3 Key Layers of a Future-Ready Employee Experience

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3 Key Layers of a Future-Ready Employee Experience

Welcome to another exciting episode of All About HR! This is the podcast & video series for HR Professionals and business leaders who want to future-proof their organization and learn about the latest trends & insights from industry experts, CHROs, and thought leaders.

Secure your business in the present & shape the future by bringing together employee experience, analytics, and digital HR. In this HR podcast episode, we welcome Manisha Singh, Global VP Employee Experience, Analytics & Digital HR at AstraZeneca.

Manisha has a track record of inventing futuristic operating models, nurturing unconventional talent pipelines, and building high-performing global teams that have delivered successful transformations.

Tune in and find out how to build a future-ready employee experience amid a global pandemic, digital transformation, and HR automation. In this episode of All About HR, we cover:

  • The role of HR in digital transformation
  • The future of work: competencies you need to make digital HR work
  • Data analytics: How to boost your business and enhance employee experience
  • The Pandemic: The greatest accelerator of workplace transformation
  • Post-COVID workplace: upskilling HR is key

Watch the full All About HR episode to learn more about harnessing technology, AI, and automation to prepare your employees to upskill for the future and maintain HR’s strategic importance in the organization.

Related (free) resource ahead! Continue reading below ↓

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Manisha Singh: We need to be agile and be ready to experiment. And if something fails, wrap up and launch a new version. And not shy away from trying because I think that’s one single thing that has come in the way of us being more innovative, not open to experimenting. 

Neelie Verlinden: Hi everyone and welcome to another episode of all about HR. My name is Neelie. I’m your host and in today’s episode, I talk with Manisha Singh. Manisha is the global VP of Employee Experience, Analytics, and Digital HR at AstraZeneca. Together we talked about how she brings these three areas together and how they are connected to each other. We zoomed in on digital HR, the main challenges in that area currently for HR, and important skills that HR needs in that regard. We also zoomed in of course on employee experience and on data. All in all, I think we had a fascinating conversation that you should go check out right away before you do so. As always, do not forget to subscribe to the channel. Hit that notification bell and share this episode with a friend. Thank you and goodbye.

Neelie Verlinden: Hi everyone and welcome to another episode of all about HR. My name is Neelie. I’m your host and in today’s episode, I talk with Manisha Singh, who is the global VP of employee experience analytics and digital HR at AstraZeneca. Hi there Manisha. How are you? 

Manisha Singh: Hi, Neelie. It’s a happy summer morning. 

Neelie Verlinden: It is a happy sunny morning and that is not always a given in the Netherlands or in the UK, I believe right? 

Manisha Singh: Yes, it’s Cambridge. So lovely to catch up with you this Sunday morning. 

Neelie Verlinden: Indeed. We need to appreciate these moments Manisha. Before we really dive into the nitty-gritty of today’s topics, can you perhaps tell our listeners, how you landed in HR, how you navigate your way through where you are today? And please do not forget to mention your mid-career move. 

Manisha Singh: Thank you for that question. I have been an explorer, career-wise and I have taken the path unknown many times in my career. I started on the shop floor in a paint shop in an automobile company. And that’s where while I was working on the print quality of this COVID fob, I discovered the power of gunfire, engagement, and motivation. And that kind of made me move to HR because I loved school in HR. And I said, Oh my God, that’s the most powerful leverage that a business can use to create outstanding results. My sweet spot in HR has been a business transformation assignment, you know, working in a growth assignment, or looking at transforming your culture from more inward-looking to a more globalized customer-centric culture, from promoter-driven companies to more professionally managed companies. So that has been my sweet spot. And I’ve worked with HR leader CFOs to design and deliver a key people and culture agenda. And so to talk about why I landed mid-career, I think the mid-career crisis is a great phenomenon. And now no one can doubt it. And so after working for 15 years in these transformation assignments, I had two kinds of experiences, right? Some of them were exhilarating, if you call it really epic experiences, succeeded and thrived on it. And then, of course, a lot of them were failed experiences and a lot of learning came from these failures. And as I continue to reflect on the moments where I had failed in big transformation, I had got a great start great support great sponsorship, I thought that the moment of failure could have been avoided had at that moment I’ve been able to influence luck more so I’ve been thinking of sharpening my toolkit so that that was one reason you know, failure, the moment of reflection and thinking I need to sharpen my toolkits further. The second reason was that I am a passionate HR professional, right like many of my other HR friends from this profession, I have been advocating for fair and equitable practices for a really long and long time. It’s hard when you’re sitting on the business table with business leaders to get this particular topic of equal interest and attention as a customer experience topic, our business profitability topic. So I wanted to further understand the life of a business leader and what the various forces and factors now interact, you know, like in this decade, affecting business, so these two things kind of got really iffy, like the 10 anila coffee from Microsoft hit refresh. Let’s get to my idea. Let’s build some global perspective. 

