By John Foley - Originally posted on Forbes
It's not enough to "empower" employees. If companies truly want to unleash an empowered workforce, they need a new generation of human capital management tools that are designed to enable that, Larry Ellison said at Oracle HCM World last week.
"Getting people to connect -- to the company, to one another -- makes for a much more satisfied and productive workforce, which is very different from how we looked at HCM before," Oracle's CEO said in a February 6 keynote presentation at HCM World in Las Vegas.
What's needed is a modern HCM system?one that's cloud-based, social and mobile by design, and used by everyone in the company, Ellison said. He then pulled up a chair and took questions from the hundreds of human resources (HR) execs that had packed into the conference center.
"How does Oracle compete for talent?" they asked. "How does the company bring new employees into the fold?" "What are the implications of technology on human behavior?" "What drives you personally?"
It was a probing and enlightening exchange on the emergence of HR as the central nervous system for a business and on the complex organizational dynamics that come with that. In this expanded role, HCM has emerged as one of the two most important enterprise applications, along with customer service, according to Ellison. "It's all about people," he said.
At HCM World, speakers from Accenture, CEB's Corporate Leadership Council, Elizabeth Arden, Hitachi, KPMG, PwC, Siemens, Verizon, and other companies talked about the challenges and opportunities they face in leading HR through this unprecedented transformation. For my roundup of the highlights from this three-day brainstorming session, see "10 Trends Driving The Mandate For Modern HCM."
Ellison recently called employees a company's "most precious assets." During the open Q&A session at HCM World, he talked about the importance of holding onto that hard-won talent. "If people don't feel they're improving their skills and moving ahead in the organization, you're not going to keep them," he said.
Note the pivotal word in that statement?if employees don't feel they're on the right track, they're at greater risk of leaving. As it turns out, employee retention is one of the many areas where a modern HCM system can help. If one part of the business has an unusually high turnover rate, the HCM system's analytics capabilities can flag the situation and prompt action.
With 125,000 employees, Oracle knows these challenges first hand. When employees do leave, Ellison said, they generally go to startups or small companies where they hope to make a bigger difference. "I believe people have to follow their dreams -- I did," he said.
Such entrepreneurial pursuits don't always pan out, but they provide valuable lessons and experience, which make those risk takers good candidates for future openings, Ellison said.
Some of the questions veered away from HR. One person in the audience asked about Ellison's plans for Lanai, the Hawaiian island he purchased, or most of it, in 2012. Ellison talked of plans to demonstrate the feasibility of green energy -- sun, wind, and liquefied natural gas -- and of other investments in infrastructure and schools.
Then, in response to a question about technology's impact on human behavior, Ellison pointed to the recently released movie "Her," in which the main character develops a relationship with an artificial-intelligence program that has a female persona. The Academy Award-nominated film was co-produced by Megan Ellison, Larry's daughter.
"Be careful about virtual relationships with artificially intelligent pieces of software," Ellison joked with the audience.
As far-fetched as that may sound, there is -- or someday may be -- an HR angle to consider. Siri is now a major feature in Apple's iOS operating system, virtual reality has become mainstream, and robots are replacing humans for some tasks. Bertrand Dussert, Oracle VP of HCM Transformation and Thought Leadership, tells me that cognitive computing and robotics should be on HR's watch list.
Ellison warned that teenagers waste too much time playing video games, at the expense of real-world experiences. "Where does it end?" he asked. (As the parent of a high school student who spends hours on Xbox, I would love to know the answer!)
At the same time, tech can also have a ?fabulous? impact on millennials, Ellison said. Indeed, tech-savvy kids will grow into the future workforce that HR recruiters will someday fight over, which is the subject of my article, "Kids, Code, And The Future Of Technology."
As employees move along their career path, it's important that businesses nurture professional development in ways that motivate and inspire them. "You have to have an environment where they enjoy what they're doing," Ellison said.
Oracle's founder talked about his own pursuit of goals, and how he has tested and stretched his own limits along the way. "That's really what drives me?this process of discovery," he said.
The world got to see how exciting that can be in September when Oracle Team USA won the America's Cup in stunning, come-from-behind fashion. But Ellison's "change the world" (his words) approach has always been manifest in Oracle's business, too.
"How many insanely great products can you bring out?" he said, a rhetorical question that provides some insight into how that happens.
No doubt, this kind of personal journey and professional realization, often woven together, are important to all of us. Modern HCM can help by encouraging employees to raise their visibility, pursue opportunities, team up with a mentor (or become one), and collaborate across departments and geographies.
A Call To Action
In this new way of working, the HR department plays a central and much more strategic role. "In a modern company, HR takes on expanded responsibility for team building and enabling teamwork," Ellison said.
He pointed to Oracle's internal HR team as a case in point: "What is Oracle? It's people. We rely on our HR department to build this organization, to help find those people, to help grow those people."
As the session wound down, Ellison concluded with a statement about the vital role of HR that might also be interpreted as a call to action.
"HR can fundamentally change the destiny of the company," he said, and then added: "If they can help us find, grow, and retain people, they basically are the key enablers to our success."
There's that word -- if -- again. It's up to HR leaders to change the discussion from if to when.