Digital transformation and HR: assessing the impact

This report examines four disciplines where digital transformation has affected senior employees in management roles.

Human Resources (HR) professionals are among a group of individuals who feel digital transformation has had an impact on their role. We recently surveyed professionals in a range of industries about the impact that digital transformation has had on their business.

42% of those surveyed in our recent poll claimed to have experienced a significant change in their career due to digitalisation – raising questions about how emerging technology is disrupting day-to-day HR operations.

To explore this issue further, we reached out to HR leaders to hear their take on digital transformation, and what it could mean for traditional HR disciplines going forward. Focusing on the impact of digital and what businesses are doing to prepare their personnel for the changes, we spoke to three industry experts to assess the real-world impact of digitalisation in HR.

Changing roles in HR

With over 40% of HR professionals experiencing a change in their role through digitalisation, it’s clear that new technologies are disrupting everyday ways of working. But Julia Rutherford, Head of HR at Hillarys, believes that digital transformation is bringing positive change to traditional roles, adding greater flexibility and creative opportunities.

Julia says: “The role of HR is ever-changing. Staff are encouraged to be creative and innovative; they are involved in those discussions and play a key part in communicating change and supporting staff through this. The key to success is understanding the need for change, involvement, communication and on-going training and development.

“It’s important to understand the impact on key stakeholders to ensure that any changes for employees are understood and embraced, making it much easier and less pressurised for staff in HR to transition.”

Ed Johnson, CEO of PushFar, shares a similar view, observing that digital transformation has freed HR teams from laborious administrative processes and opened up new possibilities for career progression. He says: “The role of the HR professional has become a lot more personable and focused on individual employee wellbeing. Long gone are the days of the typically laborious administrative processes, such as logging employee annual leave, payroll and resource-heavy data inputting.

“With the rise of digitalisation and technologies to support HR’s role, the emphasis has become far more focused on the workforce’s individual needs and supporting them effectively. With this, there has been a rise in the number of organisations opting for a ‘People Team’, rather than a HR department. Digitalisation continues to support the role of the HR function but the most significant changes, largely speaking, have now happened, at least for now.”

Bridging the digitalisation training gaps for HR professionals

 


One of the key findings from our survey was the perceived lack of training HR personnel feel they have received in managing new technologies in the workplace. Investing time and resources in training staff is critical to how well they’re able to adapt to new technologies, and yet it’s clear that many businesses have failed to provide the necessary learning opportunities.

Others, however, have put measures in place to prepare staff for digital rollouts, including Hillarys. Here, Julia fills us in on the training and transition process which the HR team was involved in:

“Hillarys’ HR team are involved prior to any decision being made, and so transition is embraced from the ‘idea’ stage. If we take the applicant tracking system (a software application which handles recruitment), for example, all HR staff were involved from the ‘what’s the problem?’ phase, all were trained on the new system and processes, and all understand the impact on change for individuals, so they were fully equipped to deal with queries from the business when it was rolled out.

“In addition, they were all educated on the need to be more proactive in terms of sourcing candidates using social media, and attended group and individual training sessions. This ensures they are in a much better position to understand the impact they can have in terms of improving our employer brand and attracting candidates.”

Denise Jennings, Head of HR at RotaCloud, says that her business takes a similar approach, placing operational experience and overall engagement ahead of time and cost-cutting. Denise says:

“Involving employees in choosing a technology provider is always sensible. People using the new technology will have the operational experience which will be invaluable in the whole process. They can then become ambassadors for these developments and can help with the training and implementation, increasing employee engagement. Investing time in the initial training process to upskill the team is fundamental. All organisations are evolving and it’s vital to help your team to evolve too!”

From Ed’s point of view, businesses need to do more to help onboard their personnel on to new systems, and then follow this initial training up with a period of mentoring to help boost understanding and engagement. Ed says: “The training we’ve seen being provided to individuals, when being onboarded to new systems and technologies, has largely speaking been weak. Larger suppliers think that their systems are typically ‘user-friendly’ and therefore training isn’t necessary.

“Of course, in some cases, suppliers offer training, but organisations don’t take them up on this. When we onboard new clients’ to PushFar, there are several aspects to the training we provide. As a supplier of mentoring software, there are two elements to our training. The first is an education piece around mentoring for employees; what is mentoring; how can I be a mentor; what is expected of me; and so on. For organisations’ leading figures, there is training around how to use our platform, how organisations can use it most effectively and ultimately how to adapt the technology to fit their needs.

