Why is HR an afterthought in digital transformation?

76% of HR leaders thought that HR was an “afterthought” in their firm’s digital transformation initiative

They were frustrated that businesses are implementing more and more digital technology but leaving HR out of the loop. Here we take a brief look at the survey and the consequences for those businesses. Finally, we look at some of the ways that HR can and should be involved in digital transformation.

Survey Results

The survey was carried out by Capita Resourcing through Insight Avenue [1]. 200+ senior HR professionals were surveyed on their firms’ digital transformation initiatives.

The survey found that culture and skills were not being prioritised. Only a third of businesses had made these a major part of their digital transformation strategy. 82% of respondents thought their workforce needed to build its skills to be effective. In itself this is unsurprising, but it raises the question of how the business can gain those skills (and of course adapt its culture) if HR is an afterthought.

The statistics suggest that HR is under-represented at senior level. However, the respondents were all senior HR professionals at director or C-level, so it’s not that they were without influence.

Significantly, the survey identifies that 67% of respondents felt that their personal skills, particularly around technology, were falling behind. This contributed to a lack of confidence in their ability to play an active part in digital transformation.

How Can HR Play an Active Part in Digital Transformation?

In Human Resource Champions: The Next Agenda for Adding Value and Delivering [2], Dave Ulrich described four key roles for HR. This is an old book, but the four roles are still absolutely relevant in today’s HR world. By adapting them for modern technology we can strive to make HR:

1. A strategic partner in the business’s digital transformation. Alongside the focus on customers, finance and business needs, HR must highlight the importance of skills development and cultural change. HR must follow through on these initiatives, helping the workforce grow in the right direction.

2. A change agent, able to drive the adoption of technology for learning and collaboration. HR is in a unique position, able to deliver e-learning solutions across the board. Done correctly, this will allow all employees to reach a high level of skill, working in the same way and using the same terminology.

3. An administration expert, demonstrating effective use of machine learning and AI for modern HR methods such as recruitment, staff retention and nurturing potential. This is one solution to the skills and confidence gap for senior HR professionals.

4. An employee champion, enabling staff to gain the maximum benefit from technology. This may be pioneering the use of home working, making the case for inter-office videoconference facilities or driving through information sharing. For a multi-site or global business, people need to feel part of the whole and able to communicate effectively.

It’s disappointing that so many HR leaders do not feel able to contribute fully to their business’s digital transformation. The issue is not irreparable, though. By modernising Ulrich’s four roles, HR leaders can not only be part of the change: they can drive it.


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