Why HR leaders are crucial for digital transformation

by Hudson
Female Human Resources Manager

2020 has disrupted many sectors and industries and has well and truly shone a light on the important role HR plays in helping businesses navigate and thrive through change.
In the early days of COVID-19, HR leaders and their teams had to move fast as they tackled the task of keeping employees safe. Then came the remote working and mental help initiatives.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the impacts of COVID-19 has accelerated business’ need to adopt new ways of thinking about remote working – and for many, the digital transformation required to enable this. Which begs the question: what role can (or should) HR play in supporting leaders – to not just tackle change initiatives, but to create the conditions that foster the right culture needed to adapt and thrive in this ‘new norm’?

As if the case for rapidly supporting cultural change wasn’t already clear, note this: Microsoft states that we’ve seen nearly 2 years’ worth of digital transformation in just 2 months of COVID-19. Further, it has been predicted that by 2023, global organisational spend on digital transformation will reach $2.3 trillion.

Yet the successful return on this massive investment is most heavily dependent on one variable: ensuring an organisation’s culture is one that welcomes and thrives on change – and the rapid adoption of technology and new ways of working.

Gareth Russell, Chief People Officer at Hudson APAC, says that HRDs are navigating new terrain: “We know that innovative and experimental cultures are most conducive to successful digital transformation. The key question therefore, is “How can my team best support the business to deliver high impact, fit-for-purpose, initiatives that create the conditions for the cultural change needed?”

While IT departments have been busy setting up critical remote work capabilities and infrastructure, HR teams have been focused on working out how these tools, and new ways of working, can be rapidly and effectively adopted to drive business momentum and success.

“It’s important to remember that HR cannot ‘create culture’. What we can do however, is help to make sure that the right ‘conditions’ for positive culture change are in place. This encompasses leadership coaching and support; delivering effective change management programs; and most importantly, identifying and developing the critical workforce capabilities required to succeed and thrive. This really is where HR can come into its own” says Russell.

HR departments’ unique role in turbulent times

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) agrees that HR departments are in a position to foster a high-performance organisational culture.

As organisations undergo digital transformation, HRDs and their teams have a responsibility to ensure the business’ people and culture practices are on a solid footing. This includes:

  • Being a role model for the organisation’s beliefs.
  • Reinforcing organisational values: ensuring they are well understood, demonstrated, and role-modelled by leaders; and helping to make sure that they fundamentally shape every experience employees have through the traditional employment lifecycle.
  • Enabling the deployment of effective two-way communication and feedback channels.
  • Clearly defining and communicating role responsibilities and accountabilities across all areas and levels of the business
  • Ensuring effective performance management; reward; and recognition programs and platforms are universally embedded.
  • Ensuring universal access to continuous learning and development opportunities.

Digital transformation – and facilitating the right conditions for great cultures to thrive on this journey will surely continue to bring its challenges. More excitingly though, there is no better time for HR to step up and in to play a significant role in driving digital transformation and cultural change.