Neelie Verlinden: Nice, nice, very, very nice story and also a very, I think, a brave move as well to make a decision like that when, when mid-career. But yeah, I love that story, Manisha. Thank you so much. Now, really something that I wanted to talk about today with you is about bringing together employee experience analytics and digital HR. Now, that is something that you are doing at the moment at AstraZeneca. But you’ve done the same thing, you’ve built it up and led the same department before Schneider Electric covering just one of these areas, I think that would be a full-time job for most of us human beings. But you are actually bringing these three together. How are you doing that? 

Manisha Singh: That’s a good question. I think about something that I have not stopped to think about. But as you ask me, it’s a natural conference that is coming in, right? Because a lot of that has emerged from the vision of CSR that I’ve had the privilege to work with, where they can see that in past examinations, we’ve all kind of brought new tools digitized HR, we have most progressive HR functions and have also embarked on a data analytics journey. And we’ll be talking about experiences for quite some time. But if you really think that data and insights help you uncover the areas that matter most to employees, the areas which are important for a business to act on, and then you kind of you know, work with experiences on designing those moments that matters most because you know, you can’t solve everything. And then the digital allows you to scale that hyper-personalization to massive so in a way it when it all comes together. The opportunity is really that you can impact intent, you don’t have to just give insights and then leverage for you to place insights, you can help design experiences, and you can help the scale of experiences. Yeah, I think that makes sense. It’s basically the three of them blending together quite naturally. And I think when you do that, this is probably where you can make a real difference as an HR department. I also wanted to say why, you know, it’s almost like a service function. So it’s not that you know, we work alone, this department or this function works collaboratively across the enterprise with our friends in HR. It is offensive HR, business partnering, our HR theories, and also employees and managers, we have weak core teams built of employees and managers who can guide us in defining experiences. So it takes a full Global Village and in a global company to deliver the outcome and impact of these functions. 

Neelie Verlinden: Yes, absolutely. I like that one, the full Global Village as you put it, Manisha. I’d like to unpack for a moment each of these areas if that’s okay with you, starting with digital HR. Now, in your opinion, what are the main challenges facing digital HR today?

Manisha Singh: Digital HR is at a very interesting point in its journey today, you know, just like if you see for a moment if you allow me to step out from HR. So the best three forms of HR shaping the business are digital acceleration, the whole movement around sustainability. And then the third one which have come in last year, and the fear is this whole pandemic lead focus on well being and given that I think since there’s a digital acceleration in business, digital HR teams have, unfortunately, we have the whole wave of AI automation, blockchain and lot of innovation coming our way. We cannot stand still because enterprise teams are bringing in too many new technologies. Many technologies are overlapping. You know, you can’t distinguish HR technology from recruitment technology, they’re aligning, it’s lots of overlap. And then on top of that, you have Microsoft and LinkedIn coming inward. And Facebook bringing technology that can be used by employees, there’s a medley of tech innovation, which is another challenge, staring at HR people. And I would like to look at the actions that we can take in this challenging matter and put them into buckets, secure the presence and shape the future. If you look at securing the present bucket. There’s some very basic things that we really need to progressively work on as digital HR team having managed to get value from our current CMS, the big investments that we’ve all made in implementing workday or Oracle affects the factor If not, how can we maximize How far have we come in the culture of cell service adoption, in the way HR services are consumed, what will be our future context? HR is yet to become prime time so that’s to secure the present challenges to dealing for digital teams and then shape the future challenges in faculty, how can we enable our enterprise to be more agile, more adaptable? What are the skills, job architecture? How can we enable workforce planning, talent, intelligence? I think, very interesting time and lots of fun challenges to deal with. 

