Digital Transformation and Experience Imperatives for HR Leadership in 2021

Few events have been as impactful globally as the coronavirus pandemic. But it has provided employers across industries an opportunity to rediscover themselves once they recuperate from the hit.

Now that the dust is beginning to settle, it is a good time to look back and identify the technological loopholes. This is fundamentally because the future, as they say, is digital.

When it comes to HR leadership, there are a wide range of learning opportunities because this department has the power to change the course of the organization, irrespective of its scale and the industry it belongs to.

What Are the Real HR Priorities in a Post-COVID World?

For those in HR, aspects like employee experience, their well-being and social justice initiatives have been a continuous challenge at least in the last couple of decades. But now, upgrading their digital strategies to meet these challenges is also on the table.

Priorities must shift and plans must be tweaked to meet the changing landscape. And this must be done rapidly so that organizations don’t miss out on the transformative trends. So, where does one begin? Here are some starters.

Rework Organizational Design, Embrace Management Overhaul

According to research done by Gartner, 46 percent of HR leaders believe:

  • 28 percent of leaders are not equipped to lead in these changing times.
  • 37 percent of HR leaders do not think their managers can lead change.
  • 38 percent of their employees are experiencing fatigue due to these changes.
  • 19 percent of HR leaders don’t think that the workforce can make changes based on changing circumstances.
  • Only 38 percent of HR leaders think that employees are good at detecting when things are working for their customers.

No matter the industry, if you can’t tell when the customer (your workforce) is happy with your product or service, you are headed in the wrong direction.

Many organizations are being burdened by rigid workflows and structures. This also dictates the design of roles in a company at the macro level and individual teams at a micro-level.

Companies are also not equipped with networks that can meet the changing conditions. This leads to workplace friction between employees and the end result suffers.

That is because the employees have to create new structures where none were in place. And they have to do so with budget limitations and outdated inflexible structures. But post COVID-19, they might also have to do so with limited members of the team which puts an additional burden on them.

Add to that, not many HR leaders think that their organizations are actually willing or equipped to modify strategies on the go to meet these challenges.

For a world that is in dire need of radical change in terms of strategic planning and decisive leadership, the aforementioned statistics are rather alarming. Especially when rethinking the core design of an organization is the need of the hour. This brings us to the subject of change in management.

This can be addressed by using newer technological solutions for insights into organizational processes. It requires some redesign and if the management is inflexible, it calls for an overhaul.

Focus on Building Employees’ Critical Skills

COVID-19 has only made matters worse because the traditional methods are just not yielding the desired results. The demand for new-age skills in each job is increasing, which means the older workforce is struggling to keep up with the changes.

They are not able to focus on personal development and this, in turn, is affecting their contribution to the betterment of the organization. This is moving from hard copies to computers all over again.

This can be addressed by building a dynamic network of stakeholders across organizations to identify and address the need of the hour. HR leaders must tap into existing resources to get started.

A good approach would be to look into labor market data to understand skill gaps. From there, learning options that have a maximum impact on the application must be identified.

This must be aligned with their own interests that intersect with the needs of the organization. When they have relevant information, employees are better equipped to make timely decisions. Channels must be created for this information to be shared. This is where digital tools come in handy.

Explore Hybrid Workforce Options

Hybrid workforce is an idea that has only recently become the focal point of growth strategies. This means different locations add different levels of value to the organization. This is due to a major shift to remote operations post the COVID-19 pandemic and it has a massive impact on HR strategies.

The biggest concern in this area is how to retain the culture when the employees are distributed. Organizations must also focus on meeting the expectations of their employees and their experience evolves under these changing circumstances. So, workforce models must evolve while keeping the value proposition of different locations in mind.

There is an office, a home and a third location. And at the center of these three circles in a Venn diagram is the place where work gets done. To tackle employee experience in all these areas, the impact of location must be considered.

An effective way of doing that is to bring in managers, employers and employees on board and share ownership of the decisions based on everyone’s expectation. There must be flexibility to change locations too so that employee engagement and productivity does not get affected adversely.

And the solutions must be sustainable throughout the employee life cycle. All of these are contingent on technological solutions to keep the workflow seamless.

Close Current and Future Leadership Bench Gaps

Today’s leaders will admit there isn’t enough exposure to senior leaders either which means they often don’t have mentors or people in leadership positions who can offer support. This leads to a lack of clarity in mapping a career path for that demographic.

And this lack of diversity and inclusion and the leadership’s reluctance to make amends, in turn, leads to a lack of trust among their employees. Even today, in many industries, a case has to be made for the economic benefits of inclusion and diversity.

