HRDs making sense of Digital Transformation



We sat down for breakfast with HR (and Culture) leaders to discuss their experiences and challenges as they navigate digital transformation. We discussed change and the struggles they face in making sense of what digital means, let alone what is expected in terms of transformation.


Looking back…

We spent some time looking back, to understand the journey digital transformation has taken over the years. In the beginning, its focus was to introduce and integrate new technology, channels or demand from consumers into the business.

Over time, these changes started to reverberate across their organisations, and as the world around us started to shift, it became clear that it was not enough to have great digital operations, products or services. ‘Digital’ was going to have to move out of its silo, and ‘transformation’ was no longer just about technology. Today, it requires leadership, culture and behaviour change so organisations can be fit for the digital age.

The muscle memory of today’s organisations was formed in the industrial age and gravitates towards linear ways of working, command and control, vertical structures. What is required today are organisations that are comfortable and resilient in a completely different world.

not transformation so much as evolution

Organisational culture needs to metamorphosise so that in the future it will instinctively lean towards agility, learning and adaptability. HR leaders are faced with the challenge that while everyone agrees that culture change is important it is rarely invested in. HR leaders want focus to be on setting the vision and guiding this fundamental culture change, but too often budgets and resources are fixed on the more transactional aspects of their roles.

HR leaders also face many talent management challenges in this changing world

One participant commented on how much of their time is spent just discussing job titles, and the room agreed it would make so much more sense to define roles by skills or outcomes. Another participant spoke of the delicate balancing act required to attract and retain employees with digital skills (which can command a pay premium) whilst at the same time trying to foster those same skills throughout the business.

Many of our HR leaders were eager to give employees the experiences of working in new ways. They want to give employees the space to adapt to working with greater autonomy, experimentation, delegated decision making.


We spoke about the Arc model, which brings multidisciplinary squads together to solve ‘real’ problems, over a period of 15-weeks - opening up the mindsets, methods and ‘styles’ of digital working to the rest of the organisation, without focussing on technology.


It’s clear the challenges for Human Resources have shifted.

That said, everyone in the room was passionate about how ‘digital’ working must be allowed to spread to all employees. The future of work ought to be inclusive and respectful of different experience and talent, whilst providing learning opportunities throughout the life of a career.  

The digital age is shifting us all. We are now seeing Silicon Valley learning lessons which older corporations have already absorbed (i.e. regulation, policy, safeguarding, etc). Similarly, HR can lead the way in bringing digital staff together with employees with completely different career experiences, so that innovation and new ideas can emerge from unexpected corners of corporate memory.

Eva Appelbaum