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, thank you for that. Now, at the Academy to innovate HR, we are all about equipping HR professionals for the future of work. So we are talking about digital HR right now. Do you feel HR needs digital competency to truly function in your experience?

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Manisha Singh: So being in this field for 15 years. And I think a lot of our friends in HR technology say that the big part of the work is making decisions about the big technology that you’re bringing in and then implementing it globally. No doubt that’s very complex, and getting effective solid implementation is, is one bank, exhilarating project. But the real work starts after that, you know, for the competency that we really need to build. The muscle is about product management, all these HR tech systems, digital tools, our living systems, their quarterly, bimonthly some cases monthly product releases, or are we working continuously with our you know, do we have a continuous pipeline of services feature that we would like to see digitized, which feature we would like to use on which platform because sometimes multiple platforms are offering that feature, then we don’t want to create confusion. So are very proactive product management in a very strategic way. It is very critical. And I haven’t seen enough investment everywhere in depth. So that’s one. Second is thinking about HR function in terms of critical capabilities, right? For example, when you think about a sales function, you think about, you know, the whole customer engagement piece channel management, the commercial part of the internal sales, account management, these are capabilities which are critical, if you want to have a successful sales transformation. Similarly, when you want to look at Digital HR transformation, you have to look at key capabilities within HR and look at how you build that capability for today and for the future. So having that capability view is very important. For example, let’s take talent acquisition, we can think about talent acquisition as we bring ATF and implement it and we are done. Or we can think about talent acquisition as a capability and say it has CRM, it has the whole chatbot. It has intelligence feeds, it’s having that mobility, and how can we build pieces bit by bit? And what can we scale up our future and disrupt? Lastly, I think, to our experience, architecture and management, because it’s no more just one core hrms Most of us have best of breed and core HR myth and interplay of lots of technology. So how do you stack it all with the help of your colleagues and continuously look at one coherent experience from the eyes of a person or that organization? And lastly, I think I should have done it first. It is value creation and ROI, right most of us working in digital leadership roles are challenged more and more, while more innovation in technology is coming in. We are excited about shaping the future. The bots to shape the future have to come out from some of the secretaries in the presence of that balancing act you’re talking about. How do we continuously create value and measure ROI? 

Neelie Verlinden: Thank you for that Manisha, these were all, I think very interesting and how do you see that then? Or maybe how are you going about that at AstraZeneca? Or in your past roles? Are there various specialists? Or what do you say someone needs to actually know something about each of these specific four areas? 

Manisha Singh: There will always be technology teams, right? HR IT teams? Are they fitting within it helping us implement and run the plumbing, or the technical part of these platforms? But you’re right now within HR, we need product ownership. We need people who would know the functional part of their platforms, who would know the functional needs, and who would know how can we bridge the gap between what the platform or product offers and what the needs are and lots of times now, in companies like AstraZeneca or Schneider Electric, we are at the forefront of our vendor partner relationship so we can also influence and shape their product designs and that’s why digital HR teams are being created there. Our product ownership I think as digital HR teams, we will have to adopt the skill sets of many and not just leave it to our friends and its value in this case was always part of. And lastly, we will have to look at having a digital HR vision and roadmap for two or three years and not just implement technology one by one. 

Neelie Verlinden: Exactly. I think that’s very true. I’d like to move on to employee experience for a moment, Manisha, because this is one of the other three areas that I want to unpack with you. AstraZeneca has, of course, been in the spotlight a lot already before the pandemic and then even more so probably during the pandemic and its impact on the workforce and the organization. Now, what was challenging in that regard? 

