Workday Innovation Outlook: Aneel Bhusri on How We’re Helping Customers Emerge Stronger

Aneel Bhusri, co-founder, co-CEO, and chairman at Workday, shared insights on Workday product innovation, how we’re empowering customers, and how we’re helping organizations develop paths for growth at our Conversations for a Changing World digital event.

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At Conversations for a Changing World, we’ve heard from changemakers across industries and business functions, including many Workday customers, partners, and leaders in our communities. They’ve shared their stories and what’s top of mind for them. There’s one theme that’s shone bright and clear: optimism for the future.

The past few years confirmed the notion that “business as usual” doesn’t exist. Change is our only certainty, so learning to embrace it and work within our present circumstances to move forward is key. Honoring uncertainty and finding solutions in unexpected circumstances will continue to be essential for business success. 

To highlight Workday’s approach to leading in a changing world, Aneel Bhusri, our co-founder, co-CEO, and chairman, sat down with award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien for our Workday Innovation Outlook session. Bhusri shared the latest on Workday product innovation, how we’re empowering customers to unlock new opportunities, and how we’re helping them develop paths for further business growth. Below are key takeaways from the discussion.

How to Be a Growth-Focused Company

To survive and thrive during the pandemic, business leaders have had to flex their creativity muscles. And working through these unique challenges is enabling business growth.

“We’re starting to see signs of recovery coming into view,” said Bhusri, pointing to continued strong consumer demand, an increase in job creation, and more businesses moving forward with plans to invest.

Being a growth-focused company looks different in 2021 than in 2019, and there’s one big differentiator: data. Companies that use data to get leading indicators and intelligent insights via machine learning are pulling ahead, Bhusri observed. And leading companies are challenging the ways they operate and the systems they’ve relied on. 

Purpose also plays a critical role in business growth, Bhusri said. More and more insights indicate that having a mission focused on social good helps recruit and retain top talent and nurtures high employee engagement—a tight link to business performance.

Championing Digital Acceleration

We’ve moved into a new era where in order for businesses to survive and thrive, digital acceleration efforts must be prioritized and viewed as an integral part of overall business strategy. 

With conditions in constant flux, companies need to continuously plan, execute, and analyze to move forward, Bhusri said. Our customers’ ability to break down silos between HR, finance, and IT—and the respective data—is essential to effectively pivot and succeed. 

“The pandemic moved us into the mode of continuous recalibration,” said Bhusri. “There was a time when companies could do an annual plan, execute, and then check back at the end of the year and see how they did. That reality is long gone.”

“We’ve been through one of the most uncertain times in business, and we’re all finding new, creative paths to growth.”

Aneel Bhusri Co-Founder, Co-CEO, and Chairman Workday

He also noted that the pandemic has taught businesses the importance of being able to quickly add new capabilities—including leave-of-absence plans, emergency sick programs, and tax reporting—into their systems.

For businesses that haven’t embraced digital acceleration, their data is stale and sitting in siloed systems, and the processes for using it are often slow, requiring outside resources to forecast plans and update systems. 

“We need to move from a world where you are working for your data to one where your data works for you,” said Bhusri.

The Future of Cloud-Based Technologies

When Workday was founded in 2005, the first generation of HR cloud technology was novel and disruptive. But that was nearly 17 years ago, and while the cloud has become the accepted way of delivering technology, businesses are moving faster, and their expectations for cloud-based technologies are higher.

“I believe we’re turning a page on the concept of ‘the cloud’ and ushering in a new generation,” said Bhusri.

The next generation of an enterprise management cloud includes data-infused applications that enable businesses to better align applications across finance, HR, workforce planning, and other business functions, Bhusri said. With optimized user experiences and customer and partner innovation, this next-generation cloud runs on a constantly evolving platform and unifies data across users via machine learning. 

Knowing Your Employees

Every business needs to be centered on its people and their experiences, know the skills they have, and understand what the organization needs in the future—especially with the potential for post-pandemic attrition

Having a full grasp on employee sentiment can be more difficult with a remote or hybrid workforce, Bhusri acknowledged. “Businesses need a grasp of real-time sentiment from the workforce to take action at an individual employee and manager level.”

Workday is leaning into complex surveying and skill evaluation as the keys to the future of work, he said. Complex surveying with an intelligent listening platform serves up the right questions to the right employees at the right time, allowing employees and managers to engage with the topics that matter most to them at that moment. 

In addition, knowing the skills employees have and where the business needs to grow better supports workforce planning and employee training efforts. At Workday, “We’ve made massive investments in the reskilling movement,” said Bhusri. “For instance, we created a common language of skills through our skills cloud. We grew our skills coverage from 25 million skills to 2.2 billion with over one thousand skills cloud customers.” 

By creating a common language around people and capabilities, business leaders can use people analytics to measure retention and performance and improve business planning, he added. 

Connecting Business With Environmental, Social, and Governance Responsibility 

Stakeholders are holding businesses accountable and demanding they commit to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) programs. At the same time, a company worth doing business with will have that focus. “I personally believe ESG is a version of companies having a soul,” said Bhusri. 

Our vision is that Workday is a data hub for the ESG programs businesses are putting in place. “One of Workday’s goals is to help customers collect relevant data, build strategy frameworks, ensure they’re audit ready, and report with confidence to drive their ESG goals,” he said. Some of the ways Workday can help include:

  • Environmental: Reporting on greenhouse gas emissions by connecting data from suppliers, expenses, and employee travel. 

  • Social: Enabling businesses to measure belonging outcomes across the employee life cycle. 

  • Governance: Helping businesses report tax, board diversity, compensation, and compliance training with confidence.

“We’ve been through one of the most uncertain times in business, and we’re all finding new, creative paths to growth,” shared Bhusri. At Workday and across industries, “We’re emerging stronger and ready to harness the opportunity,” he added. 

While uncertainty will continue, Bhusri finished the talk with this message for our customers: “We’re your partner in growth—growth for your company, your people, and your reputation. Let’s grow together this year.”

Interested in watching this conversation, or hearing from more changemakers and leaders? Watch full sessions on demand from Conversations for a Changing World.

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