Preparing HR to Thrive in a Digital World

Preparing HR to Thrive in a Digital World
An organisational structure that enables job enrichment reinforced through collaboration can go a long way to turning HR practitioners into change agents and champions.

As internet access through computers and mobiles become ubiquitous; as data becomes the most valuable commodity, there is an increasingly powerful imperative to Go Digital in the way we work. Human Resources management is a key beneficiary of this trend. 

This article will look at the impact and benefits of Digital HR, consider how to overcome some of the not unexpected resistances to this change, and share the skills an HR professional needs to thrive in the digital era.

What is the impact of digitizing an organisation? 

Firstly, it helps companies to automate repetitive transactional work.  Fewer employees doing transactional work reducing costs: machines or responsive bots answer queries in lieu of people, sort through resumes based on keywords, and test employees for promotion readiness, among other applications.  The quality of transactional responses also improves – eliminating human errors and fostering consistency.  Less focus on transactions means employees – at least, those ready and willing to upskill – have the bandwidth to do more value-adding strategic work.   

This leads to the second key way in which going digital has a positive impact: generating more structured data provides the opportunity to answer more questions like – What are the concerns employees have?  Where do we need to provide more detailed information? More options?  More training?  Mining and analysing this data enables us to elicit patterns, assess trends, and even predict potential future events.  

Having a real-time pulse on employee engagement helps us to design timely interventions to reduce attrition, for example.  At its core, analytics enables us to translate increasingly complex data into solid, actionable information.  Books can be written on this subject but for this article, I will simply highlight the key value of analytics, i.e., more effective decision-making.

An outcome of the points above is that digitizing saves organisations money. More productive employees, speed and consistency in policy communications, needs of employees and managers addressed in anticipation, more effective decision making – each of these independently and collectively has a positive impact on the bottom line….

Despite these obvious benefits, people are resistant to the change. We like to remain in our comfort bubbles, hesitating to try something new, something unknown. But there are ways to overcome the resistance.  Let’s look at two population groups that could be major resistors if not managed well: the clients we serve and HR practitioners, themselves. 

Clients miss the personal touch. But, as in the financial sector, where we initially missed meeting our bank manager and now, happily bypass him/her in favour of getting all our transactions handled smoothly and hassle-free online – so, we can continue to hone our HR bots to efficiently respond to our client with empathy. 

We have only just embarked on this journey but we will soon get to a point where they will consistently see digitisation as a boon rather than a bane. 

HR practitioners themselves can also be active (and often passive-aggressive) resistors to this change.  Fear of redundancy could be driving some of that pushback. Here again, there is potential to reposition the change as an opportunity for HR professionals to have more global (vs merely local) access; and more high-value HR projects that involve a specific HR vertical or region. 

An organisational structure that enables job enrichment reinforced through collaboration can go a long way to turning HR practitioners into change agents and champions.

This brings us to the final point about the skills HR practitioners and leaders need to thrive in a fast-digitizing world. HR Domain Expertise remains an important and necessary skill and can be viewed in terms of generalist HR as well as a range of specialist HR skills.  It’s worth developing expertise in at least two HR verticals besides exposure to the HR generalist role. 

With the Domain Expertise comes also the orientation and skills associated with being a good Trusted Advisor to Clients.  This requires the ability to show empathy, communicate effectively, demonstrate a sense of urgency, and a problem-solving approach with a focus on being responsive and adaptive to the client’s needs. 

The skills above were important in the past and continue to be important in the present and future.  A third skill is especially relevant in the digital era – HR Analytics.  Understanding of basic analytics (including probability & statistics), the ability to ask the right questions, to spot when information may be awry – these are skills honed by experience and bolstered by domain expertise.   

In conclusion, it’s important to recognize that this is a long, possibly meandering, journey ahead of us.  Articulating that vision, defining the goals, and identifying some milestones and metrics along the way are excellent ways to sustain the momentum as HR comes closer to thriving in the digital world.

Note: This article represents the author’s personal views.


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