HR in a digital world - Five myths and what to do about them

The first wave of the digital revolution was all about technology: the kit, the devices and the IT infrastructure. Now we’re some way into the second, the people and organisational dimension is taking centre stage.

Almost 90% of nearly 1,500 business leaders said that technological breakthroughs will impact their organisations, but they admitted that they lacked the talent they need to make this transformation possible. Only 39% said that their HR function is well prepared to support this degree of change (source: PwC Digital IQ Survey).

In any time of significant change reality tends to get blurred by tall tales, urban myths and scare stories, and digital is no different. So here’s my take on the top five digital myths, and what they mean for people, organisations and HR. And even more importantly, what can be done about them.

Myth 1. ‘Digital natives’ and generation Y are driving the change - FALSE

In fact, research shows that digital natives haven’t actually changed their working patterns that much, while it’s generation X who work at home more, using cloud and mobile technologies as many of them embrace family life. Organisations and HR teams need to understand their workforce as individuals, as consumers, rather than generation-based stereotypes if they are to create a truly differentiated organisation. The good news is that the information available to HR, coupled with comprehensive data analytics, can play a hugely positive role here, allowing companies to design a tailor-made people value proposition based on real and specific insight. Speaking of which…

Myth 2: HR does not have the data, capability or insight to support digital change - FALSE

HR has access to lots of data, but much of it does not sit together, and is hard to cross-reference and draw conclusions from. There is also a confidence problem. You need to clean this data up, integrate it properly, and ensure you’re collecting the right information in the first place. Again, there’s good news in that many of the building blocks to do this are already in place in many HR functions. They just need an effective approach, and leadership to knock them into shape. But start; with a small pilot and a key business issue. Experiment, learn and keep trying. It's only through this approach that you will build business confidence.

Myth 3: There’s no business case for digital transformation, and HR has no role to play - FALSE

The business case for digital transformation is remarkably clear. Research has shown that digital leaders are 20 - 30% more profitable than their competitors, and are better able to attract and retain a high performing and effective workforce. The best part is that you don’t have to invest millions in the latest technology to see the benefits. Far better to put the effort into showing current and future employees how innovative and flexible you are, applying joined-up thinking to things like workforce planning and talent management. Digital is a people and organisational opportunity and mind-set shift.

Myth 4: Because our digital strategy isn’t yet clear, HR doesn't need to do anything yet - FALSE

As we’ve been saying for some time, you don’t need a digital strategy, but a business strategy for a digital age, and that’s as true in HR as it is everywhere else. HR leaders have a real opportunity to help the business understand the human challenges and blockages to digital transformation, to assess the skills needed and the skills gaps, and facilitate more and better collaboration across the whole organisation. Creating a culture and incentives that reward innovation, agility and empowerment is a critical enabler of successful navigation of digital change.

Myth 5: Digital is all about technology, marketing and customer experience. It’s just another fad - FALSE

From virtual reality, to wearable tech, to driverless cars, digital certainly has its fair share of ‘Next Big Things’. But that doesn’t mean it’s all a passing craze. For people and organisational leaders, in particular, it’s less about apps and more about aptitudes. The human side of digital is about changing behaviour – developing new skills, and adapting old ones to new challenges. Skills like creativity, flexibility, lateral thinking, and collaborative working are key.

Organisations that understand that digital is as much a people and organisational challenge as a technology challenge will succeed. This provides HR with its greatest opportunity to build real differentiated talent and organisations. I’d love to hear about your experiences within the digital sphere, the challenges you face, or the opportunities you have seized along your journey.

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