Play a role, have an impact

“Digital transformation” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot these days. But what does that mean? And, more specifically, what does this mean for HR professionals? Chances are digital transformation efforts are underway in your organization. If they happen without you, or if you play a role on the sidelines, these initiatives can be doomed from the start.

The mandate for digital transformation

The Hackett Group has identified supporting digital business transformation as one of the top HR priorities for 2022, and it’s one that will likely continue well beyond. They write: “The pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of market offerings, processes and ways of working. HR organizations need to step up their game in areas that can directly affect the success of these programs, such as leadership, culture, skills development and change management.”

Practitioners agree. “The biggest trend for managing a remote/hybrid workforce in 2022 will be the rapid and continued convergence of workplace and technology and digital disruptions to the HR department,” said Patricia Sharkey, SHRM-SCP, HR manager at IMI People, based in Nashville, Tennessee. “Companies across the United States are actively seeking technology solutions that help centralize processes, keep employee pulse, assist with COVID tracing and tracking, and create and maintain a virtual culture of visibility, transparency and responsiveness.”

Step Up: The Role of HR in Digital Transformation

Automation and artificial intelligence, Sharkey said, will play a major role in the evolution of the workplace. But HR needs to play a central role in driving the transformation, which can be difficult.

“Rightly or wrongly, most CIOs I’ve worked with view HR as all about compliance and reducing risk,” said Ben Grinnell, managing director and IT and HR expert at North Highland Consulting. in London.

Grinnell recommended that “HR work with business leaders to define a strategic sourcing model that the organization can commit to.” It’s important, he said, that HR “recognizes that building sustainable capacity internally is a huge undertaking, requiring leadership, people development, career paths, role clarification and skills, as well as a culture of lifelong learning and feedback”.

The role of HR here is essential, he said. “Without a workforce properly prepared in advance to engage, transformation efforts are dead on arrival and a waste of money,” he warned, citing research cited by
harvard business review indicating that without these advance preparations, “70% of business transformation efforts are doomed to failure”.

While digital transformation is an organizational initiative and not limited to HR, people are the common denominator.

Jason Keogh, Field CTO at 1E, a London-based company specializing in digital employee experience, pointed out: “Every time an employee touches a keyboard or moves a mouse, they are experiencing a digital experience, and although the IT is responsible for these interactions, digital employee experience [DEX] has a major impact on HR, as ‘IT friction’ can be a driving factor in employee satisfaction.”

Keogh said he’s seen this friction in workplaces around the world. “Employees who suffer from a lack of cohesion endure a poor digital experience and will grow increasingly frustrated with their inability to perform day-to-day tasks,” he said. This frustration, he noted, can lead to turnover.

It’s important for HR and IT teams to work together to reduce this friction, he added. HR also plays an important role by working across the organization to ensure understanding and support. Digital transformation is an organization-wide initiative, and one that is ongoing.

Digital transformation, said Kelli Trujillo, chief human resources officer of San Francisco-based digital customer experience firm Hero Digital, is not a one-step process, but “an ever-evolving focus on your strategy. holistic and what matters most to employees, customers and customers.” It’s a job that’s never done, she says. “No business is ever fully ‘digitally transformed’ because it’s about how people live and work tomorrow, next year and beyond.”

Digital transformation in action

Alix McCabe, Director of People and Communications at Allianz Trade North America, a global trade credit insurer, said, “Digital transformation is about actively leveraging technology and data to help drive our resource strategy. people in a forward-looking way. HR, McCabe said, “is uniquely positioned to provide value-added business insights into a company’s most critical investment: its people.” Unfortunately, she added, “many HR teams struggle with legacy or disparate issues. [human resource information] systems, manual processes and competing day-to-day priorities that hinder our ability to be as data-driven and forward-looking as we would like. »

Coherent human operations, McCabe said, requires adopting a digital mindset. They also require collaboration.

“We’ve learned that a dedicated project team comprised of HR, operations, IT and relevant business experts is a winning model for us,” she said. “All of the successes we’ve had in digital transformation have been built on getting feedback and active collaboration across functions and departments.” Fostering genuine support from high-level leaders has also been key, she said, including the CEO.

McCabe offered important advice for HR professionals involved in digital transformation efforts: don’t be afraid to fail. “Not every new tool or system will be a resounding success,” she said. “We need to adopt a test and fail mentality and be willing to challenge ‘the way things have always been done’. I can think of several digital tools or processes that we have piloted over the past four years and which did not yield the expected results. This does not mean that we should give up. On the contrary, we collected our learnings and used them to inform the next initiative.”

Along the way, be sure to maintain a strong focus on communication and collaboration.

Communication and Collaboration: Key Best Practices

Don’t underestimate the power of transparent and frequent communication, McCabe said, and not just after decisions have been made or it’s time to start training on new systems and processes. “It can be tempting to fall into the trap of withholding communication until a project is complete,” she said. “We have found that regular communication with all stakeholders in the middle of a digital project, whether everything is on track or not, works wonders in terms of interest, understanding and buy-in.”

Trujillo accepted. You will miss opportunities, she said, if you fail to “collaborate and engage your business partners and employees in the changing workplace.”

This commitment, like the digital transformation efforts themselves, must be ongoing. Keogh pointed to employee sentiment analysis – a component of DEX – as a way to “verify employee opinions on systems once they’re in place to ensure they’re not hindering productivity. or general happiness”. Employee experience, he pointed out, is a critical factor in the digital workforce to avoid increasing costs, reducing security or creating organizational friction.

Finally, Trujillo cautioned, despite the major investment in technology that will be required in any digital transformation effort, “never lead with technology.” Instead, she said, “Start with leadership; your culture; and a deep understanding of how your people work, how they want to be hired, and where they want to be.”


Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.

Rebecca R. Santistevan