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Cloud-based, mobile-first digital platforms and AI-powered apps are available to revolutionize how workforce services are delivered. And HR and IT leaders everywhere are moving in droves to figure out how best to deploy them.

The results are in from the ‘Making the Digital Shift in HR’ survey conducted jointly by Leapgen and Unleash indicate that while large and mid-sized organizations are investing digital technology, many are doing so blindly (i.e., carelessly). In addition, most HR organizations face big challenges in the pursuit of digital transformation.

This article presents a quick review of some of the HR innovation survey results, which we’ll be analyzing further and presenting at the upcoming Unleash America Conference in Las Vegas later this month, in subsequent articles and in a white paper.

Photo by Todd DeSantis on Unsplash

Photo by Todd DeSantis on Unsplash


The survey results reflect the same bullishness sentiment I hear when working with our customers on a day-to-day basis. And I understand why people are bullish. After all, digital HR consulting and education is my livelihood. More than that though, I’ve seen real-life, practical applications of these cutting edge technologies.

The figure 1 below shows a sample of the technologies we asked HR tech buyers and power users to consider — specifically, whether they have already implemented or plan to implement.

Figure 1: Leapgen and Unleash HR Innovation Survey Results from HR Tech Buyers and Power Users

Figure 1: Leapgen and Unleash HR Innovation Survey Results from HR Tech Buyers and Power Users

HR organizations who seek to provide a frictionless digital workforce experience that rivals that of their customer experience are increasingly doing so through a number of channels, including modern portals, workflow engines and ‘headless apps.’ And why not? These technologies enable the type of digital workplace that supports different stages of the ‘moments that matter’ throughout the employee life cycle. They are integral to an organization’s employee value proposition, meets workers where they are and shields them from antiquated back-office look-and-feel of the legacy systems of record.

I get it. We work with several organizations that are implementing AI-enabled tools to digitize the entire employee value chain. A few examples…

A growing number of firms are using robotic process automation (RPA) to automate routine tasks such as scheduling interviews for busy recruiters, hiring managers and candidates.

L&D departments are curating on-demand learning content to individual workers based on their preferences making it similar to buying on Amazon (i.e. I’m interested in…), content they’ve already accessed (i.e., people of who have read this have also read…), elements of their profile (e.g., job family) and/or group membership (e.g., community of practice). By serving up content that is compelling, contextual and communal, machine learning is leading to faster and more continuous human learning.

Benefits inquiries (e.g., what’s my PTO balance, what’s the company’s leave policy) are starting to be addressed by chatbots that mimic human conversation — via a keyboard or the microphone. As my friend, Jim Scully points out, voice recognition has become a real part of navigation through work and life in general for many of us.

During our recent Leap Chat with Kevin McDonald from The E. W. Scripps Company and representatives from, it was shown that in addition to making HR and benefits more accessible to a workforce that is increasingly mobile and short on patience, chatbots can make HR more effective and efficient (please see figure 2 below). Any HR professional who has spent time answering the same routine question that ‘Google could answer’ for the 500th time or entering / reentering data for someone can attest to this.

Figure 2: Leapgen’s Example of Routine Processes Used with Chatbots Highlighted in Leap Chat

Figure 2: Leapgen’s Example of Routine Processes Used with Chatbots Highlighted in Leap Chat


Despite the bullishness on these technologies, the majority of respondents acknowledge facing big challenges in the pursuit of digital transformation. From building the right mindset to a lack of digital skill sets, most HR functions are not capable of truly innovating new ways of delivering experiences the modern worker expects.


As Sun Tzu once wrote, ‘tactics without strategy is the noise before the defeat.’

Figure 3: Leapgen and Unleash HR Innovation Survey Results on Digital HR Strategy

Figure 3: Leapgen and Unleash HR Innovation Survey Results on Digital HR Strategy

Yet as figure 3 above illustrates: 3 of every 4 respondents acknowledge having no defined digital HR strategy. 32% have no digital strategy whatsoever. Another 40% indicated having silo’d digital strategies in functions like recruiting, benefits and learning & development.

When services or processes are not designed as part of an overarching strategy, they are doomed to evolve without proper controls.

Typical results include:

  • A disjointed experience for the worker
  • Poor integration with the rest of the business (HR is not the only corporate support function that delivers service to workers)
  • A reactive approach to addressing challenges
  • Inefficiencies and additional expense
  • Abandonment of the underlying technologies that held so much promise before they were implemented

If innovation is truly the key to outflanking the competition in the digital age, HR leaders need to change their mindset to be digital first and define strategies that align with the needs of the business and the expectations of the workforce.

Only then can the digital workplace truly foster the organization’s culture. Only then can experiences be designed properly around the worker. Only then can digital transformation truly deliver valued outcomes.


HR organizations truly committed to delivering seamless workforce experiences need the right people to effect transformation. Unfortunately, most do not. As we predicted earlier this year, HR skills would reach an emergency mismatch to needs.

