The digital transformation agenda creates a new role for HR

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The explosive growth in digital and social media technologies is opening up a whole new role for HR professionals and offering them the opportunity to take a lead in shaping organisations for the future.

A huge amount has been written about how digital technologies are remaking entire industries and even society itself. Clearly the IT and marketing departments are important players in this shift. 

However, there is also a very significant role for HR to play in this transformation, particularly as organisations seek to become truly digital and social.

HR professionals are uniquely positioned to be leaders in creating digital ecosystems built around people, processes and technologies. These ecosystems enable the workforce to collaborate more effectively and provide the opportunity to fundamentally change the way we work. 

The involvement of HR is so crucial because this transformation requires the acquisition of new skills and changes in work practices and organisational thinking. In essence it's about creating a cultural shift. 

There are a number of practical measures HR can take to support an organisation's quest to become more digital. 

The first step is to understand the business' current digital status and set a strategy for improvement. It's also an opportunity to identify those with strong digital skills who can share their knowledge with colleagues.   

Next it is about communication, education and providing incentives. Make sure the workforce understands the organisation's digital strategy and ensure educational resources are available to those who need to improve their digital expertise. 

These steps lay the foundation for bridging the digital divide between business leaders and digital natives. Most organisations already employ natural digital natives, but they may be in more junior positions as they tend to be relatively new to the workforce.  

They are generation Y, classified as those born between 1980 and 2000. They tend to have an affinity with digital and social media as they've grown up with it. However, they have quite different priorities to older workers.    

Typically this generation aspires to have greater autonomy; they want their voice to be heard and see the workplace as a multiplayer game where they look to win on their own terms. They also have much less regard for hierarchical structures than the baby boomer generation, who often hold the senior posts.  

Given that generation Y represents the future, it's important for their needs to be addressed so organisations can retain and attract the best talent. It’s imperative to harness their knowledge to drive the move to digital across the organisation. 

However, it's important to look beyond just processes and to foster a genuinely innovative environment. HR can be championing the use of technologies, including mobile and social tools for recruiting and learning, which are changing the way people work. In many organisations, HR professionals are promoting gaming concepts in the work place, which can be very effective as many of gen Y grew up playing online games. 

Lastly, and crucially, it's important to accurately measure the value these changes bring. This has been difficult to do in the past, with the result that some organisations have shied away from formal measurement. 

But HR can step into the gap. A growing number of tools are emerging, which can track social engagement and measure collaboration, such as number of posts viewed, a collaboration index or influencer score. They will also make it easier to demonstrate improvement in productivity. 

In recent years HR has largely been confined to dealing with challenges, such as cost cutting and implementing compliance procedures. 

Digital and social technologies, on the other hand, are an opportunity for HR to take a leadership role as they play their part in helping organisations adapt to the rapidly changing business environment.  

Richard Coombes is managing director, talent and organisation at Accenture Strategy. Gilly Bryant is managing director, human capital management, in Accenture’s financial services practice

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