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InfoQ Homepage Articles TalentSumerization – The Employee Experience in Agile Enterprises

TalentSumerization – The Employee Experience in Agile Enterprises


Key Takeaways

  • The way we work is the key differentiator in today’s competitive business world; however, everything about work is changing at an accelerated pace.
  • Employees start to think about work like consumers and “Consumerization of Human Resources (HR)” – or “TalentSumerization” – describes the idea of creating a social, mobile, and consumer-style employee experience.
  • The five things successful organizations do to get started are to: think holistically, apply design thinking, instill cultural anchors, be agile, and gamify HR.
  • Enterprises who capitalize on the Agile | HR power duo have a leg up to defeat the employee engagement crisis.
  • The time is right to invest: HR teams who start to iterate and co-create an employment experience, rather than structuring employment, will be on the leading edge of modern workplaces and be a catalyst for enterprise success.

Talent, knowledge and leadership are today’s currency for competitiveness. But at a time when we depend on the intrinsic motivation of people like never before, a staggering 88% of employees worldwide are disengaged, disillusioned and dissatisfied at work.

It paints a clear picture of the state of employee engagement – the extent to which employees feel passionate about their jobs, are committed to the organization, and put discretionary effort into their work. People are not happy at work and they are experiencing a work environment far from ideal.

Looking at 21st Century workplaces, we realize everything about work – what we expect from our work, how and where we work, what technologies we use and with whom we work – is changing at an accelerated pace. As organizations, but especially as Human Resources (HR), we need to anticipate the future and take action to address this employee engagement crisis. After all:

You can have the best strategy and the best building in the world, but if you don’t have the hearts and minds of the people who work with you, none of it comes to life.

– Renee West

The Paradigm Shift

To capture the hearts and minds of people, we need to truly care about our employees and put them at the center of our attention. But we will not get there with a people approach that is rooted in the industrial age, because the days of extrinsic motivation, one-size-fits all, and employees as resources are gone. It is time for HR to face its biggest transformation yet and start to accept the new realities of the workplace and cater towards the new talent contract.

Employees in general – and digital natives in particular – are no longer only looking for a career: they seek an experience. And for that, one size certainly no longer fits all. People want to be an active part of the dialogue. They want to be included in shaping their workspace and they certainly want a voice – not only when it comes to their own career development, but across the whole HR value chain. For this reason, more and more organizations start to create personalized experiences along the entire employee journey.

The TalentSumerization Movement

Thanks to technology, our lives are becoming more personalized with experiences that get more comfortable and simpler every day. This is spilling over into the workplace. It means that employees start thinking about work like a consumer.

The movement towards personalization in the workforce has been coined the “Consumerization of HR” – or “TalentSumerization”. It describes the idea of creating a social, mobile, and consumer-style experiences for employees inside the company. So, just as companies must ensure service excellence for their customers, HR must strive for service excellence for their employees.

In fact, consumerization of human resources was identified as one of the most defining and disruptive trends of the industry. It not only changes the way we interact with employees, but also how companies market themselves. It is shifting companies away from a “seat filling” mentality to a “work experience” attitude.

The new objective is to create one employer brand which provides a seamless employee experience – from the first interaction with potential candidates to the way we stay connected with former employees. This includes the actual workspace, the way work is done, how we live up to our corporate values, and how we support people and ensure they can confidently fulfill their potential.

The Playbook

Creating a “workplace as an experience” means to carefully align all elements of work — the physical, the emotional, the intellectual, the virtual, and the aspirational — to inspire employees. But preparing for the new world of work is not an easy process and there is no quick fix either. And while change is occurring at an increasingly rapid pace, understandably, many are struggling to keep up.

However, the evolution of work will continue regardless, and businesses that can make the right decisions now, will be able to iterate and learn fast – giving them a chance to get ahead and take the lead.

