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How to embrace digital transformation in HR: 8 secret tips from the experts

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Organisations are really starting to put the pedal to the metal when it comes to digital transformation.

In fact, 75% of HR and People leaders have already invested in some form of HR tech – and 57% of those who already have, plan to invest even more – according to our recent research report, HR in the moment: Changing expectations and perceptions of HR.

From automation and self-service, to mobile and analytics, the right HR tech is vital. But where do you start?

We’ve gathered the thoughts of HR and People technology experts and we share their wisdom in this article. Here’s what it covers:

1. Stop firefighting and start strategising

2. Reframe change within your organisation

3. Get comfortable with the idea of technology generally

4. Embrace HR and People analytics

5. Be realistic about outcomes

6. Speak the language of your stakeholders

7. Build relationships to get buy-in

8. Capitalise on new tools

What makes considering HR technology and digital transformation a challenge for most is that, in the words of talent acquisition expert Shally Steckerl, the nature of HR means more time is spent firefighting than strategising.

“In HR, we tend to deal with what is urgent, rather than important,” he says. “[We tend] to be more customer services-orientated than strategically business-focused.”

The first step is to take that step back from the day-to-day. Consider the businesses’ overall needs and objectives to understand what value you need HR tech to bring and work back from there.

“The number one thing preventing HR transformation,” says Matt Charney, executive editor of Recruiting Daily, “is that the same leaders responsible for driving change are also sometimes terrified by the concept of a shift in the status quo.”

Change can sometimes be daunting – and pushback on that change even more so.

Jacob Morgan, founder of The Future of Work University, simply advises that HR leaders need to remain resilient.

“Understand that ‘no’ simply means ‘not yet’,” he says. “When leaders say no, it means HR needs to go back to the drawing board to make improvements.

“Make your vision of transformation so good and so compelling that others can’t afford to say no.”

Being open to change in the first place is also paramount.

Just a quarter of HR and People leaders view themselves as tech experts, according to our Changing face of HR research report.

“Let’s face it,” says HR consultant Gautam Ghosh, “HR leaders aren’t always very comfortable with technology.”

Ghosh says many HR leaders therefore “simply implement the HR module of the ERP [enterprise resource planning] solution they are already deploying”.

We think CEO of JumpStart HR Joey Price’s advice on this is invaluable.

He explains the first step forward is one in the mind: “To stay relevant as the world around us changes, we must drastically reimagine what values we cling to about our profession…

“HR and People leaders are being forced to don new identities that are agile, tech and data-oriented. That battle will be won in the mind before it can be won within an organisation.”

For Matt Charney, clear data and analytics should be a focus point for any digital transformation and change.

He says: “Some obvious benchmarks to consider would be revenue per employee, employee lifecycle value, worker productivity and its impact on profitability.”

“Your people are your greatest asset,” he adds. You need to demonstrate their return on investment.

Perry Timms, founder of People and Transformational HR, says HR leaders must be pragmatic about change.

He explains that we should expect to see “a low-frequency change”. In other words: “We won’t always see HR transformation immediately.”

It’s important therefore to set achievable benchmarks.

For HR consultant Jon Ingham, it’s important to start with the objective. “We should always begin any transformation with clear desired outcomes, which for the HR group include capabilities in people management, organisation design, change management and service delivery,” he explains.

It’s vital, Ingham continues, to connect these objectives to the overall organisation principles.

This, he says, will allow HR to work within the organisation’s technology framework, which will make it easier to understand how their scope is affected by the business.

Laying out markers of success will, in the words of Katie Jacobs, senior stakeholder leader at CIPD, help leaders to “understand the why”.

And once every step to success can be rationalised, she says, it will be much easier for HR to get the investment they need.

According to analyst Ben Eubanks of Lighthouse Research and Advisory, research shows that “business executives outside HR are more likely to see HR technology investment as a strategic move by the business, while HR leaders are more likely to see it as just a way to automate tasks or be more efficient”.

The fact is that both are true.

Therefore, try to speak the language of your stakeholders. Let them know the value your investment will deliver back to the business, have a clear roadmap to success and be firm in your reasoning.

If you’re sure about the solution you want to acquire, let your stakeholders know how much it means to you by building a strong business case.

We think founder of HRnB Consultants Talia Edmundson summarises this best.

She says: “Consider how a COO or CFO reports to the person in the company’s driver seat. They’re direct, succinct and matter of fact.

“These communications styles are nuanced and require practice.

“Practice phrasing. Learn how to read a P&L. Follow the money. Understand your company’s market and customer. Most importantly, communicate like a business leader.”

For Joey Price, a shift in mindset and building relationships with tech experts internally is one of the most important things to consider.

He explains: “For quite some time, HR leaders have shield away from technical conversations because we’ve felt the greatest value that we bring to our organisation in our heart.

“We must come to an understanding that the world around us has become more advanced.

“Take your IT leaders out for a virtual coffee and pick their brains about progress in their field. We must accept the reality that the world has evolved, and we are not in the same professional landscape as we were a year ago.”

The final word goes to Paul Falcone, chief HR officer at Motion Picture and Television Fund, who believes HR leaders – and organisations – that demonstrate a natural inclination to pursue HR tech as a business advantage will thrive.

“Early adopters of data-driven intelligence will have a significant advantage over their competitors,” he explains. “Now, more than ever, capitalising on these new tools will cement your place in HR’s future.”

The 10 step guide to building a compelling business case for an HR system

Use this guide to learn how to make the strongest and best business case in order to get effective business buy-in for HR technology investment.

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