Prepping for the Digital Future

The biggest challenge for HR is developing a digital culture.
Prepping for the Digital Future
TWO RECENT RESEARCH projects at European schools examine how business leaders should be preparing themselves for the transformations that will be brought about by technology.

■ Developing a digital culture is the biggest challenge human resources professionals face, according to the 170 HR executives who responded to a survey conducted by the HR Innovation Practice Observatory at Politecnico di Milano School of Management in Italy. Researchers also found that companies are struggling with several other aspects of digitalization: integrating new technological roles with those already present (48 percent), beating competition to attract talent (43 percent), and planning relevant training to upskill staff (37 percent).

“Our research indicated that there is a limited level of maturity and awareness about how to create a culture that is truly focused on digital technology,” notes Fiorella Crespi, head of the Observatory. “However, encouraging interaction between those with IT skills and those without is becoming increasingly common in businesses, through initiatives based on gamification, like hackathons.” She adds that more companies are investing in people “who can help to spread a culture of digital innovation throughout the company.”

But there’s work to do: The research suggests that only 35 percent of companies have defined a people strategy. Says Crespi, “An organization’s ability to remain competitive will depend on it being able to review and transform its processes, products, and business models in order to respond to the challenges of this digital revolution.”

“People 4.0: Staying Ahead to Avoid Falling Behind” was published September 12, 2018, and is available for purchase.

■ But organizations can’t simply invest in new technologies, according to a white paper on digital transformation from HEC Paris in France. They also must adapt their company cultures to both embrace and think beyond technological solutions, write Jean-Rémi Gratadour, executive director of HEC Paris Digital Center; Kristine de Valck, associate professor of marketing; Marie-Hélène Delmond, associate professor of marketing; and Stéphane Madoeuf, affiliate professor of innovation and entrepreneurship.

The researchers argue that an organization’s digital tools and strategies can all too easily be replicated and improved. True competitive advantage will rely on human initiative and an openness to new ideas. Digital transformation can be embraced by all employees, regardless of their skill levels or functions, if leaders encourage team members to share knowledge and work together.

A great digital leader, they say, is committed to lifelong learning, remains open to new ideas, uses data to make decisions, has the right to fail, leads by example, and works via networks. This leader needs both hard skills (including an understanding of digital marketing, systems management, and data science) and soft skills (including a focus on leadership, change management, and coaching).

“Digital transformation is not only about adopting new technologies,” says Gratadour. “It’s highly cultural. Gone are the days of all-powerful managers controlling events from their ivory towers. Leaders need to become doers who are not afraid of challenging ideas and being challenged by their teams.”

Download “When Digital Culture Transforms Business."