Hey HR, are you ‘digitally hungry’? You should be!

Janine Milne Profile picture for user jmilne June 14, 2018
Get curious and get involved in digital transformation – Helen Rosethorn’s call to arms to HR.

Helen Rosethorn Prophet
Helen Rosethorn

HR should be hungry to be right at the center of any digital transformation, but all too often, HR issues are parked until later. This is a big mistake, according to Helen Rosethorn, partner at global management consultancy, Prophet, because:

So much of digital transformation is the humanity, the mind-set and the culture rather than the technology, and undoubtedly the champions of mind-set and culture are HR.

Rosethorn classifies HR into six different archetypes to represent the maturity of HR departments. At one end are the Conventionalists, the old school HR professionals running traditional, process-driven HR departments, who use digital technology when the business asks for it. Experimenters take an interest in the impact of digital technology within HR, while Tactical Supporters do contribute and partner with other business units on digital initiatives.  Says Rosethorn:

In its simplest form, on one side of the spectrum – worryingly where the majority of HR leaders tend to see themselves – is in a pretty reactive mode, where you could you could argue that HR hasn’t got its own mind-set in order.

The danger with such reactive behavior is also that digital decisions are too technology driven:

When you think about organization’s decisions about automation and technology a lot of the conversations start with the technology….The classic behavior in organizations is that people get very excited about introducing a chatbox or cutting out the customer pain points and then they go, ‘oh gosh,that may mean some people losing their jobs or we might need to redesign the flow of our call centers’. People imagine the technology first and the people second, but it takes people and technology.”

On the other side of the spectrum are the Cultural Shapers, who have their own house in order and can support innovation. Strategic Partners take a leading role in defining business strategy, while the pinnacle of maturity is the Provocateurs, who are pioneering and creative disruptors. Rosethorn adds:

On the more culturally-focused, enabling side, HR is at the table. They are doing things in their own right and are introducing aspects of change and shift into the organization or they are strategic partners.

The Provocateurs are the ones who are actually making changes in their own right and influencing the rest of the organization. Rosethorn adds:

The organization needs to see that HR is really ‘on it’ when it comes to talking about the workplace of the future. They are the ones that are coming up with interesting tools the organization could think about, they’re the ones identifying new technology opportunities that the organization should know about.

They should show that they are digitally hungry in sense of knowing what’s out there, understanding the opportunities and also understanding the consequences as well. They should be the ones educating other functional groups or operational units….If HR becomes known for their own prowess, then they’ll be invited into the conversation.

Above all, HR needs to demonstrate “digital curiosity” and to help create an environment where agility and experimentation are encouraged. Success is about having “innovation in your DNA”, says Rosethorn:

So many organizations have people wrapped up in red tape…people need freedom to explore the art of the possible and to be given freedom to fail. But, so many organizations are operating with a fear-of-failure complex, which is another area where HR can help.

My take

The technology element of becoming a digital organization isn’t always easy, but without HR to lead the cultural and people change, there can be no long term transformation.

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