What is needed from HR technology to facilitate the Workforce of One?

by Rob van Dijk –

A growing body of experts is of opinion that the future of talent and career management is moving towards customization. Some call it ‘consumerization of HR’. Others call this ‘Workforce of One’.

Workforce of One is a logical next step in the evolution of HR, where business-driven HR goes hand in hand with people-centric HR. In essence, the concept is all about technology-supported custom workforce management. Every individual employee is treated as an individual with unique preferences, background, and ambitions. 

This enables HR to provide customized HR processes, content, and services suited to the employee’s individual needs based on these unique characteristics in order to improve employee experience, employee engagement, and stimulate development.

Sounds great, right? So, are we there yet?

Not exactly.

Even though the concept of customized services and content for employees sounds promising, this trend relies primarily on the following prerequisites and progress has been slow:

  • The ability of technology to support customization
  • The willingness of people to experiment, embrace, and trust the concept and provide necessary information to organizations
  • The willingness of people and organizations to embrace the ‘gig economy’

In this article, I would like to explore the first prerequisite mentioned and ask the question, what is needed from technology to facilitate this trend?


Key technology features for the workforce of one

When it comes to the workforce of one, there are four technological features that need to be in place to enable this customization. In this article, we will discuss these features and their current state in HR technology.

  • Integration: the level of system and data integration and communication between system modules;
  • User engagement: the way employees are approached, challenged and triggered to act;
  • Analytics: the ability to analyze employee data and organizational data in such a way that it starts giving smart recommendations;
  • Data handling: the way systems store and treat employee data.

Let’s dive in!



Integrated talent management is probably one of the hottest trends in HR from the past decade. It is concerned with the integration of all processes aimed at attracting, retaining, and developing talent within the organization. 

This includes tasks such as recruitment, development, personnel planning, appraisal, and succession planning. This view is also in line with Bersin’sinternational research, which regularly shows that with this integrated view and focus, HR has the opportunity to create an efficient HR organization and offer employees the best HR services and experience.

Right now, the new terms used are employee experience or talent experience, both of which have a more people-centric focus, but in essence, all these trends remain heavily dependent on the ability of systems and modules to be integrated.

What does this system integration actually mean?

System integration can mean many things, but nowadays for HR and employees it should at least entail the following features:

  • There is one system of record (and one version of the truth)
  • Changes made in one system affect other systems
  • Data entered in the database can be used by any system
  • Reporting can be done across HR processes

Basically, the technology should be built and configured by HR and IT in such a way that the employee journey is seen as one big process and employees feel that.

What we are (still) seeing when we take a look at the vendor landscape is that there are three major ERP vendors who offer the full range of HR processes in one package: Workday, SAP SuccessFactors, and Oracle. The market for this technology is huge, and if you go to UNLEASH (the biggest HR technology gathering in the world, formerly HR tech) you will find these three followed by an ever-growing number of HR technology vendors.

In my next article, I will be taking a closer look at vendors and what they can offer organizations and people in this people-centric approach. First of all, the ability to integrate with other systems is key. Another key feature is how this integration is expressed at the front-end. How are employees engaged?


User engagement

Having an integrated platform where information is accessible to everyone and combinations can be made across processes is one thing. How the information is presented and how employees interact with the software is another thing. The latter is crucial for the employee experience. 

If you are not able to offer an intuitive interface to employees as a vendor you will not survive long. Especially with the current and next generations entering the market who will dismiss any app within seconds if it is not fast, intuitive, and enjoyable.

Let’s face it, HR processes aren’t sexy for the most part so anything that makes it easier and user-friendlier will add to the employee experience and increase employee engagement with the tool. Now, back to the premise of ‘the Workforce for One’: provide customized HR processes, content, and services suited to the employee’s needs. What would that look and feel like in an ideal situation?

Imagine the following scenario:

Andrea is a business analyst at a global retailer. She is 26, has been in her current role for 2 years, and is ready for the next challenge. Talking with her manager about her ambitions she formed the idea for her next role: business consultant. This would mean she needs to connect more with (internal) customers and work on her presentation and project management skills. 

All this information is captured in the career management portal and triggers the following actions in the system:

  1. In the learning catalog, all courses with the tags ‘presentation skills’ and ‘project management’ are now linked to Andrea’s profile;
  2. In succession management, Andrea’s profile is now linked to the position of ‘business consultant’ with readiness set to ‘2 years’ because of her high potential rating.
  3. In workforce planning, a business consultant is added to the workforce in 2 years and a business analyst is removed. 

Andrea and her manager have seen in the system that the need for business consultants will remain steady for at least the next 3 years.

The next morning, Andrea goes to her career portal. She can now see all suggested courses, MOOCs, and communities based on her (new) preferences. She sees a project management course with some great peer reviews. She immediately books the course for next term. She couldn’t find a nice course to improve her presentation skills though.

Two weeks later, Andrea gets a notification on her phone stating that a new storytelling course has been made available in the learning catalog. Once she taps the notification, she gets a short overview of the contents and a button that says ‘Enroll’. She picks a timeslot, enrolls and the timeslot is blocked in her agenda.

This is an example of system integration working smoothly combined with an interface that immediately can transform data into valuable information and insights. In this case, the system provides Andrea with the ‘next best course’.

Andrea is engaged because:

  1. She doesn’t have to go search in a static database to look for her best next course;
  2. She can act on the information immediately through a powerful app;
  3. She experiences customization in a way that helps her achieve her goals.

On top of this, Andrea will be motivated to make use of the career management app and other systems that help her achieve her goals.

For this to work fast and properly, however, there needs to be a decent reporting and analytics engine to feed these insights.


Data & Analytics, AKA The Smart Factory

Being able to provide smart suggestions and customized content is in its core dependent on smart data management. Ruurd Baane, a colleague of mine at Bright & Company, an HR consulting firm, dubbed this IT architecture combined with proper technical capabilities The Smart Factory. Baane: “The biggest challenge in the Smart factory is how to make information accessible, personal, and therefore relevant”.

People analytics plays an important role in bringing this concept to fruition. As more data about people become available, both externally and from within the organization, you can place more diverse and rich data in a People Analytics model and it becomes possible to start profiling on an individual level. At some point in the near future, people analytics will reach a point where we can see in detail how the workforce is structured, and we will be able to tell which products and services are effective for which type of employee in a very granular way. People Analytics enables organizations to do this and this benefits both the organization and the employee.

For this premise to come true, however, data management in many organizations needs to mature and put the creation of valuable customized information and insights about the workforce in their data model designs.


In conclusion

The potential of HR technology to support a workforce of one through customized content and insights is great and it can be a driver in making organizations of people develop better. 

You see large corporates such as Shell and a number of financial institutions taking steps in this direction. On the one hand, because these organizations have always had an eye for the human factor, while at the same time they have the resources for investing in intuitive portals. 

In these systems, relevant information for employees is bundled and presented in an accessible manner. At ING, a multinational banking and financial services corporation, they are so far that the system proactively proposes, based on your ambitions, which training is needed to provide the desired development. Of course, this is not yet available for most organizations but the emergence of APIs, for example, makes the exchange of data from different systems a lot easier.

This brings up the question: how far along is the technology actually to facilitate this trend and what can we expect in the future?

This will be the topic for another article where I will give an assessment on the HR technology landscape with a focus on the abilities to provide people-centric customized content to organizations of people.