“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change." — Charles Darwin
What is the difference between a chameleon and a caterpillar? You might wonder how they are even on the same plane of comparison. The question might sound banal and yet, these species are two of the most fascinating creatures of nature that have the power to change phenomenally. They prove Darwin’s theory of adaptability on the point. But if you notice closely, a chameleon transitions from one color to another, depending on its environment. But a caterpillar transforms. While both the species are highly adaptable to changes in their respective environment, it is only a caterpillar that transforms into a whole new being.
Change is inevitable
Whether it is in nature or our man-made world. It is more pertinent in the present day, when everything that we have known, seen, learned or heard is undergoing radical changes. From our lifestyles to work practices, we are at the juncture of serious transformations into the third industrial revolution. It is indeed a revolution of a sort when digital disruption has brought about phenomenal changes to every aspect of a business. Of all, human resources have been most affected. Why? Because, it deals with people; living, breathing, talking, thinking, people, and not automated, mechanical systems and processes. Perhaps that is why when HR seeks digital transformation within the definition of the buzzword, it appears overwhelming and daunting.
Let us back up a little and understand what digital transformation is all about. According to Salesforce and leading digital theorists, Digital transformation is the process of using digital technologies to create new — or modify existing — business processes, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing business and market requirements. This reimagining of business in the digital age is digital transformation.
While we do know by now what it is, it is important to understand what it really means. Digital Transformation is not the process of digital changes or the tools used to implement such changes, but the journey and its outcome, which results in a whole new being of HR, just like a caterpillar turning into an incredible butterfly. It is an adaptation of a new work lifestyle and getting a fresh perspective on this integral part of an organization.
The essence of Digitization, digitalization, and digital transformation
Have you often noticed how more than most people blur the lines between digitization, digitalization, and digital transformation?They might sound similar, but they technically aren’t. There is a thin line of differentiation between the three. It is more like phases of one journey, one leading to the other and not necessarily defining the entire journey.
Before we even talk about digital transformation in its real sense, we must clarify these three concepts for the sake of clarity.
These three terms, often used interchangeably, have subtle differences in meaning. Each step leads to the next. It is important to identify these differences to know where you stand in the digital transformation journey.
It is a shift from analog systems. Digitization may or may not be all-encompassing and can be limited to specific work areas, or executed to create a revamped organizational system.
It harnesses the power of digitization to bring holistic changes to a system or process. It uses all possible digital tools to transform business processes into something more efficient. It is pervasive and leads to a change in culture and practice of using technology at all levels. It is by and large prevalent across analytics, where large volumes of data cannot be manually managed or analyzed.
It comprises both digitization and digitalization. It transforms the DNA of the organization using automated processes and developing a culture of adapting to automation. Above and beyond automation, it also helps to identify key concern areas that can be solved efficiently using technology tools, thus making organizations agile, and adaptable to the evolution.
In a way, digital transformation is a sum of digitization and digitalization.
You might consider it to be a revolutionary change, but, at the core, it is essentially an evolutionary event. While you are undergoing the process of transformation, it is also going to lead to a transition of business with technology and the tools thereof. This, eventually will invariably cause a shift in the organizational culture and approach to operations. The question, however, is that can you execute this successfully and balance it all out?
Transformation – The need of the hour
HR has shed its skin of a mere support function and become an essential tool to redefine the bottom line through digitalization. If you look around, you will hear the trending buzzword called ‘Digital DNA’. It’s like altering the genetic composition of the organization. Why? Because, like every other industry spaces, or any department within an organization, HR is also experiencing an intense, rapid, and radical change.
Changing market demands, evolved workforces, innovative technology, and so on, are making HR leaders arm themselves with the weapons of digital disruption to adapt to such changes through programs that foster productivity, wellness, engagement, and most importantly, a sense of purpose for the people.
Way to prominent, and pertinent changes
Change, especially in an organizational environment, cannot happen in silos. For effective transformation to happen or reflect, it needs to start at the top, weave its way through different levels of administration and management, and trickle down to the bottom line. Those who are at the top of the HR ecosystem, have followed this formula of transformation and become drivers of the big change. Take the instances of some of the leading global organizations like CISCO, Unilever, and IBM, to name a few, who are harnessing the power of digital integration to successfully enhance the human factor of human resources.
One of the major application of digitalization has been to transform rudimentary processes like hiring, appraisal, promotion, planning, etc. through analytics. So far finding the right people and optimizing the workforce strategically has been highly qualitative, but managing the same with hard number have made them more sophisticated.
Then, there is the use of mixed realities. Global businesses are implementing Augmented and Virtual Reality applications to improve productivity and provide new learning experiences like immersive training, improved collaboration, hand-free data access, and much more. Thus, transforming brick-and-mortar workplaces into tech-savvy and trendy environments that meet the new age workforce experience.
The Transformation Roadmap
No journey of transformation can be completed without a well laid out plan because the experience of the journey will define the outcome. One needs a clear strategy to enable digital transformation and reach the ultimate goals, which is to say, is being a future-ready organization. The transformation strategy is derived out of the overarching HR strategy and poses some pertinent questions, albeit to be answered by the initiators of change. And, at every step, few significant questions need to be asked, to pave a clear way.
*Data source: CISCO, Workforce Experience 2020
**Firms refer to global organizations and numbers represent global workforce.
Define clear goals – What do you want to achieve out of this transformation? Will it benefit those involved in the process? Will it positively impact the ultimate business goals? Is the goal measurable?
