Digital transformation has been a buzzword—and a goal—among HR and HR tech leaders for several years, as they work to modernize both mindsets and systems within organizations to build successful workplaces of the future.
Those shifts are challenging enough; one additional obstacle, however, is change resistance among leaders and employees, two HR tech experts said last week during their mega session at the HR Technology Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas.
“Why are we having trouble moving to digital? One of the biggest problems is we [lack] this concept of an open mind,” according to Jason Averbook, senior partner and the global leader of digital HR strategy at Mercer | Leapgen, who spoke Friday alongside colleague Jess Von Bank. “Changefulness is opening the mind to change, whereas change management is the QRG—quick reference guide. And the QRG is never going to change someone’s mind. We have to open the minds first.”
That is especially important now, given the rapid pace of change across the tech landscape, he said, noting that in the past three years alone, HR tech has changed more than it had in the previous 50 years. Need evidence? Compare the surge in remote/hybrid work solutions and the advent of ChatGPT, all since 2020, with the handful of HR tech advancements—ERP solutions, payroll software, the move to the cloud—made in the past five decades, he said.
Embracing a digital transformation can allow HR leaders to thrive amid the fast-moving changes in HR tech and benefit from the efficiencies and new ways of working that these solutions can bring, Averbook said. In turn, the transformation will bolster workforce recruitment and retention, among other benefits, added Von Bank, head of Luminate and Leapgen brands at Mercer.
“I think we can all agree change is good. It’s inevitable. And, again, it can help us move forward in the world,” she said. “I heard this interesting quote during a TED Talk that ‘automation can produce abundance.’ I love that automation can produce abundance at a low cost. That’s also a good thing for the world.”
How to thrive and master digital transformation
Here are four secrets the speakers shared to help HR leaders embrace the shift with an open mind.
First, view change as the strategy, not the enemy, advised Von Bank. Then, work to help everyone understand and embrace that, Averbook said.
Second, understand the difference between technology and strategy, Averbook said. Deploying a new technology, for example, is not a digital transformation. However, he said, it can enable transformation, especially if its role within the transformation can be clearly explained.
Averbook knows when an employer is confusing technology with transformation or strategy based on the answer to a question like this: “Can you describe your digital strategy?” If the response is simply the name of the company’s HR tech vendor: “That is not a digital strategy,” he said. “That’s an implementation of technology.”
Other red flags that an organization is struggling to separate strategy from technology include blaming technology for a tech rollout that doesn’t resonate with employees and providing employees with a new technology tool but simply placing a link on a corporate intranet.
On the former, Averbook said, HR needs to take the time “on the front end” to understand what employees want before deploying a new tool. And on the latter, don’t forget about the implementation plan with new tech so employees can find and use it.
“Most intranets are link farms. No one uses it because they can’t find what they need,” Averbook said. “It [needs to be] about their journey.”
The third piece of advice is to design work systems based on a “digital people-first strategy” rather than a profit-driving strategy. By focusing on people, profits will follow, Averbook said.
And the last secret? Include employees throughout the process of developing a strategy for and ultimately implementing digital transformation. In other words, keep humans center stage in designing the organization’s digital transformation, Averbook advised.
“We are standing on the shoulders of machines that will help us see the next level and do things we haven’t been able to do previously,” said Averbook. “They are our co-pilots. Nothing will change unless we change, and we are the change agents.”