Too many buyers and even sellers of HR technology just think about the features and functions of the tech and hope employees will engage in it. That is no way to get the fastest adoption of the technology.
  • If you’re not “golden threading” your organization – meaning examining how individuals, teams, the enterprise, and the future potential of the company work together in harmony – a company will not get the full ROI of an HR platform. 
  • Getting employee buy-in can be as straightforward as creating business advisory groups from seasoned employees, management, or leadership. 
    • The best accelerator of transformation comes from the honesty of individuals sharing their feedback and opinions on the proposed changes ahead.
  • HR professionals are encouraged to “bring people with them” in the race to the finish line of a company’s human-centric digital transformation goals. 
    • “When I was a young buck, I was trying to do everything independently. And a head of HR brought me into his office and said, ‘You're running so fast that when you get to the finish line, no one's going to be there to clap for you.’ And that changed my life. So bring people with you. It's the fastest, easiest way to go.”

Case Study: Mr. McAlister’s Human-Centric Transformation Of NetApp

  • One of the organizations Mr. McAlister helped usher in human-centric digital transformation for was NetApp, a data storage and data management solution company.  
  • Mr. McAlister was able to help NetApp transform quickly because he paid close attention to three additional reasons why transformations fail. Those are:
    • No clear vision. 
    • You don’t have the right people in the right spots. 
    • You go too slowly. 
  • While at NetApp, he de-emphasized “classic HR” protocols and practices and focused on turning the organization into an “enablement organization.”
    • An enabled organization meant that the best employees and managers had the best tools, frameworks, and technology to have the best relationships across the organization. 
    • Upon departure in 2022, he felt NetApp was a “much more engaging, cooperative aligned organization.”
  • For example, Mr. McAlister created a Career Week for the employees at NetApp. During this week, they shared presentations and career development opportunities with attendees on how employees can grow in their careers at the organization. 
    • After sharing that message with attendees, they discussed how tech would enable employee growth. This focus on strategy yielded some of the highest adoption rates for their HR platform.
  • Additionally, while at NetApp, he hosted an HR Tech Parade, essentially an HR technology vendor showcase. 
    • The result was the selection of three or four vendors to work with that year. But the ultimate positive outcome was increased awareness of HR tech options. 

The Four Active Elements Of A Thriving Work Strategy

  • There are four key elements to create a thriving, engaged employee ecosystem that yields high-performing teams:
    • Activating yourself. Before building a successful team, you need to be thriving yourself. This means focusing on well-being, mental fitness, and the ability to predict the future. 
    • Activating your team. Democratize coaching by democratizing data in your team. Share pulse survey results freely so employees can check what’s going well and what’s not. 
    • Activating the enterprise. Enterprise-level growth should be thought about on a whole-company level, not just “your little patch of land.” Ask yourself: do we have shared goals? Do we have internal mobility?
    • Activating the future. Use technology to understand what skills are needed to help employees get where they want to go and where the company wants to go. Ask yourself how you bridge those gaps and future-proof the organization.  
  • Then, after activating your organization, HR professionals should bring in technologies to bolster the work strategy.

Driving Human-Centric Digital Transformation

  • Mr. McAlister hopes that his book The Power to Transform: A Field Guide to Building a Human-Centered, Tech-Enabled Work Culture helps companies feel more empowered. 
  • Individuals will walk away from reading the book with information such as: 
    • How do you share your HR strategy? 
    • How do you evaluate HR technology? 
    • How do you drive enablement?
    • How do you brand your organization’s story?
    • How do you become the face of the transformation? 
  • He hopes individuals don’t need to spend much money on a consultant and that an internal team of HR professionals can become the face of their transformation. 

Larry McAlister Background 

  • B.A. from University of Southern California
  • Served as Vice President, Human Resources with Philips Electronics
  • He was the Managing Director, Human Resources for Applied Materials
  • Mr. McAlister also served as the Head of Global Human Resources for TIBCO Software, as well as for Glu Mobile
  • He was the Vice President of Global Talent Management for Equinix
  • He served as the Vice President of Global Talent for NetApp
  • Mr. McAlister is currently the Founder of The Corporate Humanist Consultancy
  • He is the author of The Power to Transform: A Field Guide to Building a Human-Centered, Tech-Enabled Work Culture



Larry McAlister email:

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