Global Workforce Agility Report 2021: An Interview with Toyota
“Much of our success is driven by our obsession with delivering an outstanding experience for our customers. My ambition is that we become equally obsessed with delivering the same experience to our employees.”
Toyota operates 15 manufacturing facilities in North America, with 45,000 employees. We spoke with Anthony Allen, HR Director, to find out how the organization is harnessing technology to improve the employee experience and eradicate bias in recruitment processes.
Many of your employees are based in manufacturing plants and don’t have access to PCs. How are you using technology to improve their wellbeing and productivity?
Ultimately, we're trying to meet our employees where we're meeting our customers. Today, you and I have a consumer-grade technology experience that helps us to manage our lives. And I've always asked, "Why don't we have that at work?" I have banking apps, I have shopping apps, I have music apps, I have special-interest apps. And I use those apps to help me be productive in my life – but I really don't have similar apps to assist with work.
To offer our employees this seamless, omni-channel experience, we created Ask HR. This app, which employees download to their phones, uses AI and machine learning to answer any HR-related questions that the employee may have; for example, about our policies and benefits. The employee can ask a question and then return to the app a few hours later and they will have an answer. This provides a quick and seamless experience for the employee to get answers to frequently asked questions, while minimizing the pressure on the HR team. The app has been particularly useful during the pandemic, when employees naturally had a lot of questions about company benefits.
You mentioned that you want to give your employees a consumer-grade experience. How did you ensure that the Ask HR app delivered this?
In our personal lives, when we don’t like an application or find it to be ineffective, we delete it from our phones. However, at work, many of us don’t have this luxury – we are forced to use what the organization provides. At Toyota, we take a different approach: we perform usability studies on our workforce technologies, asking employees whether they can intuitively navigate applications, and we use personal and user-journey mapping to measure the effectiveness of our technology from an employee perspective. We have received some great feedback and each time our employees have asked us to improve our applications in some way, we have.
So, you are aligning the employee experience with the experience Toyota offers its customers?
Our company was founded on two principles: respect for people and continuous improvement. Much of our success is driven by being obsessed with delivering an outstanding experience for our customers, and my ambition is that we become equally obsessed with delivering the same experience to our employees.
Many organizations are concerned about investing in this type of technology in case it fails to deliver the expected results. What would be your advice to other HR leaders that are looking to adopt a similar approach?
One factor that has made the Ask HR app possible is our highly agile, fail-fast approach. Rather than developing the app in its entirety and then delivering it to employees, we took a phased, incremental approach that involved seeking feedback from employees after each phase. This ensured that the final product delivered against our investment.
Are you using technology to improve any other aspect of workforce management?
In the talent-acquisition space, for example, we are exploring tools that help us to ensure that Toyota’s job descriptions are optimal and while also mitigating any unconscious bias that may result in some of the terminology we use – for example by using words that may be considered ‘masculine’, and therefore unintentionally impacting the pool of candidates.
More widely, we are using predictive analytics to address a number of business issues. This technology enables us to take a more scientific approach to what we are doing. HR functions are realizing that, hey, we can take our natural intuition and match it up with data and then influence the business to make certain decisions that impact their talent. So, while AI can be useful in business, we are always careful to also evaluate the ethical, privacy, and legal implications of using AI in business operations.
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