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Mark O'Donoghue


Global Managing Director

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Whose job is it anyway? How HR can spearhead digital change in organisations


A digital shake-up is sweeping through the workplace, changing decades-old ways of working. This isn’t just an issue isolated to the IT department; digital transformation will change every part of your business.

While this is a period of uncertainty for many, it is also a huge opportunity for the HR department. That’s because among others things, enterprises need their HR teams to manage the task of training employees so that they have the digital skills to remain relevant and productive in the workplace of the future.

Happy as this is for HR workers, they have an urgent challenge to convince management to invest in employee development. Our research shows that more than half of L&D professionals at large enterprises say that the C-Suite “only pays lip service” to digital transformation initiatives.

Being responsible for learning and development, the HR department holds their businesses’ future digital success in their hands. Here are four ways in which HR professionals can implement a strategy for cross-organisation digital training to give employees the skills they need to thrive:

Have a plan

One of the biggest dangers of digital transformation is that it becomes a box-ticking exercise, where it’s more important to be seen to be “doing something digital” than to address real challenges faced by the organisation.

That’s why it’s vital that HR managers develop a clear and comprehensive strategy that outlines the likely threats of digital disruption to the business, and presents specific measures for overcoming them.

Skills are the key for preparing an organisation for the impact of digital, which is why HR has such a central role to play in developing a transformation strategy. This plan should analyse how the business expects to be affected by new digital technologies, and needs to outline a framework of relevant digital training and skills for each tier in the organisation.

Build a digital culture

Despite confusion around terminology, being digital primarily has to do with people and how people operate. Digital is about much more than systems and software – it is about new ways of working, new ways of thinking, and the associated change in organisational culture. New technologies facilitate all manners of change between people across the business, from new customer channels to new forms of remote working for employees.

In implementing sweeping changes, it’s important that a business doesn’t interpret digital as throwing away all those things that have brought them success with customers and employees in the past – for example, their corporate values and experience.

Digital is about much more than systems and software – it is about new ways of working, new ways of thinking

In developing and implementing a digital transformation plan, HR professionals must ensure that they evolve their business’ culture, rather than replace it. When assessing new digital technologies, it’s always best to think, “How can these tools make us even better at what we do?” This is vital if the organisation is to keep the good will of their loyal customers – and their employees, too.

Take workers with you

These can be worrying times for employees. Not only do they have to contend with new, unfamiliar technologies at work, but there is even the threat that their roles will be replaced by automated systems.

Clear communication is key for HR to allay workers’ concerns about the future, and to assure them that the company is committed to giving them the skills to master new technologies. Each employee should be given a learning pathway, which outlines what they need to learn, why these skills are important, and how their company will support their training and development.

Content needs to be short and snappy to not only keep learners engaged, but also make sure people feel they are constantly making progress.

To ensure staff buy-in, it’s critical that learning and development initiatives incorporate a range of study options, including collaborative and social learning, enabling each employee to learn in the way that best suits them. Giving employees a dedicated learning pathway, and benchmarking their progress in performance reviews, gives a great incentive for people to engage with the programme, while also enabling managers to track progress of the transformation initiative.

Online learning courses also need to be engaging. Content needs to be short and snappy to not only keep learners engaged, but also make sure people feel they are constantly making progress. Interactive online activities, such as drag and drop exercises, as well as bitesize videos, work particularly well to keep learners motivated.  

Dig into the data

The huge volumes of data created by digital have changed every business department, and HR is no exception. In managing a digital transformation strategy, HR managers need to put data into the core of their initiatives.

Employees and departments should all embrace a culture of data, where information is used to inform every business decision. Data analysis should no longer sit solely with the analysts: a truly data-driven organisation is one where everyone understands the value of its data and everyone can be hands on.

As learning and development professionals understand, the best way to lead is by example. If HR puts data at the centre of its strategy and measurement, they will be perfectly placed to initiate real, lasting and effective change throughout their organisation, and preparing it for whatever challenges lie ahead.

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Mark O'Donoghue

Global Managing Director

Read more from Mark O'Donoghue