The first step towards solving this problem comes from building a support network for the employees, which is diverse in terms of skill sets and experience levels. These networks also need the active participation of senior leaders so that the focus is growth by supporting under-represented talent.

Develop a Future of Work Strategy

There is no questioning the fact that crisis events have put a big question mark on the future of work in more ways than one. What the HR leadership needs to do is observe the changing trends and modify the strategies from before the pandemic. It is critical to identify what long-term adjustments need to be made and an action plan to implement that must be put in place.

More and more employees are working from home. This means employers will have more data to assess to make sure there is a social safety net for their employees. This increases the functions of the employer in plotting a future of work roadmap.

In the last year, many have had unexpected emergencies which have put organizations in a tight spot. So, space must be created for contingent employees and how to better utilize them to keep the ship sailing.

How Digital HR Technology Can Aid Those Priorities

We have looked at the priorities that HR leadership across disciplines must bring to the agenda. The underlying theme to most if not all of them is a scaling up of technological resources and learning.

As the post-pandemic chaos is settling down, it is time to look for brighter and more efficient solutions to keep businesses thriving. Here are some ideas for HR leadership.

A Big Tech Push

With remote working becoming the norm, many organizations had to scramble to figure out how to adapt to the situation. Some did a good job implementing new tech to keep employees collaborated and productive. But data shows that only 30 percent of HR leaders are satisfied with the HR tech solutions.

This means it is time to take the operations entirely online. This is where adopting hybrid workforce models will help the leadership.

Cloud-Based HR

To make remote working seamless, it is important for companies to make it a priority. That means their entire organizational design must be reworked to be remote first as the default mode of operations.

Tools like Trello, Slack and Zoom have had a good time cashing in on the situation. And that’s not a problem, it’s the solution. Along with this, HR software has also become cloud based which is making management processes rather easy whether the teams are globally or locally distributed.

There are two other benefits to this transition. Employees have better control over their data. And HR personnel have real-time access to this employee data which enables them to take decisions rapidly to make sure that they are on top of employee productivity.

Smart Hiring

This is another area that takes priority because it is directly linked to budgeting. When major technological solutions are being coveted, it is natural to put aside a chunk of the budget to try and buy different tools. While that is happening, the organization still needs to function with skilled employees. When there is economic instability, the budget can be limited.

Several organizations chose to freeze hiring to effectively manage costs. But this problem can be managed by integrating technology and manual labor. Smart hiring is a mix of bringing in automation tools to aid highly skilled employees in their tasks.

The solutions to each problem (including managing the budget) need to be targeted. Bring in automation with a clear-cut agenda. Explain it to the employees so that they know how to operate in the new workflow. Modify interview processes and pick candidates who fit this new workflow.

Such screening processes can also be automated using algorithms built by HR teams like the one used by the Hilton hotel chain. Digital techniques are known to reduce regretted decisions by 75 percent, according to Gartner’s Brian Kropp. You cannot plan better than that.

Promoting Personal Development

When it comes to HR budgeting, learning and development or L&D plays an important role. This is a big target for budget cuts unfortunately, so that funds can be released to other initiatives when the economy tanks. But it is a big area of interest for any organization that is factoring in growth in a given financial year.

Every analyst agrees that it is important to optimize costs while balancing it with growth. But 80 percent of organizations have canceled in-person training sessions, according to Gartner.

Thanks to virtual platforms taking the center stage, the costs that come with in-person training sessions, like travel expenses, have completely been taken out of the picture. So, digital transformation is also helping learning and development.

Now, HR personnel are also expected to actively make employees happier. But less than 30 percent of employees say that HR departments are succeeding on that front. Many organizations are taking to digital monitoring to gather data about employees’ morale.

This is done by monitoring conversations on internal chat software to identify areas of dissatisfaction. For instance, is IT responding to queries in time? Is there a process that a majority of the stakeholders are unhappy with?

This is valuable data that gives HR specific problems to fix. The only thing to be careful about is consent. Otherwise, it is considered snooping. But when you maintain that transparency, HR can help increase employee retention, maintain and build on their productivity and keep them satisfied.

Incorporating Virtual reality

With this technology taking off in the last decade, organizations have realized the many applications for different departments, HR included. When it comes to job previews or interviews, virtual reality tools can be of great assistance.

These tools are also extremely useful when it comes to employee-HR interactions but their best use case might be in the learning and development department.

Trends for HR Leaders to Get Behind in 2021

Working from Home

This is a great opportunity for HR leaders to identify new skills and competencies that can enable the digital dexterity of their employees. Management styles must be re-adjusted such that individuals in leadership positions are able to make decisions that meet the needs of remote teams.

