4 roles of HR in digital transformation

4 Roles for HR in Digital Transformation

4 Roles for HR in Digital Transformation

4 roles of HR in digital transformation

Technology is a great equalizer. Across industries, it is dismantling the entry barriers and eroding traditional companies of their high market share. With knowledge becoming accessible to everybody and technology also driving cost optimization, the only distinct competitive advantage that organizations have, in my opinion, is their people.  This reminds us of what Steve Jobs said: “Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.”

A key transformation that has taken place in the past decade is the evolution of HR into a strategic function. Today, Digital Transformation is presenting HR with an opportunity to prove that they are key strategic differentiators for the organization. After all, it is the people who decide how technology is to be used and it is the HR team that creates a conducive culture for their workforce to do so.

With this in mind, here are 4 key roles that HR leaders can play in Digital Transformation, based on their organizational needs and aspirations:

  1. HR as an Innovator
  2. HR as a Driver of Business
  3. HR as a Change Agent
  4. HR as a Collaborator

HR as an Innovator:

We are all moving towards a boundaryless future, where organizations must learn how to manage a workforce operating in non-traditional manner. The new age workforce will be multigenerational, dispersed and collaborative (comprising an increasing number of millennials). Contractual partnerships and value-based collaborations will be the norm and hence it is time for organizations to adopt a new formula for success. While many organizations are in the process of figuring out how to optimize this situation, innovative HR teams are best placed to recommend how to leverage the workforce and their capabilities for the Digital Age. To do so, Innovative HR teams should focus on three main functions:

  • Hiring people with digital capabilities like Design Thinking, Agility, Data Orientation, Network Leadership etc.
  • Creating a culture conducive for the workforce to innovate, where people have the room not only to fail quick and fail often, but also learn from each of these set backs
  • Training and Rewarding employees for moving away from age-old practices and displaying novelty in their approach


HR as a Driver of Business:

Till a few years ago, HR has been relegated to a support function across industries. However, in the Digital Age, where transformation is being driven by the business, HR plays a key role as a strategic business partner to propel the organization forward. In essence, the HR function needs to transform from being a personnel function, such as handling payroll, a predictable training and development role, rolling out the vision document given by the CEO, etc. to being instrumental in organizational development.

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HR as a Change Agent:

Even if initiatives are driven by a dedicated ‘Digital Team’, no success can be achieved if HR doesn’t throw its weight behind it. In fact, in today’s corporate world the best HR leaders don’t just react to change – they act as a change agent and lead the company’s employees in a positive direction. The best HR leaders believe that the important factors needed to bring about effective change are articulating a compelling vision, communicating the strategic rationale, building credibility and trust, project management, monitoring, measuring change outcomes, and a structured follow-up to ensure the sustainability of the change initiatives being implemented. This could also include reimaging the organizational structure, reporting, utilization of data to create a compelling story.

HR as a Collaborator:

Technology and Digital have changed the way in which organizations and their workforce function. A change as big as digital transformation cannot be executed by a single function. It is well established by now that Digital Transformation starts with the CEO and cannot happen in silos. While the entire senior leadership team is getting involved in this transformation process, several organizations are appointing Chief Digital Officers to lead this change process. However, with the involvement of multiple teams, there are possibilities of conflicts. Here HR needs to be the force that binds the organization through a common thread of purpose.

Another result of the digital transformation is the rapid transformation of the organization culture. The behaviors of the digital workforce and the larger consumer web, along with their interaction with technology is changing at a rapid pace. As a result, the enterprise is getting left behind, struggling to adapt to the current changes in behavior and technology. Here HR plays a crucial role in bridging the gaps by building diverse talent pools, creating a compelling career architecture for the workforce, and simplifying the talent processes.

If HR teams hesitate to take the ‘Digital Bull’ by its horns then they will fail to get on board the Digital Transformation wagon and run the risk of becoming a victim of this change, a very unfortunate place for HR to be. In this case the HR teams of that particular organization may be left behind while the HR fraternity across the industry will evolve into a futuristic one. Then, the HR leader will be playing a game of dizzy catch ups, if the organization survives that long.

The ideal situation to be for HR teams in the Digital Age is to embody the responsibilities of being innovators, drivers of business, collaborators and change agents. It goes without saying that HR teams shoulder huge responsibilities in the Digital Age. Therefore, it is pertinent that HR at least personifies one of the four roles necessary for their organizations to thrive in the Digital Age. So which role are you going to take up now?

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