Role of HR in Digital Transformation


Digital has changed the way customers work, communicate, interact with organisations and importantly how they make purchasing decisions.

From an organizations perspective, I see Digital Transformation as

  • Solving any problems by using technology
  • Scaling the business through technology
  • Making operations more consistent and predictable
  • Using Technology and data to make business decisions. 

So where does HR fit in?

BCG assessed roughly 40 digital transformations and found

  1. The proportion of companies reporting breakthrough or strong financial performance was five times greater (90%) among those that focused on culture than
  2. It was among those that neglected culture (17%). 

Thus by ignoring culture, an organization risks transformation failure.

No doubt, people are the most important moving parts of the digital transformation equation; thereby leading to high expectations from stakeholders on the roles HR is expected to play in the transformation.

Some of the roles that I feel are very important are

1- Core Business Champion

Digital Transformation presents an awesome opportunity for organisations and leaders to review the purpose, values and core offerings of the organisation. In many organisations these are simply relics.

This transformation demands a new kind of leadership, one that ensures that the organisation grows responsibly with sustainability, environment & inclusivity on the radar not only as a policy but as deliberate actions as all stakeholders get ever closer to the organisation on account of the hype digital transformation creates and the information exchange becoming faster than ever before.

HR is expected to continually ask difficult questions that must continually validate the core of the business in order to align leadership vision, values & decisions closer to the purpose of the organisation.

2- Digital Culture Catalysts

Culture is the way in which things get done. Catalyzing a digital culture is even more powerful when we look at sustained performance, according to BCG, nearly 80% of the companies that focused on culture sustained strong or breakthrough performance. None of the companies that neglected to focus on culture achieved such performance.

Digital organizations move faster than traditional ones, and a digital culture empowers people to deliver results faster. This means challenging the adage “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” almost every day and nudging functional leaders to adopt digital technologies in their day to day operations.

3- Human Capital Portfolio Managers

Digital transformation needs huge investments in the development of people.HR plays a very important role in redefining the way we look at Human Capital, accounting for people as an investment rather than a cost. This will happen when the ownership of people is moved from the functions that utilise their skills to the HR function that rents them out to the functions. This will ensure proper accountability & responsibility rests between HR and Functions with respect to the Human Capital deployed in the organisation. Thus a portfolio management will ensure HR moves from a support or enablement function to a seat on the table. On the ground this will ensure priority, innovation and redesign in the various talent management initiatives of the organisation.

4- Organisation Architects

The organisations design and execution structures require rewiring on account of Digital Transformation. Conventional structures, communication & information dissemination networks within the organisation need to be redesigned time and again to ensure that the internal networks respond to opportunities faster than ever before.

Building an agile organisation needs collaboration not only between internal functions but also with ecosystem partners, consultants and gig workers to ensure that agility is part of the structural context of the organisation. On the talent front this will require us to reimagine the entire succession planning and career architecture evolving it into a very contemporary model unique to the organisations core competence.

At the end of the day digital transformation brings about speed and agility to the organisation in mindset as well as execution since “It’s no longer the big beating the small, but the fast beating the slow”.

5- Lifestyle Consultants

Talent risks are no longer limited to conventional acquisition and attrition challenges. These talents, including mission critical talent face risks in more ways than ever before. Entrepreneurial aspirations, perpetrators or victims in harassment cases, indictment in activist campaigns across media platforms, stress induced physical & mental disorders, personal life situations etc. pose major risks to our talents. The loss of critical talent can hamper the entire transformation journey setting plans back by a few quarters to years or derailing the entire effort.

Thus becoming lifestyle consultants for talent that enables them (talent)to not only manage but also continuously identify their personal and professional priorities in line with their aspirations require new age support systems. At the end of the day it’s all about creating lifestyle ecosystems to leverage the talent and protect the huge bets organisations place on their talents.

6- Digital Adoption Evangelist

Every company is a software company. You have to start thinking and operating like a digital company. It’s no longer just about procuring one solution and deploying one. It’s not about one simple software solution. It’s really you yourself thinking of your own future as a digital company.– Satya Nadella

Technology and digital are creating an exponential rate of change. No matter which industry, technology is here to disrupt. Its exponential growth and impact can suddenly disrupt any business model.

Starting from the digital transformation of HR to leading the digital transformation of the organisation, the role of HR is challenging and clearly cut out. The opportunity exists in blurring what we Experience as Customers to what Customer Experiences we provide as an organisation.

HR should be the Digital Adoption Evangelist as faster adoption of newer technologies. Digital adoption is the ability and pace in which people grasp digital tools and can use them with relative ease. Although technology is intended to make our jobs and lives easier, adapting to a tech-driven approach is not necessarily easy. With proper training and development systems and a focussed communication listing out the benefits that a digital organisation enjoys, the adoption can be fastened, thereby fastening the digital transformation itself.

Clearly digital transformation has moved the spotlight on HR, with huge expectations from all stakeholders on the function to take the stage and steer the transformation agenda. It is truly a game changer and how best we use this opportunity will be decided how seamlessly we play the various roles this transformation unravels.

The journey no doubt has already begun.

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Jonathan D’Souza, Chief – Culture & Digital Transformation, Logistic Integrators I Pvt Ltd. He has more than 16 years of experience and has spent the past 9 years in leadership positions with his career in corporate as well as HR consulting partnering with leading organizations operating in various sectors; ranging from startups to large enterprises, working closely with boards, entrepreneurs, family offices & seasoned professionals. He has led cross functional teams in enabling technology enhancements, sales analytics & corporate strategy. Recognized as a Top 40 Under 40 HR Leader by Jombay, he currently leads the HR & Digital transformation portfolio for Logistic Integrators I Pvt. Ltd.


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