Manisha Singh: You would say from an HR perspective, no, we are still not out of it. I was just saying a pandemic has tested our mettle as a business as HR and society in every possible way. It is one of the greatest accelerators for workplace transformation in our lifetime. And it has forced, you know, the whole virtual working experimentation at mass scale globally was unheard of right. I like to tell you, I’ve been into the digital HR space working for the last 15 years. And I remember in 2005, when I was working on another culture Transformation Program, and we were talking about it with Microsoft SharePoint days. And we were talking about a virtual workplace, a place where teams could come and collaborate and things like that. So a 15-year-old, right in all these fads and acceleration, disruption of the way we work, it has a tremendous challenge on the business, its value chain, and in turn on HR, in addition to just disrupting the business and ways of working I think pandemic has created a tremendous amount of personal stress. But lots of things going on in the background, personal life, many of our friends have lost jobs, many, many of our friends have lost family, or we were impacted. So all that has put HR in a tremendous driving speed in terms of looking at employee wellbeing, looking at employee engagement, how do we take care of our employees holistically, and then support the continuation of work in the best possible human way? 

Neelie Verlinden: Yes, absolutely. And how has the pandemic affected the way you look at employee experience. 

Manisha Singh: That’s another thing, you know, like employee experience was already becoming mainstream before March 2020. But it was coming from the lens of simplifying digital experience, it was coming from the lens of consumer rising HR experiences, right? It was primarily driven by you know, we call that a term wisdom device that’s being used saying, in our eternal life here, and ideally, we can view Uber, Google, and lots of services which are so easy to use, but when we come to all our respective enterprise organization, we would like 140 plus applications and very complicated, not anything less not have consumerize. So employee experience emerged from that movement. Can we reduce it? Can we remove the friction? Can we make employees more productive. The pandemic kind of brought the whole humanizing the workforce experience as a critical part of it by experience into focus. So when I look at, as I say, there are three layers one is this whole digital experience, I call it the most basic or primary layer. The second is simplifying the HR experience, which really means that as an employee, what’s important for me, my employability, my career, longevity, my financial well being, looking at all of that, right. So that’s the second HR experience is truly we’re going way beyond digital looking, meaningful experience and purpose. And the last layer is about humanizing the workforce. That’s the last layer of experience, which is what do you are any employee, one from our work, I think, beyond paycheck beyond a safe place to go and work beyond job security, we want fulfillment from our work, we want a workplace, who we can trust to, to play the roles that we want to play in, in society as well. So I think more and more leaders and more and more organizations are now looking at experience more holistically. 

Neelie Verlinden: Well, I heard your talk. I was thinking. Okay, so when, for instance, in pharma, you’re working on something like during the pandemic, I think at AstraZeneca, but also at other big pharma companies, people have been working like crazy in this fight against Of course COVID. And while I can, I think everyone can understand how that can cause extra stress for everyone in the company. I was actually wondering about the other way around. The fact that at some point there is a drug that is found, does that then also have a really positive impact on how everyone is experiencing the work environment and general engagement levels? Can you maybe share something about that? 

Manisha Singh: Thank you so much for nudging me on that nearly because that’s a really important point you’re making there. And that’s the dichotomy of how we in AstraZeneca have experienced or gone through this pandemic. Really, you’re right, when you say there was exhilaration and an amazing amount of trust and passion that came out of an employee when they saw their CEO and executive committee engaged in enabling the vaccine for the COVID. You know, it was a real-time response, it was not planned at all. And I also want to tell you that COVID is a distraction from our core capability as a business. We were not designed or were not staffed to build vaccines. But it was a decision saying we are big pharma and we’re responsible for the world for the country. And this is our moment to be more purposeful, and our CEO annexed a complicated session, and every employee endorsed it. And no matter which function they were, they work, they roll up their sleeves, they work with pride, and our employee engagement scores went through the roof, you know, and I was also talking to some of our all employees and I kept listening to this again and again, saying, in last 20 years, this was the moment I was very passionate about my company. And I was very proud of my company. So this is where I was talking, humanizing the workforce experience, right? That topmost layer, where a company which is mission and purpose-driven, allows everybody to have the fulfillment from their work for everybody feels that they are part of the solution for the world. And so that was for sure. But that didn’t take away from the fact that these are the same people who are living in a pandemic stricken world, and had their families and friends and their kids at home while they’re working a complete book. So there was burnout, but there was complete rejoicing and acceptance of what he was doing in the process. 