“In addition to this, we provide video guides which are snapshot videos up to two minutes in length and are a great, flexible way of training our clients’ at their own pace and in their own time.”

Employee engagement in the HR sector


While the overall view of the impact of digital implementation on efficiency is positive – 72% of HR professionals claim technology has made them more efficient at their job. There is also a feeling that some employees are failing to engage with it in a proper way, with 54% claiming that it’s made their job more challenging.

Engaging employees with significant technological changes can be time-consuming, but Denise believes that there are several strategies business leaders can take to alleviate people’s fears and help them embrace new technology and processes.

She says: “Communication is key when introducing new technology into an organisation.  People can sometimes be worried or cautious – the fear of change is very real amongst employees who are used to doing things a certain way! Communication at the start of the process to explain the reasons behind the changes, and the outcome expected as a result of the change, is crucial.

“It’s important to formally introduce the technology, and we will often pilot it first amongst a small part of the business. Following this, investment in full training is always beneficial, from an engagement perspective as well as operationally. I’d also recommend looking at the level of support you’ll receive from the provider – the best ones will work to understand your needs and often offer webinars to help and support you in the process of introducing new systems.”

Julia also believes that managerial staff hold the key to encouraging engagement in new technologies, adding: “Involve them from the ideas stage, encourage networking and research so staff understand what other businesses are doing; what works, doesn’t work and what real success looks like. Play to key strengths, involve them and let them have an opportunity to lead/own change. Also, prepare them for change and equip them with the skills and knowledge and, most importantly, give them time.”

Ed takes a slightly different view, believing that it’s a business’ prerogative to ensure that new systems are innovative and accessible enough to engage people. He says: “Technology has to be seen to be useful for an employee, or they simply won’t engage with it. There are lots of ‘clunky’ software packages out there, which theoretically help, but when push comes to shove, the old way of sending off an email, attending a training course or viewing an excel file works just as well.

“Companies supplying technologies must think about not only how it helps the clients they sell to, such as the HR departments, but also the end-users. In fact, in our case, we actually developed the platform to help the end-user and worked back from there. Of course, some systems are only designed to be used by HR and not employees within an organisation. However, if the tech is designed to be used by employees, then it has to be designed with them in mind.

How can businesses improve their digital transformation rollout?

When asked, only 12% of HR professionals said they felt their company benchmarked above the average for digital implementation, suggesting an overall lack of innovation in the HR sector. But how can businesses improve their deployment of new digital technologies to meet current demands and better engage their personnel?

Paul Freeman, MD of Global Knowledge admits that whilst the industry is aware of having to change practices regarding digitalisation – find the best solutions is often easier said than done:

“For the last three years, digital transformation has been the number one topic of concern during Learning Live, run by the Learning and Performance (L&) Institute.  Like their other colleagues within HR, L&D has the challenge and opportunity of a myriad of technology-enabled ways to improve knowledge transfer.

“Technology is allowing staff to curate their own learning through a blend of classroom, eLearning and social media. However, the flexibility of this approach can lead to governance issues and the sharing of ‘how to’ videos, for example, while an excellent way to capture and share knowledge comes with potential health and safety risks.

“Maintaining quality and governance in this new digital environment without curtailing the benefits of immediate, relevant skills transfer is an industry-wide challenge.”

Ed argues that effective digitalisation starts with a change in culture, saying: “The lack of digitalisation within organisations’ HR departments is typically because it is seen as a ‘nice to have’, rather than an essential. Unless it is seen as being beneficial to the bottom line and can show a real return on investment, it is hard for HR professionals to push forward innovations within their organisations.

“The reality, though, is that in the last couple of years alone, this has improved dramatically. Organisations’ senior leadership and C-Suite teams are beginning to realise how vitally important learning and HR technologies are in keeping employees both engaged and retained. Suppliers are switched on to this and are now able to present the real and direct return on investment statistics to help.”

Julia takes a different view, believing that businesses need to realise how digitalisation can have a positive impact on every part of the organisation, not just a specific area like sales and budgeting. She says: “It is possible that there may be a lack of innovation. However, it’s about creating the environment and the time/space to encourage discussion.

“HR teams are challenged in so many areas, and sometimes get pulled from pillar to post. The priority at Hillarys is always to look for ways to improve our candidate and internal customer journey, and digitalisation will aid this. However, it’s also about providing an environment where employees feel they can flourish and reach their full potential, so we are very much about promoting personal growth, health and wellbeing, and digitalisation is also key to this.”