Employee experience needs a whole new rethink since the biggest factor—workplace—has completely changed. This requires the HR leadership to create flexible work options and make room for a mix of remote and in-person staff.

Employee evaluation and goals for the future must keep remote setups in mind considering entire organizations are moving their operations online. When recruiting, personnel must look for new skills since there are minimum geographical limitations. Candidates must be given the option to explore remote working options. It is also important to check that they are able to operate the new tools in place and execute their duties well.

These talent and skill requirements must be documented so that there are enough analytics to build future of work strategies.

Intelligent Collection of Passive Data and Analytics

In this new normal, the HR leadership will have access to a lot of employee data. This means the infrastructure to store the data and manage its analysis processes must be looked into. This can take a chunk out of the budget.

Leaders must make themselves aware of privacy policies and legal and ethical conundrums related to data access usage from third-party providers. Once that is figured out, the collected data must be used to evaluate employee performance and productivity. Based on this analysis, ratings and rewards can be given.

The key, once again, is to use analytics to monitor the distributed workforce, their work culture and overall morale.

Redefining Critical Skills – Upskilling and Reskilling

HR personnel are tasked with the unenviable task of keeping morale high in tough times. And 2020 has been quite the ride. In these circumstances, giving them multiple options to develop critical skills is a key step towards boosting morale. For this, the leadership needs to cast a wide net and not limit the options to a specific role.

The focus must be broadening their horizons so that employees can choose which roles suit them best. This also helps improve succession plans. Reworking those designs can also be a critical point in the future of work strategy.

Career development support is an aspect that all employees appreciate especially when they are lacking certain skills. Analytics can help identify such talent intelligence which adds to an individual’s profile.

Building Safety Nets

The lack of safety nets have been a key loophole in the strategic planning of many industries which has led to massive job losses in the last year. Those with additional familial responsibilities have taken a hit and that has had a negative impact on employee experience. That is an area to focus on.

Mental health and well-being officers who can advocate necessary changes during difficult transitions can have a major positive impact. It is a good idea to offer compensation according to the changing landscape so that remote working abilities are supported.

This also requires taking physical and mental well-being benefits into account. Tech companies have worked on family leaves, better recruitment strategies and diversity projects to minimize furloughs and layoffs in 2020.

Ensuring Organizational Resilience

Course correction is an aspect that helps maintain organizational resilience. This is the only way to sustain productivity and conditions change. Diversity and inclusion programs to ensure balance in the workplace keep the system flexible.

This requires a restructuring of roles and processes to build better trust and make sure there is swift responsiveness. This can be done by investing in talent analytics.

This data can provide inputs that are required to keep a dynamic system stable through changes in processes. Training programs that are valuable across functions is one way to go about it. Make a distinction between critical skills and roles across the organization to ensure the pipelines for different skills have no gaps.

Planning for Employee Contingencies

With the gig economy taking off like never before, it is easy for HR leaders to create a database of highly skilled contingent workers. Formal processes for non-traditional hiring techniques must be made a part of the future of work strategy. Evaluate these contingent workers based on skills while structuring key processes.

Make room for benefits for contingent works that are at par with full-time employees to keep that reserve in the database at a safe level. This requires keeping tabs on the trends in the self-employment market. These shifts can also be identified using analytics by tapping into databases that alert you to increasing demands and supply.

HR Technology: The Roadmap to Digital Transformation

Throughout the solutions, you might have noticed that analytics was a recurring theme. This is because organizations are beginning to understand the value of data and the trend insights that can be used to build actionable strategies.

Organizations must start looking at the data that is already available to gauge and analyze interactions between departments, teams and individual employees. And alongside, it is important to start gathering value-adding data to bridge existing skill gaps. In this context, it is important to look at data regarding senior-level management so that effective succession plans can be made.

Data is also incredibly insightful when it comes to building training programs for employees at different levels apart from monitoring performance and progress of employees along with efficiency of existing processes.

Many major systems need redesigning. This includes HR systems so that segments that drive business efficiency can effectively work together. Most of these solutions are software based and those gaps can be identified by conducting good old-fashioned surveys. This improves HR management systems.

And finally, it is important to analyze the collected data to draw patterns so that these insights can be used to make changes to individual processes and the overall system alike. Those are micro and macro changes. But with an effective system in place, adapting to these changes flexibly will no longer be a challenge.

These tasks cannot be left to IT personnel and analysts. HR teams must educate themselves on data gathering techniques and must be trained to read the data so that it can be converted into useful information. That is one of the most effective ways towards digitalization which is the path to success in the 21 century.