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, fantastic. Yeah, I was really wondering about that, because I think we can all imagine that there must have been a lot of pressure, a lot of stress. And then it’s fantastic to hear that this was also a way for people to really find purpose and to really all get together behind that goal, and try to do something for society. So we’re actually glad that we got to talk about that for a bit, Manisha, and something else going back to the skills for a second. What skills would you say are important for HR when it comes to employee experience? 

Manisha Singh: Couple of skills that we need to sharpen is the whole continuous listening and insights. Right? We have all overused annual engagement surveys. And can we delve deeper into this art of surveying, listening and identifying the area and actually getting it? So that’s one. Second is the whole design thinking, you know, like, lots of time in HR, we’ve been guilty of designing policies and processes, keeping the one person in mind who might break the rule in order to get an advantage. So how do we revise that and, keeping employees in mind, and that will help us break the silos? And then lastly, the old old art in HR, which was pretty valid about the whole, you know, how do you scale up the change? I think we need to bring back that art of change management. Because let’s say you design a new practice, but how do you scale it up? How do you ensure that employees and managers are adopting it and leaders are really living that filing? Those are the three important things that we are increasingly discussing. One more that we need to learn from marketing is experimentation. In HR, we are always very cautious. We’ve played cautious so far that unless we have a perfect process, we will not go and launch it. But we need to learn from our friends and marketing. We’re doing live experimentation with live customers and our revenue gets impacted. We need to be agile and be ready to experiment. And if something fails, wrap up and launch a new version. And not shy away from trying because I think that’s one single thing which has come in the way of us being more innovative, not open to experimenting. 

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, I think that that is a very good point, Manisha. The last one is about learning marketing. In terms of experimenting, I would like to move on to that data part for a bit. Now starting with what role would you say data plays in empowering HR teams and business leaders. 

Manisha Singh: I think this is a goldmine of opportunity. For HR due to virtual work shifting and a lot of consumerized platforms coming in, we have tons of data that can give us real-time insights on what our employees are feeling. Where are their engagement, drivers of the business moving? How is this brand in this country for this particular business unit, how motivated they are, how productive they are, what drivers are influencing that. So I think data can really give you a real-time intelligence and diagnostics in your hand to go and you know, address the issue which are important for business and how have you changed this over time because as you said, you you’ve Of course been in the field for quite a while How have you seen changes in HR we have used data just to probably report people KPI for quite some time. And these were static KPIs like demographics, band and layer, a percentage of managers, percentage distribution across functions. Then came some you know, like with IBM 1518 years back generational studies, or we started taking into account some generational demographic. But for a long period of time, we have used data just for reporting and mostly people KPI and then as we progress, we started reporting HR effectiveness. So what’s the turnaround time for the position? What’s the cost of hiring for HR effectiveness metrics? Now it’s a very interesting time with lots of very exciting people in the field of HR people analytics, getting lots of resources, we are now able to use data to solve real business challenges. So for example, let’s say for my business, the challenge is, how do we accelerate or accentuate the success of the drug discovery process? Right, we invest a lot of money in drug discovery, only x percentage of processes, the fat says. So we are working on some product teams that have been extremely successful, some project teams for two groups and trying to understand the attributes to people data, combining people r&d, and business data to say exactly which attributes are impacting the success rate or not. The second one is the commercial success of product launches. So we are working on that, you know, it does, are there certain leadership attributes, certain performance and engagement conditions of the team, which are leading to the successful drug launches, compared to the ones where we’ve not had that kind of commercial success? So it’s a very interesting time to really partner with business and solve the challenge. 

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, absolutely. And you already gave an example there. But I’d still like to ask you if you could share another example of how you use analytic data and analytics to help the business and at the same time, enhance the employee experience. 