Here are five strategies to get started:

1 - Think Holistically

The concept of TalentSumerization will mean something very different for every company. It requires you to think holistically about the way you want to interact with your employees and what kind of consistent and immersive experience you want to give them with your company. After all, it is the ultimate expression of your business values, identity and culture.

2 - Apply Design Thinking

Design Thinking puts you in the shoes of the people you are designing for, to better understand their situation. Many HR processes today are designed for those running the service, not those who should be benefiting from it. And HR policies are written to keep employees with less desirable traits in check (“Douglas Effect”), when they should inspire and empower our best people instead.

It is time for HR to design with the real customer – i.e. the employees – in mind. HR must see people as individuals and create an employee experience that is personalized, intuitive, and engaging. This can include things like: how an employee selects where to work, what type of learning to engage in, and how to give and receive feedback. (Co-)creating this type of workplace requires HR to move out of its silo and interact with employees and leaders.

3 – Instill Cultural Anchors

What distinguishes great places to work from not-so-great ones are: identity and authenticity. You need to create core values that are well-founded, well-thought out and wholly owned. This is your anchor – your corporate DNA – for the way business is done, decisions are made, and interactions play out within the organization. This will allow you to be responsive to environmental conditions, and yet be authentic and true to yourself. It will allow you to build a strong workplace culture.

4 - Be Agile

Rapid transformation is affecting industries across the globe and almost any organization today is forced to respond to issues of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA), something that can no longer be mastered through industrial age structures and practices. In these turbulent times, agile – as a mindset as well as an effective way of working – has evolved as the predominant business and leadership approach.

Agile enterprises bring their people together to form self-organizing teams and teams-of-teams; they get to work on meaningful and challenging tasks with the necessary resources and freedom, and everyone understands the context and impact of what they do. People in agile teams are empowered and teamwork has become a different meaning. And agile organizations create a stimulating and interactive work environment for people to prosper and do their best work; and deliver results beyond the sum of the individual.

5 - Gamify HR

Gamification takes the essence of games - attributes such as fun, play, transparency, design, competition and yes, addiction - and applies them to a range of real-world processes inside a company. For HR, this ranges from the utilizing points, badges, and leaderboards in their learning & development approach to the implementation of augmented and virtual reality into the hiring process.

The Agile Advantage

Companies are aware of the challenging task ahead. According to the Global Human Capital Trends Survey 2017: 80% of executives are aware of the fact, that they need to create employee experiences, but only 20% of organizations say they excel at it.

But here is the good news for agile enterprises: you have a leg up! Organizations who are embracing agile ways of working have already started to change employee experiences and by partnering up with HR they will take it to the next level.

Agile enterprises think outside the box and there are so many incredible examples of new, disruptive practices out there. And even though it is hard to pick and choose the best ones, here is a list of things that will give you an edge over traditional organizations.

But before you discover some amazing ways to consumerize HR and get inspired to apply some of these wonderful ideas, remember: best practices are probably best somewhere else – and what is highly successful in one organization may not be the right tool for you. Also, they might have a great practice in place, but could potentially still struggle with another part of their HR experience.

Go from A Name Change to A Game Change

Agile organizations understand the importance of people as a competitive differentiator – and that makes HR the secret to enterprise agility. Hence, HR in forward-thinking organizations is critically assessing and redefining its own mandate. But it is not only about the way the HR department works (Agile4HR), but also about the way HR supports the agile organization (HR4Agile) with solutions that are aligned with the agile HR manifesto.

The People Operations (formerly known as HR) managers at Sky Betting & Gaming – a fast-growing, award winning digital company – is bringing agile HR to life through an agile approach to the co-creation of performance management, career development, succession planning, reward, recognition and culture.

They embarked on this journey with a kick-starter week. The first part of such a kick-starter is dedicated to shaping a deeper understanding of agile HR, establish a common vision and giving the team an identity and shared purpose. The latter part is targeted to help the people ops team to create a targeted backlog and roadmap relevant to their journey as well as defining the collaboration model and working agreements to move forward.

