How KLM took bold steps to build the future of Digital HR

Seeking to fully embrace digital transformation and realize its benefits in every aspect of their business, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines made a deep commitment to doing things better. Using genuine employee journeys to identify high-value improvements, they transformed their HR organization into an agile digital powerhouse.
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Strengthening digital ambitions to meet tomorrow’s challenges

Moving your World by Creating Memorable Experiences. When KLM formulated its new organizational purpose in 2015, its gaze wasn’t only directed outward. They realized that their ability to provide genuine value to their passengers and business clients was closely intertwined with their ability to meet tomorrow’s human resource challenges head-on. Delivering on their new purpose would require optimal staff behavior, optimal work climate and optimal leadership. To facilitate this, they would have to close the gap between internal and external quality, reimagining their HR experience to deliver the same superlative experiences that passengers had long been able to rely on.

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But for such a large enterprise, that’s easier said than done. In the wake of a recent company-wide reorganization that saw KLM centralize its HR operations, some 30,000 employees depended on the services that the human resources department provided. Faced with a business environment where rapid technological development has become the norm, KLM would not only have to address unmet needs to improve HR – they would have to address them in an agile way.

Taking a sustainable path to continuous improvement

Having already worked with Accenture extensively in 2015 and 2016, KLM asked us to help them lay the foundation for their push toward Digital HR. We understood their ambitions perfectly: to close the gaps between internal and external experiences and deliver digital and agile change from within the organization. By creating roadmaps and facilitating key components of the transformation process, we helped them establish a sustainable approach to continuous improvement.

1. Carrying out interviews to understand employee experiences

In the earliest stages of the process, it was evident that real employee input would be an invaluable source of information. Examining the HR experience from an employee’s perspective helped KLM and us to better understand their pains and potential gains and identify gaps in human resources products and services.

2. Carefully defining the moments that matter

Building on these insights into real experiences, we helped KLM define the most important interactions between employees and the HR department. These “8 Moments that Matter” would help contextualize potential improvements to current HR practices and create a common language.

3. Prototyping solutions during the Employee Journey Workshop

During the Employee Journey Workshop, employees from all parts of the organization were invited to participate in a full-day prototyping session. Drawing inspiration from real employee experiences and examples outside the business, the day resulted in a new Employee Journey and three prototypes.

4. Establishing a clear vision during the Digital Design Day

To help establish a compelling vision for Digital HR and create a sense of understanding and commitment among HR stakeholders and potential product owners, KLM and Accenture organized a Digital Design Day with this group. Here, the results from the previous workshop were improved and expanded.

5. Defining and prioritizing Digital HR Epics

Armed with a deeper understanding of unmet employee needs and a strong vision for the future, KLM HR set about defining 12 Digital HR Epics. These were then prioritized in terms of feasibility and impact, ensuring that the first Epics to be carried out would generate meaningful results as quickly as possible.

6. Seeking key supporters within the organization

Without the right support, digital transformation is an uphill battle. Fortunately, the Epics and other resources created up until this point provided the materials necessary to spread the Digital HR vision within the organization, facilitating connections with supporters and potential product owners and business owners.

7. Creating a road map for transformation

To provide a consistent framework for the digital transformation and set the process in motion, KLM HR created a six-month road map based on the list of prioritized Epics and the most pressing HR challenges. The aim was to move quickly, using successes as stepping stones along an agile path to improvement.

8. Using the right catalysts to accelerate change

Some changes are easier to implement than others, especially within the shifting contexts of ongoing digital transformation. To make sure that particularly ambitious changes didn’t overwhelm KLM HR’s ability to evolve, KLM Digital Studio served as an incubator, fanning the flames of innovation until Digital HR was ready to take over.

Reaping the rewards of an employee-centric approach

Change is never easy. There are hurdles and pitfalls every step of the way, especially when you are challenging long-standing practices within a major organization. But while you can’t eliminate all those risks, listening carefully to what your users really need will increase your odds of success substantially.

Ultimately, KLM’s Digital HR transformation was wildly successful, and that success is largely attributable to their willingness to listen to their employees. By carefully determining the exact nature and location of unmet needs, connecting those pains to the business, marshaling the resources needed to address them and developing solutions in an agile way throughout the entire process, they made an astonishing impact on their HR department that continues to this day.

Delivering tangible value for an endless list of Epics…

When the time came to select the first Epic to work on, KLM chose to focus on the Leave Day app: a simple solution that would give users immediate insight into their vacation days, providing a welcome alternative to the time-consuming paper-based process used previously. Despite initially being dismissed as low-hanging fruit, the application was a smash hit and went on to become the most widely-used Digital HR tool ever made by KLM. And that was only the beginning.

Since development first began on the new Digital HR vision in 2017, most of the original 12 Epics have been taken care of – as have a multitude of new ones. To increase and facilitate internal mobility, KLM built the Career Market Place (now MyCareers). To help employees access information more easily, they also developed MySearch, a powerful new search tool vastly superior to previous technology. Another excellent example is the 'One Portal' solution, currently being rolled out, that aims to create an improved, personalized and context-driven intranet for all types of devices. Without the original push toward digital transformation in HR, none of these new employee products and services would have come to fruition.

…by achieving meaningful, lasting change in HR

But the project’s most important outcome is not revealed in new deliverables, products or services. It’s revealed in the new mindset that has taken root in KLM’s human resources department. In the end, the Digital HR project resulted in a whole-system change. The entire HR organization – assisted by KLM Digital Studio and IT – made a massive and fundamental shift, radically embracing an outlook of constant improvement and innovation. KLM HR doesn’t view design thinking as a one-off – they embrace it as a continuous process. 

KLM HR doesn’t view design thinking as a one-off – they embrace it as a continuous process.

The old-school waterfall methodology has been replaced by fast, agile processes. And to further boost those processes, KLM HR is setting up its own UX capabilities, making sure they’ll always have a team working within HR to research new employee journey improvements and help design and test new products.

Looking ahead toward new challenges and opportunities

As KLM pursues its ambition of becoming a digital airline, the importance of Digital HR will only continue to grow. Being able to make the right decisions for the business at the right time and pursue improvements without sacrificing profitability will become increasingly important in that regard. This in turn puts greater emphasis on proper value management.

In 2018, Accenture participated in an add-on project with KLM to make value cases for several larger Epics related to Digital HR. In 2019, their goal is to develop similar value cases for smaller projects and Epics, refining their ability to let added value guide their actions. As for 2020, the airline aims to double down on agile in its budgeting and processes. Ultimately, KLM HR wants to keep improving, to keep moving forward, to keep delivering amazing experiences. And they have everything they need to do it.

This article was created in collaboration with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. 

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Authors: Chase Miller Brian Goldman