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Rewriting the Book on HR Intensifies the Potency of Digital Transformation

Feature Article | November 1, 2017 by Peter Howes

The workforce is changing in ways that are challenging every business imaginable. With every new hire, it’s becoming increasingly digital, global, and diverse. Employees are at ease with sharing information online, automating the tasks they loathe, and opening up new opportunities for meaningful work.

Effectively attracting and retaining these workers may be challenging, but it’s also a significant opportunity to use the technology they love to rethink talent engagement, leadership development, and organizational practices. However, many business leaders question whether the HR team is up to the task. According to the IDC research report “HR Must Deliver on Transformation,” sponsored by SAP SuccessFactors, only five percent of companies view HR leadership as a capable steward of one of the most potent forms of business reengineering: digital transformation.

So I ask: Is this small percentage assuming considerable risk in their digital initiatives? Or do they know a secret that hasn’t yet reached the remaining 95%?

Disruption and Transformation: An Untapped Wheelhouse for HR

Contrary to popular belief, digital transformation is well within HR’s competency. However, the function’s proficiency in this area is hidden under misguided thinking. Less about technology and more about impacts on the workforce, every digital strategy is a classic exercise of change management traditionally managed by HR.

Businesses cannot afford to engage digital transformation that separates the workforce into two categories: winners and losers. Management must consider how new technology will impact employees and broader business objectives and outcomes across three fundamental aspects:

  • Skills: Talent attraction, retention, and engagement must be integrated with regular performance and development feedback to discover new ways to unleash everyone’s potential everywhere and anywhere.
  • Culture: A culture of continuous learning must be nurtured, and career paths need to be rebuilt to encourage digital training and redeployment of displaced workers.
  • Engagement: Leaders should readjust their focus on KPIs, not observations; leadership, not supervision; continuous-loop feedback, not one-way recommendations.

The HR function can certainly guide the business through such transitions. But first, it must realize that operating based on aggregated insights is not very effective in this new landscape. By combining their expertise with predictive analytics, HR professionals can evaluate information captured across its internal IT network supporting self-services, benefits enrollment, performance management, and training to individualize employee experiences, automate the right processes, and streamline everyday tasks appropriately.

Strategic HR: A Foundational Element of Digital Transformation

Imagine proving how digital technology is influencing employee productivity and engagement and how those outcomes affect bottom-line sales. Or better yet, what if you can design a learning program that increases retention and helps ensure the best talent rises through the ranks?

Predictive analytics empowers HR to become an active partner in achieving these goals by maximizing the opportunities brought on by digital transformation. By reinforcing change with data-driven strategies and individualized views into employee needs and potential, HR can secure the intended change by communicating the overall digital vision, providing relevant training, and make the workforce feel empowered and valued throughout the transformation experience.


Find out the five key trends and actions that can help businesses of all sizes address the challenges of digital transformation. Read the IDC interactive report “HR Must Deliver on Transformation,” sponsored by SAP SuccessFactors.

Peter Howes is vice president of Workforce Planning and Analytics for SAP SuccessFactors

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