The CXO-ask for most organizations is clear--digital transformation is a must-do for organizations in order to stay relevant and high-performing in an ever-changing environment. However, it is important to note that, to tackle this change, organizations must themselves accept, undergo, and embrace change. This does not come easy and the HR function must act as the “change champions” to propel the organization, along with its people in the right digital direction.
Understanding the impact of digital transformation
Digital transformation is not about changing a few processes, systems and ways of working. It is an immersive experience, shaking the very fundamentals of how work happens. The impact of such a high-level change runs far and wide- from processes, systems, workflows, hierarchies, values, and most importantly--the people. Humans by nature are averse to change, and a change of such magnitude is bound to have a profound impact on people-psyche. Homeostasis is found to create negative reactions such as anxiety, fear, insecurity, all of which must be tackled and corrected head-on, to make the change successful and sustainable. Naturally, digital transformation goes with significant effort for people-transformation i.e. change in the values, culture, outlook, and mindset of one’s people, as a whole.
The role of HR in culture building
The human resource function serves as the custodian of organizational culture, which sculpts how work happens. In a dynamic state of flux, this role amplifies, and partners with several other HR roles to form the rock-solid foundation on which the new digital ethos is built. HR professionals must, therefore, step up and take on several roles, impacting every touchpoint for employees and leaders alike. Here’s how:
Aligner: HR must start by creating a strong foundation i.e. defining the very basis for transformation. The talent strategy must be first well-defined so as to align with the overall business strategy for the transformation. This calls for a deep understanding of the fundamentals- what, why, how of the change.
Culture curator: Digital transformation entails an entirely new way of working and believing. For example, digital espouses the values of openness, transparency, decentralization of power, etc. It is essential for organizations to move away from the traditional, hierarchical approach and embrace these new ways of working. HR leaders must lead this change by curating a digital-friendly culture through value-building exercises, focus group discussions, etc. HR must formulate the digital vision and mission, so that employees are clearly communicated about the WHY of the transformation, and they understand how it will benefit them. Building the right cultural tenets is critical to harnessing employee support and sustaining the change.
Coach and counselor: HR must listen hard, and connect with people, to be able to help them adapt to the new normal. A coaching and mentoring construct can go a long way in building confidence and desired future skills. Counseling support is essential to allow employees to express and overcome their fears, knowing they have the organization’s support. Every HR professional must take on a more intuitive approach to be more sensitive and supportive towards employees’ needs- and adopt the role of a friend, philosopher, and guide.
Learning enabler: Digital transformation demands new capabilities. Learning and Development must equip people to perform well on new systems such as new apps, analytic platforms, cloud (ERP) platforms, and digitized tools incorporating AI, social, etc. L&D and HR must apply the latest technologies to empower employees to do their jobs well in the new digital environment. Transformation-led L&D must also focus on leadership development, due to the imminent leadership upheavals that may occur. Change starts at the top, and leaders must walk the digital talk. They must be the first to go digital, learning how to use digital platforms and adopt the digital mindset.
Employee connector: Most of the above starts with overcoming resistance to change. Employees often become demotivated, confused and insecure since there may be no clarity regarding the future state and how they are affected (for example, automation may lead to job losses). HR must hold hands with people at the ground level, adopting an employee-centric approach. Use digital means to connect and converse- video conferencing, digital leadership connects, live podcasts, push-content explaining the change philosophy- such measures will help. HR can institutionalize employee-friendly processes and initiatives which quell the above feelings and enable people to bring out their best to the transformation journey. Setting up wellness initiatives, counseling sessions, recognition forums, and programs which uphold the desired behaviors, social-sharing conversational platforms- much can be done to engage and involve employees in the change. Above all, HR must communication engaging, bringing together people through the right messaging based on team-work, continuous feedback, and open platforms.
Dave Ulrich, long back, defined one of the HR roles as being a “Change Agent”. Never before has this role become more critical than now, when digital is rapidly changing systems, processes, workflows, and business models at large! HR must act as the binding glue, by understanding the organization’s culture and institutionalizing change capability within the organization. More importantly, HR must equip business managers to lead and facilitate the change, for a lasting impact. For this to happen, the HR team should start acting from within, embracing digital on the four pillars i.e. processes, technologies, people and mindset. This is the recipe to move digitalization a notch up, from just an “experiment” to a core competency for business success.