Digital transformation and HR's changing role

Charles Ashworth Profile picture for user Charles Ashworth April 4, 2016
From onboarding to analytics, the workplace faces digital transformation and HR must adapt, says Charles Ashworth, SVP of employee success at FinancialForce

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(© James Thew -
Digital transformation is reshaping the workplace. Those that underestimate its influence will feel a very real effect on their bottom line. Gartner predicts that by 2017, 25% of companies will lose their market position as a result of digital business incompetence and a failure to respond to how employees want to work. This 'people' dimension is perhaps the most challenging aspect facing today’s businesses and HR organizations.

As employees change in tandem with digital culture, HR departments must evolve how they acquire, manage and retain talent. Today’s workforce have high expectations. Employees don’t want to be boxed in. Employee retention and productivity is now intrinsically tied to employees’ expectations for a digital business and the changing way they work. HR organizations are exploring a number of new ways to embrace digital transformation for better business.


A company’s onboarding process is an employee’s first experience at a new company, making it a crucial touchpoint to form the foundation for a long tenure. Employees are seeking to confirm that they made the right decision to join.  Yet, 25% of employees leave their jobs within the first three months according to ADP. Not only is this churn bad for morale, but it’s also costly. Studies show that the cost to replace an entry-level employee is up to 50% of their annual salary, growing to 150% for executive positions.

Onboarding processes have largely been de-prioritized relative to other business functions when it comes to digital transformation. Yet businesses are starting to take notice of the need and opportunity for change. The use of automation tools not only drastically reduces time spent on manual tasks during onboarding, it also removes human error, ensures a consistent experience to each new employee and allows HR to quickly scale with a growing company. The result? Employees don’t waste their time with first day/week/month formalities and instead can focus on making an immediate impact. They instantly feel connected with their company and new co-workers, and HR ensures nothing slips through the cracks during onboarding.

Self-service tools

Flexibility is the name of the workplace game. Employees want to choose how and when they manage their data, which means they want 24/7 access to streamlined self-service tools. This is increasingly important as the workforce is made up of a larger portion of millennials and the younger iGeneration. They want content and insights at their fingertips. They don’t necessarily want to get on the phone and talk about every task; they want the option of on-demand access to content and insights.

Self-service tools deliver on this vision by empowering all employees to manage their HR at any time and from any device. An early adopter of self-service HR tools, Jason Bernhardt-Lanier, managing director of global talent at Ashoka, observes that:

Self-service allows employees to get the right information that they care about. [Team leaders] are able to understand their team with better information about their performance and goals.

Benefits of self-service HR tools range from reduced administrative work, ability to smoothly manage staff while scaling the business and standardizing process. Ultimately, HR interactions become an everyday activity versus being thought of as an organizational department.

Social collaboration

Today’s workforce desires social collaboration and communication akin to how they operate in their personal lives. HR has traditionally been hesitant to embrace social technologies because of the misconception that social decreases employee productivity, as Lisa Rowan, research vice president of  HR and talent management services at IDC, recently commented:

When I talk about social to HR executives, I frequently get a very mixed reaction because they may be thinking about it as the misuse of time on the job for access to social media sites. This is not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the effective use of social technologies for collaboration across the enterprise.

The real value of social collaboration exists in its ability to break down traditional barriers, such as between departments and employees. It creates buzz about initiatives, builds company culture and allows insights from one department to inform the activities of another. Collaboration tools such as Chatter, Slack, and Peer, can even change the way we view traditional performance reviews. Mark Coy, chief human resources officer at Summa says:

Performance reviews are very outdated, and very painful. Feedback and goals are important, but it needs to be more agile. It's not a once a year thing, and it's not a once a month thing. It's an everyday thing. With Chatter, businesses can actually get and give real-time feedback through an agile performance review process.

In truly digital organizations, social collaboration will shine as companies realize the business gains of making insights and data accessible for all. They even help cut down on the volume of emails sent between co-workers — a crusade for nearly every business.

Unified employee records

Companies typically have a talent acquisition function, a learning and development function, a payroll function, and so on. In the era of digital business, these traditionally separate functions are no longer stuck in silos.  HR has the opportunity to collect, monitor and analyze data related to each stage of the employee lifecycle, in context. For instance, a manager can see all data, from an employee’s initial onboarding to ongoing performance reviews and goals, in one place. Digital transformation opens the door to a more mature way of managing and engaging with workforce data, which aligns with employees’ desire for insight into their role in the business. We gain in collaborative behaviors, sharing, and creating space for fresh ideas and creativity.

People are a company’s most valuable asset. By having a more holistic understanding of your people and how they’re performing, HR can better support a culture of feedback, engagement and motivation — and do so more quickly. This holistic view also enables employees to better align their own personal goals at work to larger business goals.

Data science

The modern HR department will soon recognize data analytics for its full potential. While technology has made initial strides, there remains a skills gap. Tools can lessen the burden of doing workforce analytics, but they’re only fully effective if HR team members can make sense of the data. The people dimension of digital transformation will require HR embrace this skillset to remain competitive.

According to Deloitte, until recently 86% of companies reported no analytics capabilities in HR. This translates to the HR department missing out on crucial intelligence on the performance and needs of its employees. For instance, where are the highest levels of employee engagement occurring? Or can you detect areas at risk of high attrition and proactively address them? HR has a lot to gain by embracing this foundational tool within the digital workplace.

All in all, HR is integrally intertwined with enabling how people work, which has a very real and tangible impact on the success of the business. With the digital transformation of the workplace, HR is the first to address changing technology and employee expectations. In this change management role, the most effective HR departments will lead the way to nurturing the culture, skillsets and processes to collaborate and embrace a digital transformation. This is an opportunity to drive business forward. HR’s role become more critical as the workplace continues to rapidly evolve.

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