HR in the digital age

Human Resource (HR) professionals have an exciting, front-seat role in facilitating the digital transformation of a company. Contrary to perceptions the HR division is vital in the move to digital. The phrase ‘Digital transformation’ has been thrown about in recent years by virtually everyone as a means to survive and thrive in an increasingly competitive – and yes, digital – economy. But do HR professionals simply watch as the company transforms? The answer is a resounding no.

Companies that adopt digital technology and solutions for the sales and operation division in a company will not be successful if they do not work hand in hand with the HR division. Companies that invest heavily in the digitalisation of sales and operation divisions without the help of HR may not exactly see productivity increase. Instead, HR should be at the forefront to actively shape a company that thrives in the digital age.

Architecting the company culture

A company’s digital transformation is not just about the software. The most important thing about digital transformation is also about changing the mindset of the most important resource in a company – the people.
“Digital transformation isn’t really about technology. It is about the organisational agility1 as an organisation’s culture plays a vital role in the digital transformation of any business as culture leads the adoption of technology,” says Dr Julius Nyih Nyiawung, Researcher & Lecturer, UCD Lochlan Quinn School of Business.

To ensure that the talent remain agile enough in a constantly-changing digital environment, HR professionals have to drive organisational transformation and ensure that a company’s talent and culture aligns with and supports its changing business strategy.

It is therefore crucial that the HR division of a company define and architect a culture that facilitates and fosters and environment that is open to change. The HR director of Gazprom marketing and trading, said in a report for The Prophet: “HR needs to move quickly from being a supportive and enabling function towards being a leading function.”2

According to Dr Julius Nyih Nyiawung good HR practices like on-going training, creating continuous communication channels, involving employees, establishing clear goals and flattening the organisational structures constitute ways through which desired organisational culture can be promoted.

“HR practices positively affect the behaviour, developing positive thinking about organisational initiatives towards the employees help in creating value for the strategies and result in positive outcomes for the business,” he says.

Developing a new mind-set

So how exactly do HR professionals foster an environment that encourages an agile leadership and culture? Firstly, they have to work very closely with senior leadership to help steer and direct the workforce through the process of transformation. To do so, HR professionals must be able to understand that changes in the executive team may be necessary – especially in the early stages of transformation.

Additionally, senior leadership may not have the holistic skillset necessary to help manage and mitigate the impact of such huge change in the workforce and its processes. Diletta D’Onofrio, the head of digital transformation of SnapLogic wrote on HRzone: “When these changes of not handled well, they can irretrievably damage employee morale, particularly if senior leaders have not articulated the reasons for the change throughout the enterprise”. 3

She added: “If there is already a culture of fear or mistrust in the organisation, people will be resistant to changes they perceive as employment risks, making it difficult for the business to achieve the far-reaching goals of the transformation.”

As such, HR professionals have to step up to and take on a leadership role that help support the senior leadership in enacting change. To do so effectively, HR must believe and understand a company’s reasons for digital transformation so that it can communicate those reasons to the workforce without affecting workforce morale, engagement and productivity. When employees understand the reason behind such a transformation, they will be more willing to embrace changes even with the knowledge that these changes may lead to some teething problems.

Talent management
HR professionals need to evaluate how digital transformation can be fulfilled by talent – and this may require restructuring of roles. Below are questions HR professionals can ask themselves while evaluating and redefining specific roles and responsibilities:

  • How will digital drive value for the organisation?
  • What are the required technical capabilities required for product or service development?
  • What are the capabilities required to drive the innovation needed to meet a company’s strategic goals?
  • What capabilities and skills are needed to understand the needs of customers?
  • What is the amount of work needed for each capability?
  • What skillsets are required to fulfil each capability?

Additionally, HR professionals must themselves introduce new, appropriate and relevant tech solutions that can help shape a culture that is more flexible, agile and innovative. This can also help change the way people work and relate with each other. For example, employees must be given tools that enable to work on any device, anytime, anywhere. A great tool for both productivity and communication is Microsoft Office 365, which includes Yammer and Skype so that employees can share files and get connected more easily. If these communication tools are already in place, employees will be more willing to embrace change as processes are more transparent and there is an open environment that enables feedback.

Using data in HR

Data analytics is not just useful for a better customer experience, it can also be used to improve customer experience by identifying areas where talent can be managed better. For example, a retail head of operations can use analytics to look at both customer and employee traffic patterns to identify new locations that may need more sales people who can help increase and improve total customer purchase. 4

HR can use people analytics – data that tracks information about the talent in the company – to make important decisions that can help increase productivity and improve customer experience. However, optimal people analytics can only be achieved if data is derived from all divisions of the company including sales, planning and operation. This may not exactly require more resources as these divisions provide substantial data – however, it is important to have the right talent to be able to analyse the data and make better-informed decisions.

HR therefore plays a vital role in ensuring the long-term success of a company’s digital transformation. Simply introducing software and hardware isn’t enough. The culture and mindset from top to bottom has to transform as well and HR facilitates that change ensuring that employees and their leaders are able to operate in an environment that is agile enough to adapt to changes posed by a constantly changing digital space.

Importance of studying HR management

As the role of HR in a company’s digital transformation grows, it is important to have HR professionals that are taken seriously by the senior management team as the two parties often have to work together closely for a successful transformation. “A bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in HRM allows you to speak on their level. Of course, you can still do this without a degree but a degree gives HR professionals more credibility,” says Dr Julius Nyih Nyiawung.

He also said that a degree in HRM equips you with skills like “strong communication and interpersonal skills, commercial awareness, critical thinking and analysis and also a capacity for problem solving collaboratively and individually”.

“These skills allow graduates to be able to talk about, apply and act upon what they know and have the ambition and courage to collaborate, solve problems and contribute to HR outcomes for the organisation,” says Dr Julius Nyih Nyiawung.

Be prepared for a future in human resources. Enrol in the University College Dublin’s (UCD) Bachelor of Business Studies (Honours) in Human Resource Management (Full-time), Bachelor of Business Studies (Honours) in Human Resource Management (Part-time) or Masters of Science in Human Resource Management (Part-time).

1. Weber, Y. (1996): Corporate cultural fit and performance in mergers and acquisitions. Human Relations, 4(9), pp.1191-202

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