Workday Ventures: Democratizing Employee Enablement Experiences

The world of work has shifted from "managing" people to enabling them. Greg Pryor talks to Leighanne Levensaler about how Workday Ventures invests in early-stage companies that help our customers build enabling enterprises.

As the world of work continues to evolve and the pace of innovation increases, enterprises face a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to usher in the next era of how we engage employees.

Rather than simply “manage” workers as workplaces did in the past, we must recognize that employees want and need flexibility, skills, experiences, and opportunities to learn and grow. At Workday, we call this “enabling” people, and we see the most innovative organizations becoming “enabling enterprises” so that their people—and their organizations—can better meet the demands of rapidly shifting business landscapes.

I speak frequently with Leighanne Levensaler about this new era and the need for enterprises to view their people practices through a fresh lens. Leighanne serves as Workday’s senior vice president, corporate strategy and Workday Ventures’ managing director and co-head, and has spent her entire career focused on talent and technology.

Workday is making significant product investments to help our customers engage and enable their people through Workday technology, and that includes developing deep product partnerships with other applications and services. That’s why Leighanne and her team at Workday Ventures focus on finding and investing in early-stage companies with new solutions that complement Workday products and help our customers build their own enabling enterprises.

Recently, Workday Ventures hosted four of these partner companies for its first “Innovation Showcase.” Following the showcase, I asked Leighanne to share her thoughts on employee enablement and the companies that are making a difference in this space. Here are some highlights from our discussion.

How are organizations thinking about employee enablement today?

They’re recognizing the need to create experiences that enable people to continually learn and develop as these companies themselves undergo constant change. In the past, the HR function spent a good portion of its time administering processes, delivering programs, and advancing the state of the art for service delivery. While this is essential work, it’s not enough to keep people emotionally connected to the organization and productive in their jobs. Now we must be focused on a work environment that enables people to do their best work, gain new skills, advance their careers, and be their best selves.

Why does Workday Ventures see employee enablement as an important investment and partnership opportunity?

Because companies are seeking tools that are explicitly designed for the individual worker, and innovators have responded by creating hundreds of compelling employee enablement applications to help people manage their careers, develop skills, address professional development gaps, stay organized, and be healthy at work and home.

The problem is that enterprises typically lack time to vet the new applications and weave them into their existing IT landscape for employees. They’re looking to companies like Workday to step in, vet them, and find ways to seamlessly integrate them into existing experiences. By researching these employee enablement companies and investing and partnering with them, Workday Ventures creates a network of validated and complementary solutions for Workday customers.

Has Workday Ventures invested in any companies in the employee enablement space?

We’ve invested in companies that offer a wide array of enablement solutions, and what’s really impressive is that these solutions are delivering immediate and tangible business impacts. BetterUp is the first digital platform to bring personalized leadership development through one-to-one coaching and immersive learning for employees at all levels. Alexi Robichaux, the company’s co-founder and CEO, noted at the showcase that the desire to grow and learn at work is part of a “new social contract” between employer and employee.

Similarly, Vida Health puts better health in the palm of a person’s hand. It combines personalized health coaching and therapy with technology to address chronic and co-occurring physical and behavioral health conditions. Vida programs help people lose weight, quit smoking, manage depression and anxiety, and get healthy enough to discontinue type 2 diabetes medications — all things that lead to reduced medical claims, noted panelist Stephanie Tilenius, the company’s co-founder and CEO. She added that customizing help to the individual is “where employee engagement is moving.”

Landit is the market leader in personalized career pathing, focused on increasing the success and engagement of women and diverse groups in the workplace. The platform offers a turn-key “one size fits one” solution that enables companies to attract, develop, and retain high-potential diverse talent. Each member receives a tailored playbook that provides the tools, resources, know-how, and human connections they need to advance and navigate their career. I have this quote written down in my notes from Lisa Skeete Tatum, Landit’s founder and CEO, from the panel saying: “The future of work is focusing on unlocking the potential of each individual by investing in their personal success.  . . Our members are more engaged, and as a result, companies see the increase in retention and mobility.”

And then there’s Guild Education, which helps companies offer education benefits to employees. Guild’s technology platform helps connect large employers and their workforces with top, nonprofit universities that focus on serving the needs of working adults. Guild’s Education Network offers a range of programs from high school completion and vocation programs through bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Additionally, Guild’s team of retention coaches and advisors help each employee navigate the path back to school, with support from day one through graduation. One thing we heard from Zoe Weintraub, Guild’s vice president of partnerships, is that workers want to “increase their economic mobility” with education, and offering it pays off for employers, too. She often cites how they’ve seen employers increase employee retention 2.5 times by offering education benefits.

How do you see employee enablement evolving in the future?

It’s moving beyond a “nice to have” to a “must have” for companies to stay competitive, attract and retain talent, and increase their competitive edge. The other big change is that these solutions enable companies to offer these personalized services at scale, not just to a few people, by reducing the high administrative burden.

In the future, there will be more services, applications, and experiences around individual benefits, programs, and choices. Organizations will increasingly reframe their people practices to better meet people where they are, and then empower them to thrive not only in a competitive business world but also in the increasingly intertwined world of work and life. Workday Ventures will continue to look for the best solutions to help our customers not only with employee enablement but with all aspects of transformation.

Posted in:  Human Resources

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