HR, Digital and the need for people centred transformation


November 15th, 2016

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Roffey Park and Transform UK recently hosted a one day summit on the theme of ‘HR & Digital: we need to talk’. We had a mix of private, public and third sector organisations, with a good mix of digital specialists and HR people. Much ground was covered as we set out to explore the meaning making of those in the room and see what, if any, collective insights could be drawn out. My co-host for the day, Richard Gold of Transform UK, has reflected on what he took from the day here. This is a summary of my own thoughts.

  1. The Language Thing (#1)‘Digital’ – there is (still) much debate, confusion, uncertainty and fug when it comes to a commonly understood shared definition
  2. The Culture Thing – the big challenge for all was this. Whether framed as evolving from an ‘analogue’ to a ‘digital’ culture, or creating a ‘digital ecosystem’, the nub of the challenge was how to influence and intervene in an organisational culture such that behaviours and ways of working support greater adoption of new ways of working, in this case in the context of offering greater value to users/customers through digital, but more widely, there is still a lot of pain being experienced when it comes to organisational culture.
  3. The Leadership Thing – the culture thing bites here. If senior leaders don’t get that they need to think of culture as being core to their digital strategy, then there will be pain. That means looking to leaders to not only articulate what they want to see more or less of in the organisation, they need to model that behaviour. So far so same-as-it-has-always-been-when-it-comes-to-organisational-change.
  4. The Change Thing – the last two mean that leaders need to be even more skilled at change leadership than they already are. Which is a problem, as too much of the rhetoric around organisational change still is framed as ‘change management’, rather than genuine understanding of how to intervene in a human system
  5. The Language Thing (#2) – there are a whole subset of phrases that add to the confusion. For example, ‘agile’ or ‘Agile’ working? Which do you want? ‘Collaboration’ – the word seems to be a synonym for ‘team work’ but what gets missed is the crucial element of high support and high challenge in that dynamic.
  6. The Org Design Thing – lurking in the discussions was a question around how to (re-)design or (re-)structure to best meet the needs of digital and tech. Whilst we did not dive deep into this, my sense is that there was an awareness that re-arranging the furniture is not enough, you need to look at how people inhabit and live in the space (see 2 above).
  7. The Generational Talent Thing (kinda) – yes this came up, and was of concern. For example, real examples of the mismatch between what organisations think younger hires want vs what they actually And, whilst an issue, this did not take up as much time as many of the above. It also misses the point. My wife, who is a university lecturer, said to me recently: “You do realize that ‘digital’ is the word old people use, right?…” Anyone under 30 does not talk about ‘digital media’, for example, it is just media. It is life.
  8. The Case Study Thing – there is still a desire for case studies of how to do this stuff, and, maybe, a seeking of ‘The Answer’. As ever with case studies, the challenge is whether you regard them as examples to admire from afar and see as impossible in your context, or as inspiration. As Niels Pflaeging commented, “there is no bridge to the promised land of better, bolder, more agile and contemporary org leadership”.
  9. The End of a Neat List Thing – there was more. A lot. If you want to know more, talk to me or Richard. Buy as coffee. We like that.

So, Digital and HR talked, and learned. In terms of the group on the day, both Richard and I left struck again by the value of bringing together people from different disciplines and working across boundaries. Yes we all know that organisations can be silo-ed and fragmented, but that persists because of the conversations we choose to have and not have. That is an echo of the centrality of culture to this.

More than anything else, this talks to the need for what Mel Ross at Adapt 2 Digital neatly defines as “people centred transformation”, which means genuine transformation rather than ‘better sameness’.