As VP of Human Capital Management Innovation at Ultimate Software, Cecile Alper-Leroux is focused on the delivery of advanced, people-centric HCM technology-based solutions and services. She is a frequent speaker on a wide range of global industry trends and topics. Presenting at the HR Technology Conference, October 1 - 4 in Las Vegas, she will participate in the presentation New Technologies to Manage Workplace Diversity. In addition to hearing her at the industry’s leading independent event for 20+ years, Cecile’s latest thinking can be found in her book titled “From Dissonance to Resonance: Bringing Your People and Organization Into Sync.” We’re delighted to share excerpts from our conversation with her.
Cecile, we suspect many of our readers are wondering exactly what is resonance?
I chose the term “resonance” in the title of my book to describe my vision of a world in which people at work can resonate with the structures, ideas, norms, and new technologies that define today’s work experience, it’s the physics definition of resonance. It’s been my observation that we increasingly find ourselves and our workforces out of sync, and that much of this is due to the way work is defined and performed in the modern workplace — with technologies, tools, systems, and process flows out of tune with our natural frequencies.
There’s no doubt we’re in a period of incredible business acceleration. Has technology helped or hurt HR?
Technology has tremendous potential to help HR, provided it is developed and used ethically and to serve people. Today HR is primarily limiting its use of AI to recruiting and hiring automation whereas there is much more opportunity to better understand people at work and move to targeted talent development, guided conversational feedback and engagement solutions. These tools have yet to be fully effective, since the larger systems in which they are embedded have not fundamentally altered. Until technology providers can shift from transactional tracking systems to experiential people-centered systems of interaction and connection, organizations will struggle to get broad adoption of their technology investment.
It sounds like technology has driven change but HR hasn’t kept up. Is a new kind of HR professional needed in this tech-intensive environment?
I believe HR professionals have some choices to make and will fall into two potential role choices. They may decide to focus on being advocates for the organization, fully responsible for developing programs and policies for the workforce to help them best serve the organization’s immediate and long- term goals. By creating people strategies for working with a fluid workforce, introducing new open-door policies, developing short-term benefits for giggers, and nurturing leaders to quickly and deeply connect with diverse work teams, such HR leaders would usher in a new era of organizational design. These Organizational HR Advocates would work closely with a second defined HR role—the People Agent. This new HR role would unabashedly and without compromise advocate for employees, something few employees would say they have today. In this model, each employee, regardless of role, could have an individual People Agent funded by the person via compensation withholding or the organization itself. The choice of a People Agent would be left to employees. Companies may be incented to pay for People Agent fees, given that People Agents may help attract and represent superior talent, by demonstrating trust and the importance of unbiased employee advocacy.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t take this chance to ask you about the impact of the multigenerational workforce. Are there any bright spots?
The new multi-generational workforce is very comfortable explicitly sharing their goals and aspirations openly—what they think about themselves, how they think about work, and how they envision their careers, pre- and post- retirement. The new entrants into the workforce also are very comfortable saying what they want from their organizations and people leaders. Current employees are planning early retirement, while others are focused on careers after retirement, with working arrangements that most organizations have not yet considered.
A bright spot in the United States, for example, is that the newest employees in the workforce are much more at ease with diversity—they have grown up with, gone to school with, and lived around a more openly diverse population than any generation in American history. They are also generally familiar with the concept that HR industry leaders refer to as “inclusion,” and have positive expectations of inclusion for themselves, their teammates and leaders.
As a published author, tell us which books are on your summer reading list and why.
Now that my book is done, I’m delighted to pick up a few that have been on my list for a while. Sapiens and Reading Lolita in Tehran are two that I’m really into right now. Sapiens is incredibly compelling, thought-provoking, well written and should be required reading for us all! Reading Lolita in Tehran is particularly interesting to me, as it addresses a recurring theme about inequity for women at a time in my childhood when my family was considering moving to Iran for my father’s work, so I can imagine what that experience could have meant… that all changed when the Shah was overthrown in 1979 and we stayed in the US.
What’s your advice for new entrants to the workplace?
Be fearless and take risks. If an opportunity presents itself grab it. It is okay to make mistakes and much better to go forward with no regrets. At the same time, make sure you have time for yourself. Try to strike that balance where your life has enough time for your friends, family, and avocations.
The other thing I would say is that your first job may not be what your career turns out to be. Keep those eyes open to the possibilities.
Last question: if you could have lunch with three people in the HR industry, who would they be and why?
Other than my old friends in the industry, I would have to say that I would like to spend time with the heads of HR for a couple of companies that I see as truly a cut above in terms of their corporate culture. One would be the head of HR for Wegmans supermarkets, another would be the lead HR person at JetBlue Airways, and the last would be the lead HR/people person at Zappos.
Why those three? I have been a customer of all three and I note that one thing they have in common is that they all empower their front-line employees to do whatever they have to do to satisfy the customer. They also have exceptionally happy employees. I'd really like to hear how these companies were able to come to a consensus that doing so is good for business. I think that is a lesson that every company needs to learn.