The new incremental and iterative approach to their work ensures their stakeholders will have complete transparency and regular opportunities to feedback on the squad’s roadmap and backlog, and eliminates the common feel of employee being ‘done to’ by HR. The shift from human resources to people operations is not just a name change but a game change.

First Impressions Count

Agile is a magnet for talented people. Enterprises can – and should – endorse and promote their employer brand accordingly. It goes without saying, recruitment starts long before a new vacancy comes up. The talent acquisition team must continuously reach out and connect with interesting people to pull them into the talent pipeline. They must create a unique hiring experience and the trend is to utilize augmented and virtual reality (VR).

The luxury vehicle brand Jaguar created fun, skills-based recruiting games: candidates are using an app learn about the nuances of electric vehicles and play engaging but demanding code-breaking puzzles. It allows the company to test for much-needed skills, instead of looking at qualifications alone. And the Walmart-owned online shopping platform is utilizing VR to create a “show, don’t tell” experience. Whereas the British Army lets applicants experience tank-driving and other scenarios with virtual reality.

Hire by The Team for The Team

Hiring is no longer about simply finding people with the right professional skills, but the ones who can match expertise with abilities to thrive in self-organizing responsive teams. Unsurprisingly, agile organizations hire people over paper. They want to get to know the person behind the resume.

Hiring hackathons are a great way to do so. It is an event that allows you to interact in-person and engage in face-to-face conversation. Also, it is a way to merge recruitment marketing with a physical event. Spotify, LEGO, Ford, Amazon, Paypal, MGM Grand, IBM, L’Oréal are only some of the household names that utilize hackathons in their recruiting process.

Also, hackathons allow companies to attract the best talent from a wider range of backgrounds. It helps them to embrace diversity of thought, which in turn supports a stimulating, creative, and innovative organizational setting. The success of agile teams will depend on their collective and collaborative skills. And since agile is a team sport, the hiring decision must be made by the team.

Avoid Hire's Remorse

Employees are most impressionable during the first 60 days on the job. Everything you do or say in this time will either reinforce your new hire’s “buying decision” (to take the job) or lead to “Hire’s Remorse”. For a successful onboarding process, one that quickly engages new employees and helps them succeed, it is vital to look beyond the traditional – often poorly organized, inefficient, and boring – welcome practices like town hall meetings and boot camps. Agile enterprises understand that dynamic and focus on inspiration and engagement instead.

The first thing they do is to gamify the onboarding experience and make it meaningful. Brands like KLM, Bosch, Heineken, Hunkemoller and Thales utilize Appical as their go-to “Welcome App” to deliver an engaging employee centric onboarding experience that really sticks. The second thing is to give people meaningful work and timely achievements by integrating them into empowered, collaborative teams. After all, there is nothing more engaging and rewarding than being part of a winning agile team.

Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate

It goes without saying that successful agile teams are masters of collaboration. Open communication and personal interactions are key to their success. Hence, agile teams are ideally co-located. Unfortunately, in a connected world, that is not always an option. However, being distributed is no obstacle for agile teams and they utilize technology and practices to bridge the gap.

Tools like the multitouch screen by Rentouch are designed for distributed teams. Their real-time synchronization enables better communication and more transparency in distributed settings, while keeping the benefits of physical stickies and paper boards. And specialized apps like “Brainwrite” for retrospectives and “PI Planning” for big room plannings support agile ways of working. My personal favorite is the synchronized whiteboard app that allows us to draw onto the same digital flipchart simultaneously, even when we are oceans apart and the design can be added to a Jira issue or confluence page in a tap.

Take Money Off the Table

Companies like the social media management platform provider Buffer apply full transparency to their compensation and they go as far as to publish their salary formula on the internet. A transparent salary structure brings many advantages like fostering greater trust and honoring the value of employees, regardless of individual negotiation and lobbying skills. But compensation is more than fair salaries.

