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Human Resources Rocks? The Rise of the Employee Experience

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

“Run from anyone that believes that traditional HR is a good thing” is an essential requirement for any prospective HR practitioner at Tesla so says our colleague HR VP, Mark Lipscomb. The movement to shift HR to a new place continues and the HR profession is really rocking now. Depending on your view it’s either rockingin a great way or simply being rocked from changing expectations within the workplace and HR's evolving role within the business as new HR models continue to rise and shape our collective future.

If any company represents progress- it’s Elon Musk's Tesla with a defining mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport and is, at the same time, producing zero-emissions electric cars that are being rated as the ‘best ever’. Globally, Tesla is on the ball too as it is expecting equal or higher sales in China than the United States by 2021. The challenges this brings especially within HR in terms of attracting and retaining top talent cannot be underestimated.

A wide range of companies are demanding and actively leading the development of more progressive forms of HR. The models and approaches can be quite different, but we get the point completely; HR is changing and the early convoy of bandwagons is growing in number every day. I say wagons in the traditional sense, but it may be more appropriate to say a convoy of Tesla Model S 70D’s, the “Car of the 21st Century”.Perhaps that would better express the super-charged, revamped and sustainable model this new HR represents?

The Rock Star HR being advocated at Tesla is a good example to take note of. In fact, we didn’t need any deep insights to understand what Tesla’s vision is for the type of HR the company wants to see from the get-go. This type of HR is a fully-fledged and integral part of the business. There seems to be a zero-tolerance approach in operation for any kind of disconnect between the business and HR. There are some great one-liners to sum this up. For example, applicants for HR roles must absolutely: ‘Speak “business”, not “HR”. We don’t much like “HR” lingo and some of it is just silly . . . PIP this!’

Here’s some more of the criteria set out in Mark’s recruitment post, which is also used as the standard on their careers website for their HR roles. Are you missing all the HR-speak yet? This is not your typical HR job ad. It sounds more like a HR role within a Star Wars movie.

  • "Make the impossible possible.

  • Be a leader throughout Tesla – speak up, exert influence to create positive change and manage your boss, when needed. We are all human, except those who are robots.

  • Be a trusted business partner and coach to our leaders. Have some popcorn with them on Wednesday afternoons every now and then.

  • Understand our business and how what you do helps it accelerate at rocket speeds. Please remember to wear a seatbelt when you do this.

  • When you think you are done, make it better.

  • Prove your value every day. Work that doesn’t add value is not valuable.

  • Be you! Being someone else all day is just plain exhausting.

  • Love change, it happens here at the speed of light . . . maybe faster, but we have been unable to measure it because it is going too damn fast.

  • Be proactive, we move too fast to be reactive. Plus, people that are always reacting have a funny look on their face.

  • Love to be challenged . . . no, REALLY CHALLENGED.

  • Recognize others and they will recognize you. Most of us like chocolate.

  • Know, learn and keep up-to-date on the HR stuff.

  • Learn something new every day. Not doing so is just dumb."

But how could it possibly be any other way? This is a company that is changing the world and expects its HR team to do the same. World-changing HR: I like the sound of that. This certainly looks and feels more like HR as a true business leader.

We continue to see the demand climbing for the new type of HR professional within both operational and higher-level HR roles. This coupled with the strategic plays to bring together services under the employee experience umbrella on a global or organisation-wide basis presents a compelling and potentially extremely successful combination to drive HR forward with confidence.

It is different this time round as we transition from engagement to experience thinking. When practitioners’ talk of engagement it traditionally has felt like something was missing from the discussion. Experience brings the whole of HR and much more into play. It appears somehow more complete with massive potential to clearly demonstrate value and impact on business performance. We may be seeing shifts in the recruitment of HR folks to keep up with this thinking, but there is no doubt that the focus on employee experience has exploded around the world in 2015 across sectors.

Gina O’Reilly, COO and Nitronaut, has already experienced the benefits of moving to a strategic employee experience focus. Nitro is a software company that is ‘changing the way the world works with documents’ and a company that has grasped the potential of pressing reset on their HR function. At Nitro, ‘Employee Experience (Ex) is first and foremost about protecting and supporting employees’, which incorporates Maslow’s work on the hierarchy of needs. For Nitro, what this means is a company focused on creating job satisfaction, happiness and success for its staff. This, according to a company which has grown its revenue ‘35-40% year-on-year’ over the past 5 years, is crucial to business success.

The flood of adverts now seeking a 'Director of Employee Experience' provides further evidence and assurance that this is not simply a shiny new concept, thing or HR fad, but something that businesses are really taking very seriously in how they develop and connect their business performance. So a flash in the pan it isn’t and I note the growing number of HR practitioners trying on this new (or at the very least evolved) hat and liking its comfortable fit.

In saying that, some HR practitioners and business leaders would comment that it’s very easy to create a nice new title and brand for HR, but the proof, as always, is in the pudding. That’s why it’s so revealing to take a look at the accompanying job descriptions for these roles. Companies are lining up behind the titles and setting out the much broader mandate required for success, which generally includes all the key services and functions that affect the employee experience across the business, as per the example at Airbnb.

Yet, in reality, the models will continue to differ as businesses build their own version of the new HR. The overwhelmingly positive response from businesses and HR practitioners about this shift to employee experience for HR is very exciting though and has the potential to finally position HR in a true business leadership role.

What’s the key to keep this employee experience movement going? Well, that’s the easy bit. As Tesla encourage: make the impossible happen, love change, prove value, and be proactive…because nobody within our incredibly meaningful profession would like to see that ‘funny look’ on our faces if we ever realize that the ship (or model S 70D) has sailed (driven off) without us.

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