As the survey results depicted below (in figure 4) suggest, HR needs to reinvent itself, including its own jobs and the profiles of the people in them. Consider this, the majority of the HR people we surveyed indicated they do not have enough of ANY of the skills listed, all of which are generally considered important to surviving in the digital world.

The 5 most significant skills gaps are in:

  • Design thinking skills (84% say they don’t have enough, 62% say not nearly enough): These are critical to delivering worker-centered experiences that meet people’s expectations and are generally well adopted [with no training].
  • Agile project management skills (80% say they don’t have enough, 56% say not nearly enough): An iterative and incremental approach of delivering innovation — enabled by cloud technology — produces higher product quality and reduced risks.
  • Data analysis skills (78% say they don’t have enough, 50% say not nearly enough): If you want to develop data-driven insights on every organization’s most important asset (sorry to use the cliche’, but it’s true), you generally need data scientists with statistical thinking, technical acumen, multi-modal communication skills, curiosity, and creativity.
  • Campaign management skills (78% say they don’t have enough, 50% say not nearly enough): As Mark Schaefer pointed out in HBR a couple of years ago, HR needs to think and act more like marketing in part to make touchpoints with candidates, employees, alumni, etc. more meaningful. The abilities to segment audiences, develop and personalize content through digital channels are key to this.
  • Business analysis skills (67% say they don’t have enough, 38% say not nearly enough): These skills need to be paired with data analysis capabilities to identify and prioritize the problems worth solving and the business relevance of data anomalies and patterns identified.
Figure 4: Leapgen and Unleash HR Innovation Survey on Lack of Skill Sets in HR

Figure 4: Leapgen and Unleash HR Innovation Survey on Lack of Skill Sets in HR

As currently constituted, most HR organizations simply do not have the necessary skills to innovate and deliver experiences in ways that both meet the expectations of the workforce and deliver needed value to the business — not by a long shot. HR leaders who both recognize this and do something about it in 2018 will be the ones whose organizations are able to jump in the digital train. Those who do not risk laying down on the tracks.



My great friend and colleague, Jason Averbook likes to refer to this as the HR tech sector’s “frosting on moldy cake” problem. The frosting is represented by the disruptive, sexy technologies mentioned above (e.g., chatbots, content curators). As Jason says, all those things require a foundation that has great processes, great governance and great data — clean, credible data — that can be surfaced up to those tools.

They need the cake! Unfortunately, many have neither the bakers nor the bakery. As you can see in figure 5 below, about half our survey respondents indicated they do not have processes in place to ensure adherence to data standards and management policies so that data is managed consistently.

Figure 5: Leapgen and Unleash HR Innovation Survey on Data Foundation Standards

Figure 5: Leapgen and Unleash HR Innovation Survey on Data Foundation Standards

There’s your moldy cake and a big part of the reason LinkedIn knows more about a lot of organization’s employees than their HR functions.


Earlier this year, we predicted knowledge management would make a comeback in 2018. Our survey results validate why we made this prediction. Investments are being made in digital technology. That’s great, but many digital experiences necessitate HR content that is relevant, tagged and organized in a way to inform workers quickly and in the flow of their natural work environment.

As you can see in figure 6 below, most respondents to our survey — 3 out of every 4 don’t feel their HR knowledge (e.g., policies, forms, courses) is optimized for a digital environment.



Ultimately, any technology shift has to enable new and better ways of doing things in order to be valuable. Otherwise, it’s just a change in software. It starts with a digital mindset and a true belief that digital needs to be baked into everything HR does. To do this HR leaders really need to challenge themselves and their teams in profound ways — from rethinking their strategies to reorganizing how their work gets done and blowing up their data models.

The time is NOW for HR to take ownership of reimagining the model in which it delivers services to the workforce and realize it is not just about the technology, but about reinforcing the culture and maximizing the level of workforce engagement to ensure performance now and into the future.


As Chief Service Officer, Mike is responsible for Leapgen’s Service Delivery organization, providing leadership by managing talent, methodology, growth and profitability. He also works with our Sales, Marketing and Delivery Teams to manage relationships with clients and ensure their success. Mike has nearly 20 years of enterprise consulting experience in both HCM and CRM a strong track record of partnering with customers and building high-growth teams.

He spent over a decade at Appirio, most recently as a Partner collaborating with clients to solve problems with Appirio services. Mike was also the Practice Leader of Appirio’s Cornerstone OnDemand (CSOD) Practice and started his career as an Industry Analyst with IDC, a global market intelligence firm where he consulted with solutions providers and advisd equity firms conducting due diligence in the HCM market.

Leapgen is a global digital transformation company shaping the future of work. Highly respected as a visionary partner to organizations looking to design and deliver a digital workforce experience that will produce valued outcomes to the business, Leapgen helps enterprise leaders rethink how to better design and deliver workforce services and architect HR technology solutions that meet the expectations of workers and the needs of the business. Contact us to get started.