Manisha Singh: When I came to AstraZeneca, I think we are really using our engagement index for using our DNI matrix to look at how we can enable we’re looking at our peak with the matrix. But we were looking at all this separately, right? So you know, we work on the leaders, lighthouse product, we call it a real time view of sentiment, morale, productivity, engagement, and some of these parameters together. So if you are the leader, nearly, let’s say our former business unit in North America, and let’s say, since you are the business leader, I don’t burden you with your entire 7000 strong workforce, I just gave you a stat of your top 30 leaders because you are responsible for them and you can see real time where is the red, green, yellow, you know, where where do we need to have conversation so you have Manisha in your team and you think suddenly that productivity in her team for last six months have been you know, averaging compared to the other 10 leaders in the similar role so by next time you’re meeting with the shake can have a conversation around what’s happening there. So it’s just creating more insights which are real time and using those insights to create conversation and then the hrbp can use the same stats to go and diagnose and say okay, what’s happening here and what can I do to help shore up after productivity. 

Neelie Verlinden: A nice example there, thank you so much. And I think that we really saw in this part of our conversation, how all these three disciplines are not independent areas or silos, but they are really intertwined. And that is an advantage really to be involved in all of them. Because all together that will make for a better employee experience Manisha we are now officially entering one of my favorite parts of the podcast and this is where we talk about an epic fail and an epic win, I would like to ask you to start by sharing an epic win with us first. 

Manisha Singh: When I was a young rookie, I used to celebrate every win because I used to be very nervous. But now that I have over a period of two decades, I think the moments which feel like when or the moment where we come out with a lot more connections to our fellow colleagues, and we’re working with so one such program they worked with in my past organization was lifeless, delete. It was a program, which was sponsored by CEO and Chairman himself and chro. And you’re working with top 2000 leaders and saying, How can we design a learning intervention that we know leaders could know everything that’s happening, and that will help them be more effective in driving the business agenda Federazione impacting the top line and bottom line, ultimately, that was a great challenge. It was not functional, it was a strategic business problem. And a group of people came together in HR from a theory from HR strategy from Digital Analytics, and then the word seamlessly to divine affiliation, which was very well received, and we were able to create a desired impact. So I think that was one of my most epic wins. And the reason for a big win was not that it was a very tough problem. Of course, that was and not that regard to race, refounding factors at birth and adoption and shifting behavior. Not even that was this core group of 1012 people who came together from a globally dispersed team, we ultimately became a group of friends who could trust each other to seamlessly relay from one point to another. And in that process, we managed to solve a super complex problem for a global enterprise in three to four months. 

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, that is a great epic win, I think Manisha. And do you also have an epic fail that you would like to share? 

Manisha Singh: So one of the epic failures that I remember, it was personally, you know, my leadership so I can take credit for this failure, people analytics Transformation Program, part one where we were working on digitizing our products, our reporting products, we had 2000 plus small and big reports globally spread across and what we weren’t on creating this portal on which all these with real-time and offer for our 2400 HR VPS, the program was really great, because not many HR teams had achieved it then right, but still 20 1617. So it was a great program, we were ahead of time, we were inventing the future, we got the support and sponsorship from the leadership teams, we got budgets to execute, we managed execution, we launched it with fair, but epic failure with that when we went around talking to our HR business partner, six months after implementation, our adoption rates were 10%. And these poor hrbps, were still pulling data manually and working on it, which showed that we haven’t put enough focus, as we put on designing and launching the program. We didn’t focus on educating, making our customers literate and hand-holding them to the change management. So that was a good, good failure. And I think for a long time, I tend to get personally thinking: No, no, you know, it’s like, they’re not doing it because they don’t want to, you know, maybe they want to use it. They don’t know how to use it. So ultimately, the long story short, we work on change management, and we managed to shift adoption from 10 to 50%. So actually, that is an epic failure that had a really happy ending. So to say it took a long pain curve to get there.

Neelie Verlinden: Nice. Thank you so much for Manisha, and thank you very much for joining me today. I really enjoyed our conversation. So thanks so much. 

Manisha Singh: Thank you so much, Neelie, for having me here. I love your podcast and your thoughts and the kind of leader you’re bringing in. Keep doing the good work. 

Neelie Verlinden: Thank you. Thank you. And thank you everyone, as always for tuning in. If you liked this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to our channel, hit the notification bell and leave a review. Thank you and see you soon for another episode of all about HR. Bye


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