The Role of HR in Digital Transformation

Ben Hart
Human Resources is unquestionably about the recruitment, development and retention of talent. Talent is a differentiator, a business builder and, given the threat from disruptors and the increasing pace of market change led by the digitalisation of business, an ever increasingly essential driver in protecting from the decline of market share or, at the most extreme, extinction. HR in Digital Transformation; far more critical than many may think. In this article I explore what HR must consider and do in order to leverage more digital talent along the digital transformation journey: There are a bunch of bright young things (and a handful of older ones too!) that, off the back of a bright idea, are now empowered to leverage technology and the Internet to create a world wide phenomena in a matter of months. Crack the idea, define a business case, crowd source funding and an early audience and develop it to market by leveraging distributed talent pools from anywhere in the world building on shared knowledge and expertise from many that have gone before. Not to by any stretch suggest it is easy, 90% of startups fail. Yet the entrepreneurs don’t fail with them. In the event that a startup produces a minimal viable product, puts it to market and it doesn't have take up the learnings that are acquired allow the entrepreneur, team and people to pivot, or reinvent into their next iteration. By sharing amongst networks and crowds of people looking to succeed and learn from each other, a pool of talent builds that can readily become smarter, competing with more relevant experience than you might have had without failure. The start-up landscape is busy promoting, motivating, inspiring and acquiring digital talent that most large companies simply cannot. It is this talent that is taking stripes of the incumbents as they create, innovate, explore, challenge and simply don’t care too much for the status quo. There’s also a real sense of “can do” - the entrepreneurs that I meet on a regular basis in the digital and technology sectors largely without exception think they might well be, with all confidence and vigour, the next airbnb, netflix, basecamp and so on. And bigco is sometimes sat there wondering what it all means and how to keep up. Digital talent inspires change in the right structures where new ways of working, leveraging technology to create and innovate and increasing speed and agility differentiates. What, therefore must HR consider and do in order to leverage more digital talent along the digital transformation journey:

1. Create a contemporary culture

Digital talent is looking for purpose, fun, agility, and momentum towards something rewarding. They’re not after the gold watch and lifelong position. They are curious and exploratory and don’t want to be stuck in a box. They also have super high expectations of experience; don’t expect them to stay if infrastructure and governance don’t allow them to make a difference and be heard where it matters.

2. Look wider and open up

Crowds, networks and influencers live throughout any sectors ecosystem. Provide the means and the impetus to connect, transfer, co-develop and co-create ideas and business gain. Furthermore, some of the best talent doesn’t want to come and work for you, sit at a desk or for that matter spend any length of time in one place. Allow project teams to form leveraging online platforms to manage and connect skills underneath leaders who are empowered to resource accordingly.

3. Avoid departmental approaches

Digital is not a department. Digital is not a department any more than it is a silver bullet, or something that should be filtered, or even worse bottle-necked through a single role such as a chief digital officer. Develop plans for digital talent to be distributed throughout the organisation.

4. Recognise the difference between digital skills and behaviours

Training on SEO, display, analytics or similar channel orientations for digital all have a role. Our bigger gain is collaborative behaviours, sharing, creating space for ideas and creative thinking. Ideas and people motivated and empowered to turn them into action and business gain is behavioural as much as it required skills to do so.

5. Encourage resourcefulness

The answers are out there, just google it. Train people to find out what they need to know and where to find it. Encourage resourcefulness as many of the digital skills that can be learnt can be done so flexibly online through personal motivation . Using platforms well is merely the start; it's the behaviours that using them effectively and efficiently and the empowerment they provide to connect and network that will make the difference.

6. Empower cross functional learning

A culture that celebrates when something goes wrong rather than persecutes is healthy when the wrong is turned into learning. Leverage and create the means to transpose learnings across teams and functions. Provide a positive framework for this learning to inform people in getting better, sharing best practice and the means to resolve issues thereby preventing recurrence.

7. Explore reverse mentoring

Digital natives bring the rest with them through programs of reverse mentoring. The digital immigrants will benefit from time spent coming to understand not only how the natives behave but the digital platforms, tools, techniques and means that they utilise to connect, network and converse.

8. Celebrate the social qualities of digital

It's called social media for a reason;it’s about humans connecting and sharing and being social with one another. Rather than preventing these behaviours, celebrate their ability for people to come together for business gain. Allow people to be social using digital, to chat informally, to arrange social meet-ups, to connect and build friendly and personable relationships with each other and the organization's customers.

9. Inspire rather than bore

If comms, corporate events, email, process and structures feel boring we’ll lose our digital talent before we know it. Use their insight into what works to improve communications across the business by giving them space and impetus to inspire change. Add a little fun, invite feedback, use it to improve and foster more agile and iterative improvement.

10. Lead from the front

Old world HR portals, holiday booking, contract provision? Become digital leaders ourselves to inspire the journey by becoming advocates for new and improved digital ways of working. Introduce them from induction through to the way the c-suite communicate. Become a digital first HR department and lead the way.

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