Satya Nadella’s success story at Microsoft is much more than a turnaround of the organization’s fortunes. True, he tripled the company’s stock value in four years. True again - one of his first pronouncements on taking charge was about the ‘cloud-first’ and ‘mobile-first’ imperatives of a digital business. But he will always be remembered for his engaging and inclusive ‘Day One’ mail he sent all his employees.
“… While we have seen great success, we are hungry to do more. Our industry does not respect tradition — it only respects innovation…Make no mistake, we are headed for greater places — as technology evolves and we evolve with and ahead of it. Our job is to ensure that Microsoft thrives in a mobile and cloud-first world…… Let’s build on this foundation together.”
This embodies my firm belief that business has thrived amidst a roller-coaster ride of technology disruption, only because of the ‘human touch’ that leaders have demonstrated. And this is the approach that is the guiding beacon of all CHROs in today’s digital autobahn. The Boston Consulting Group aptly called it the ‘Head, Heart and Hand’ of transformation.
Put simply, this is transformation with a holistic and human-centric approach.
The truth is that any transformation is rarely a people OR technology choice. It is always people AND technology. Business has always been about people, and they form the core of organizational success. More so in the ‘always-on’ digital era, where the relentless pace of change demands that people are inspired, excited and empowered.
How can CHROs develop the ‘AND’ principle to place people at the center of a holistic digital strategy – for the enterprise, and for their function?
The biggest need – and challenge – lies in not viewing people as merely the means to move to a digital end. In the digital era, change (and transformation) is a continuum that is driven ‘bottom up’ by people who are motivated to go above and beyond – and not ‘top-down’ by leaders.
Purpose, therefore is the first critical requirement. The CHRO and his/her function must invest in inspiring their people with the company’s vision. What does ‘going digital’ mean? How can each one of them use their knowledge of customer needs to pool expertise and experience? And then, craft a shared vision of a digitally-enabled future?
Without a doubt, purpose stands ahead of tools and technology in the digital queue. It lays the foundation of a culture that not only allows, but motivates people to stretch the boundaries of their best. It makes them understand the dimensions of what will disrupt their professional lives, and how they can imaginatively navigate the change forces to align with the larger and unified purpose. They become voluntary authors of their organization’s emerging digital culture – one that encompasses the corporate environment, work context, performance management - and peer, team and leader conversations.
With the tenets of the digital culture established, the CHRO needs to co-create the strategy with his/her people. What are the current and future needs of their customers? What is the approach that best achieves this end and places their company ahead of the competition curve? How can priorities be set in their digital roadmap? What are the skills and capabilities that will be needed – and which of them are available internally to form the core blocks? What are the gaps that need to be filled and future-proofed?
The digital environment today is a constantly shifting one. One of HR’s realities is that strategic approaches and actions will need to be constantly redefined. The CHRO must enable continuous conversations to articulate unfolding changes and energize their people to act with empowerment. Disruption thereby becomes a powerful ‘raison d’etre’ for their people to unify as a team. Automatically, they become part of the digital strategy.
Agility to innovate is an underlying imperative of the digital world. It calls for skills that are, at all times, niche. Applying digital tools and platforms to accelerate customer experiences, efficiency and revenues need capabilities to be built on a sustained basis.
The CHRO needs to ensure that his/her team - and the systems he/she puts in place - instill confidence, courage, and willingness in people to vault over comfort zones - to learn, grow and outperform. Besides mandated training programs, how can the CHRO influence cross-organization collaboration and inclusiveness? How can they enable individuals, managers and leaders to show empathy in the candor of communication across all levels?
Contractual monetary rewards no longer drive people’s passion for work. Intrinsic motivational factors such as purpose, engagement and connection do. They look to achieve through contribution, and learn and develop in the process. The savvy CHRO knows that human-centricity will remain the ultimate catalyst in any ‘Star Trek’ work world of the future.