Adapting in the Digital Age

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A recent Deloitte survey finds nearly 90 percent of business leaders saying that building the organization of the future is their top priority.

That’s good.

Less encouraging is the number of companies—11 percent—reporting they are ready for this undertaking, which will require them to “completely reconsider their organizational structure, talent and HR strategies to keep pace with digital disruption,” according to Deloitte.

In its 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report, the New York-based professional services firm polled more than 10,000 HR and other business leaders. Many of them feel that the human resource function is indeed struggling to keep up with technological progress, with just 38 percent of HR professionals rating their department’s digital capabilities as “good” or “excellent.”

I recently asked Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, how HR might have fallen behind in this department.

“What I think happened is that, especially over the last three to five years, the way people get work done has radically changed,” says Bersin. “Yet the way we write job descriptions, the way we functionally set up the organization and so on is a throwback to the 1950s or ’60s.”

HR functions that hope to keep pace in 2017 and beyond must “operate in a digital way, and be more innovative and creative,” says Bersin. “[HR must] deliver solutions that are focused on productivity, not just programs.”

There are signs within the Deloitte report, however, that suggest a growing number of companies—and their HR functions—are adapting to the digital age.

For example, the survey finds that 56 percent of firms are redesigning their HR programs to rely more on digital and mobile tools, with 33 percent saying they already use some form of artificial intelligence applications to help create a more technologically advanced work environment.

“HR and other business leaders tell us that they are being asked to create a digital workplace in order to become an ‘organization of the future,’ ” says Erica Volini, principal at Deloitte Consulting and national managing director of the firm’s U.S. human capital practice, in a statement.

“To rewrite the rules on a broad scale, HR should play a leading role in helping the company redesign the organization,” says Volini, “by bringing digital technologies to both the workforce and to the HR organization itself.”

One way CHROs can achieve this goal is to “start redefining HR as a ‘productivity enhancement department,’ ” adds Bersin.

“Culture is important, and it’s important to have a solid employment brand, and it’s important to recruit the best talent. But the bigger problem most CEOs and CHROS have is getting their organizations to function and operate in a more networked world. And when HR rolls out programs that [employees] don’t feel enhance their productivity, workers don’t use them.

“There are certain things—regulatory training, compliance, for instance—that HR has to do,” continues Bersin. “But outside of those things, if an HR program or initiative isn’t something that helps employees add value to their jobs, you have to rethink whether it’s the right thing to do.”

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