Ever since Daniel Pink’s “Drive” (and decades of scientific studies) it is clear: people are driven by mastery, autonomy, and purpose. He debunks the industrial era belief that money is the strongest (and only effective) motivator. This forces us to rethink our compensation approach and invest in meaningful reward and appreciation as well as interesting work, new challenges, growth opportunities, and self-fulfillment.

The multinational communication company Nokia puts the power of recognition into everyone’s hand. Their “Recognize Excellence” framework offers a set of recognition programs and a tool, which makes it easy to acknowledge the contribution of colleagues. It is aligned with and underpinned by their corporate values, and allows more frequent and less formal ways of recognizing individual performance.

Hack Learning & Teaching

To be successful in a knowledge based economy, you need to learn faster than your competitors. Agile does not differentiate between work and learning (and teaching): to work is to learn (and teach) and vice versa. In addition to retrospectives and inspect & adapt sessions, agile enterprises further embed learning into the workflow through various initiatives.

The Australian software company Atlassian uses “ShipIt Days”: during a 24 h period employees can work on whatever they want, not necessarily work related. The only rule is that at the end of the 24 h, they must deliver a working prototype of something that can be any product of their imagination.

Another aspect is the empowerment of the modern learner. Sipgate, the European VoIP market leader, gives people full rein to choose their own training and learning events. You check back with your team to make sure the topic is relevant and the date okay. There is no formal approval – and the only condition is: you’ve got to pass on your new knowledge – summarized in one of their internal social networks or an Open Friday session.

Recognize the Power Shift

Over the past two decades or so, the business world has shifted away from command-and-control micromanagement towards inspiring leadership. But modern leaders cannot only think about leading people, but must also concentrate on leading work. A role that has changed immensely with the application of Scrum and other agile ways of working.

The empowerment of individuals and teams comes with a power shift that changes the whole dialogue and dynamic between boss and subordinates. And managers are no longer the sole decision makers and keepers of knowledge and wisdom.

The Swiss software company Haufe-Umantis is a democratic workplace that often experiments with radical practices. That’s how employees get to vote on all important business decisions, including who will fill the leadership positions. They elect these leaders every single year and even have the right to call for a referendum.

Invest in Continuous Growth

Empowerment does not only take hold when it comes to people doing their job, but also when it comes to their personal development. The telecommunications giant AT&T empowers employees to seek out new skills, roles, and experiences.

This goes hand in hand with fast feedback as well as candid, yet positive and forward-looking dialogues between leaders and employees. It is further supported by individual career coaching with a (progressing) learning and growth plan.

It is a continuous investment into the (internal and external) market value of employees, but it also equips the organization with a previously untapped understanding of their talent pipeline. HR no longer depends on a rating from an annual appraisal, because they know their people on a personal, authentic level.

This make careers more meaningful and personal, but also allows companies to better match individual needs with organizational demands. But offering multi-directional career moves is not only a way to expose people to different roles and parts of the organization, it also allows enterprises to be more nimble in the way they staff their initiatives and boost talent mobility. Hence, they are no longer restricted by a rigid organizational structure, but are able to respond quickly to changing business needs.

Walk the Talk

Organizational culture is essentially the attitudes, style and beliefs of an organization. A company must know what they stand for and understand how their core values and behaviors are demonstrated. And they must stay true to that.

The American clothing company Patagonia says it hires activists and looks for people who are so incredibly passionate about the environment that they want to protest. That is why they have social justice PTO: every employee gets a few days each month to protest, vote, and participate in marches.

The pharmaceutical giant Roche also puts its money where its mouth is – but in a completely different way. Their mission is to put innovation at the heart of what they do. To achieve that they needed to eliminate bureaucracy and empower people. They chose an unlikely contender: expense allowances. They eliminated travel and expense policies and instead implemented a system of self-authorization and transparency.