At the end of it all, it should benefit the user with results they expect from this entire process and the goal has to be in sync with the ultimate business goal. Remember it is the outcome that matters and not the output.
Identify your resources – Who will carry out the changes and in which order? What time frame should be given to each process/tool of change?
Of course, to implement these changes in the right manner and at the right time, you will need to invest in certain resources and tools. Depending on the extent and intensity of change, these resources will vary. For example, if you are going to go AI integration for performance evaluation, you might need a data scientist and use the insights to improve overall employee strategy.
Prepare for change – How will the change affect those involved? Is starting small an easier way to approach the transformation?
Every journey needs some kind of preparation. When you are embarking on organizational changes, it will invariably raise questions, doubts, concerns, and expectations of people. The idea is to get them ready, emotionally first, and then function-wise.
Create a culture of digitalization – What will it mean to everyone involved in the process? How do we get them acquainted to the new systems?
As mentioned earlier, digital transformation requires a cultural transformation as well. Unless and until people are emotionally and physiologically driven, it gets difficult to get them acquainted to a new lifestyle. It’s not just about what to use but how and why to use it. Only when people start using technology as a natural approach to any solution, will the entire exercise be successful.
Make room for fallbacks – What if it doesn’t work?
A question that might be a concern to the decision-makers, but valid, nevertheless. It is quite likely that the process of transformation might not work for a certain organization or even within a team. What do you do then? Like every journey has an alternative route, you can also revisit your approach and see what went missing and at what stage and take a different turn. It is possible that the timing might not have been right. Or, perhaps, you need more resources. Or maybe, you need to re-strategize. Sometimes, going back to the drawing board gives you the opportunity to do it all better.
It’s not about ‘doing digital, it’s about ‘being’ so.
Being ‘digital first’ is the need of the hour. There is remotely no doubt that digital application can essentially make it faster, better, and easier to manage and build the humans of human resources. But the real essence of being digital lies in a complete transformation of mindset and approach and not just mechanically adopting the tools of technology. That is why, apart from enhancing analog processes like recruiting, onboarding, and talent management, organizational HR should meet the employees' expectations from this changing environment. A refined HR-strategy that involves digitalization across different functions, using applications, analytics, digital platforms, and much more, lies at the heart of this journey. And most importantly, allow yourself, your people, and your systems ample time to adapt and adopt. It takes time to evolve and land in the future. Every level of change demands its own bandwidth and cannot be rushed. From the time you initiate changes to the stage where you have successfully changed yourself, requires a gestation period; quite like the caterpillar in the cocoon, awaiting quietly to break apart and spread its wings.
Here's what the experts say:
Senior Director-Human Resources, Unisys India
“Human genius lies in creativity, adaptability, and social intelligence. Digital transformation is yet another evidence of how humans advance in leveraging creative tools to better their lives. Digital will remain as an advanced supporting tool that will allow time for humans to move towards higher and better causes. In an organisational context, digital transformation revolutionises the company's internal operations and drives cost savings that could then be reinvested to accelerate faster growth and better business outcomes. An organisation can create an environment of technology leadership that co-exists with a sustainable HR model to keep the evolution going. Digital transformation will not replace the workforce but will in fact enhance human capability provided employees are provided with the right reskilling and upskilling programmes.”
Country Head India, British Safety Council India
“Digital transformation has fundamentally altered the way we live, work, and relate to each another. The power of digital is immense and most organisations have realised that digital platforms have enabled and stimulated innovative forms of work and talent management. They are governing most sections — from productivity to workforce composition, hiring decisions to business analytics and performance management systems to learning content. However, organisations have to realise that digital transformation is not just about web and social media and there much more to it. At its heart, digital transformation is about changing minds as much as it is about replacing technologies.”
Director HR, Barco India
“HR transformation is here to stay and given the advent of technology, this transformation is being led by Digitisation of most HR processes. To enable this evolution in HR Digitisation, it is imperative that, like any transformation exercise, digital transformation is handled with a lot of care, keeping in mind the cascading impact technology can have on any process. Therefore, instead of going all out to change the entire workflow, it is prudent to look at a staged approach — where we plan and implement in the agile way of working and then keep improving post feedback from customers and internal customers.”
Head - Human Capital, CredAble
“The basic endeavour of the Human Capital function has not changed over the years. Its primary focus has been to contribute to the organisational success by assuring that the right numbers of the right people are in the right places at the right times doing the right things in the right ways. Digital transformation is an enabler for this function which is an amalgamation of people, processes, and systems. The use of technological tools in managing processes like, performance management, employee feedback and time management raises the bar of expectations of the employees. Technology is a facilitator which further helps the evolution of Human resources, where people form the core of this function.”
Senior Principal, Career (Talent) and M&A Consulting Leader – Mercer India
“Quite a few companies in India are struggling with digital transformation due to disruptive impact on their workforce—shape, size and skillsets. The criticality of the Human Agenda has never been so significant. As per our 2019 Global Talent Trends Study, organizations are becoming future-fit by pursuing 4 key things:
(1) redesigning jobs, re-skilling and moving people to where future value will be created;
(2) creating a value proposition that helps the organization to attract and retain the talent it wants;
(3) making work simple, intuitive and digitally-enabled to help employees grow and thrive; and
(4) delivering a people-led change.”
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