Human Resources at the Heart of Digital Transformations

Our personal lives have become so infiltrated with technologies; it would be impossible to imagine a life without them. Similarly, the introduction of digital transformations has become an essential strategic priority for many companies, as they can provide an important opportunity for innovation, thus enhancing their competitiveness. Digital transformations can affect all aspects of a company: organisational processes, managerial culture, communication and interaction, or the handling and sharing of knowledge. Although often overlooked, HR departments may play an important role in guiding digital transformations within their company.

A study recently carried out by Kurt Salmon, in cooperation with Cercle Humania and Apec, provides evidence that shows the high extent to which HR departments are involved with digitalisation and digital projects in general. It suggests that HR departments, which become involved in the implementation of digital transformations have the opportunity to function as innovative engines at the heart of their company.

Of the 76 companies, which participated in the study, 92% of the respondents were linked in various degrees to the HR department of their company.

83% of respondents indicated that their company has a positive attitude towards Digital Transformation (48% open, 35% proactive). The data also shows that HR departments play an important role in the digital transformation of their companies, as their involvement with digital projects is remarkably high: 55% percent of respondents indicated that they are involved with digital projects from their very beginning and 31% become involved at the moment of project implemetation. Only 14% become involved at an undefined moment.

The findings further show that respondents see their role in HR with regard to digital transformations as active and regulatory, with the majority comparing their perceived role to that of an escort or conductor. Why, then, is the involvment of the HR department in digital transformations so important?

In a first instance, the digitalisation of the HR department’s own processes such as payroll and administrative tasks, recruitment, competence management etc, constitutes a dematerialisation, which means that these processes have become more efficient and reliable. Furthermore, the new ways in which information is made available, accessed and shared further contributes to the innovation, flexibility and autonomy of the ways in which collaborators and all other groups within the company, interact and communicate.

Secondly, HR departments are responsible for raising awareness of why digital transformations are taking place, supporting their implementation, and ensuring their appropriate usage. In order to support collaborators in appropriating new technologies and digital processes, respondents to the study indicated that they generally implement classic actions such as training sessions on the usage of digital tools (65%), creation of user charts (49%) or implementing frameworks for teleworking (46%). More innovative ways of providing support, such as reverse mentoring, are also used, although to a lesser extent (17%).

The impacts of digital transformations are incredibly wide reaching, as are their positive effects: they modernise the corporate image and boost its attractiveness, they increase the efficiency of organisational processes and induce changes to the nature and existence of certain positions. These transformations are especially important with regard to recruitment: new generations of employees have grown up surrounded by digital technologies; as a result they not only bring new competencies to the job market, but also new attitudes and expectations. These new cultural expectations with respect to the functioning of a company and its job requirements have become known under the concept of “digital working”. This concept includes, for example, teleworking, which problematizes notions such as “workplace” or “office hours”. Through engaging with digital transformations and anticipating new tendencies, HR departments can prepare for new expectations and trends and respond to them in efficient ways (e.g. offer frameworks that permit teleworking).

With regard to the numerous resources that HR departments can implement in order to assist and support the digital transformations of the company processes, respondents indicated that the main point needing more attention is the transmission of a digital culture (57%). Unease with regard to the usage of technologies or sheer reluctance to do so may indeed constitute an obstacle to the smooth implementation of digital transformations. These attitudes might mostly be found among older generations of workers; indeed 63% of respondents believe in the existence of a generational cleavage when it comes to attitudes towards digital technologies. Such difficulties can be circumvented by capitalising on the knowledge of younger generations by implementing reverse mentoring schemes, where one collaborator will act as a coach to another actor who is not fully at ease with new technologies and digital tools. Not only does this consolidate intergenerational links and integration within the company, but reverse mentoring also contributes to a strong culture of sharing and cooperating within the company.

Thus, by supporting and accompanying not only new processes, but also the collaborators through out all phases of digital transformations, the HR department can play an immensely important role in ensuring a well-adapted implementation of the Digital Transformation at all levels.

All graphs and numbers were taken from: Kurt Salmon, Cercle Humania, Apec. (2015)
http://www.cercle-humania.fr/pdf/2015DigitalEtudeRHHumaniafinal.pdf

 

Sarah Muller

Consultant in Human Capital Management @ MindForest