With an annual travel budget of up to CHF450m ($485m) the stakes were high, but the radical approach is a success on all fronts: the approach is better attuned with their corporate values, the new process is more efficient and takes less time than before, employee motivation is up – and last but not least overall expenses are down.


We are asking employees, leaders, HR, and organizations to change – not a small change, but an overhaul of the known. When confronted with such a big transformation, everyone’s favorite question is: “WIIFM - What’s in It For Me?”

This is not about being selfish, but simply a way to evaluate our environment, especially when we are asked to participant in a bigger change. After all, change is a movement away from the present towards the unknown. It takes courage to embark on a journey that is different from the way we have been doing things and the way we were taught to see the world.

So, let us check out the WIIFM-question:

  • WIIFM as an employee? – As a modern employee, you are a learning worker who thrives on challenging, meaningful work. But you also seek meaning and purpose along with appreciation and respect. You are intrinsically motivated, want to take responsibility and be actively involved. So, to innovate and contribute, you must be allowed to manage yourself with the necessary autonomy and empowerment. And you want all of that to be done in a personalized and meaningful way.
    That is what TalentSumerization is all about – as an employee you will get quite a unique experience. The “entertain me” phase is over and you will actively help to shape your company, your job, and your career. You will be empowered to work, learn, and grow. And isn’t it inspiring to work for a company that values your individuality and helps you develop your talent?
  • WIIFM as a leader? – The role of managers has changed drastically, and companies are looking for a new breed of inspiring and supportive leaders, who can thrive in an agile setting. And the new way of working means leaving behind managerial tasks like tiresome meetings, micro-management, and employee ratings, and instead be able to focus on leading work and inspiring and developing people.
    The Leadership IQ Survey shows employees who spent 1 to 6 hours per week directly interacting with their leader, became 29% more inspired about their work, 30% more engaged, 16% more innovative, and 15% more intrinsically motivated. And isn’t it amazing to see your people grow and thrive and to know that you have been an integral in shaping their success?
  • WIIFM as HR? – Agile teams are more engaged and – according to the State of Agile 2017 survey – have an 81 % higher team morale and motivation compared to people working in more traditional settings. And an Officevibe Infographic confirms that highly engaged employees are not only more productive but are also 87% less likely to leave their companies than their disengaged counterparts.
    By focusing on people, companies will ensure they can remain competitive in attracting, engaging and inspiring top talent. This will turn HR from a cost center (fighting to proof their value) to a business driver (and – yes – get you that seat at the table). And isn’t it more fun to be engaging with people, than managing processes?
  • WIIFM as an organization? – Companies cannot grow and thrive without an engaged workforce. But investing in people is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do, because organizations with highly engaged employees have a 9% higher shareholder returns, achieve 2x the annual net income, and make 2.5x more in revenues than their competitors with low engagement levels. And isn’t it worth investing in your greatest asset – your people?


There is no denying: Human Resources is facing its biggest transformation yet, but with this challenge also comes the unique opportunity to actively reshape the face and impact of HR forever. And HR teams that begin to think about their roles as creating an employment experience, rather than structuring employment, will be on the leading edge of modern workplaces.

So far, agile enterprises have a leg up over more traditionally run organizations in beating the employee engagement crisis. But they will sacrifice that advantage if they do not fix their HR/people approach. And the time is more than right to invest into agile people operations – and create those meaningful employee experiences.

And it is not an easy journey; it takes a lot of courage and determination. But it is a transformation towards a future that promises not just something different but, hopefully, something better. So, the question is not should you invest in TalentSumerization, but can you afford not to, because:

To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.

– Doug Conant

Are you ready to rock the workplace?

About the Author

Fabiola Eyholzer (SPC 4.5, CSPO) is an expert and thought leader in Lean | Agile People Operations – the 21st century Agile HR approach. Key players in various industries seek her expertise in Enterprise Agility, Human Resources, Compensation & Performance Management, Operations & Processes, and Strategy. She helps enterprises accelerate their agile transformation by focusing on their key asset: their people.

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