Averbook: Here’s why every HR leader needs a digital mandate for 2021

If 2020 was the year of creation (which I think it was), 2021 will be a year of rebirth.

This year was indelibly marked by a global pandemic, an increased focus on social justice, soaring unemployment, social distancing and a complete upheaval of work, workers and business. With perspective, you might look at all of these as activation levers. Called upon to (re)act, we created new work models and social routines, we found new ways to learn and educate, we embraced digital transformation and the power of technology, entrepreneurs birthed new projects and massive enterprises shifted more in months than they had planned to in the next decade.

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In chemistry, activation energy is the minimum amount of energy required to activate atoms or molecules to a condition in which they can undergo chemical transformation or physical transport. In the same way, 2020 was chockful of ingredients to activate transformation. Spearheading much of the dramatic change were CHROs and other HR leaders responsible for how, where, when and with what resources the workforce could get support, continue to work productively, stay physically safe and mentally well, and remain connected to the organization.

Not the catalyst we expected, but a catalyst we needed.

HR professionals were snapped out of their traditional mindset, assuming their rightful position as nimble and strategic innovators shaping the now of work. HR became drivers of powerful and dynamic enterprise transformation–it is no longer the function just keeping up with the rest of the company, but the other way around. Historically perceived as a department of administrators, compliance drivers, handbook taskmasters, payroll processors and personnel managers, HR took on elevated importance as digital-savvy, data-driven experience designers; guardians of employee wellbeing; and strategic advisors to the business.

But Did You Transform?

Certainly, this moment we’ve been waiting for was a very good start. Activation energy is the minimum amount of energy needed to initiate transformation, but it cannot stop there. We innovated, no doubt; we transformed so many things, we created new programs and policies, and communicated change up and down within the organization. All of that is true. But the work isn’t complete; broad, sweeping digital transformation of HR and the workforce makes your new reality looks almost unrecognizable next to the old. To get the end result you truly want and not a false sense of accomplishment at how far you’ve come, you need to accept that 2020 was just the beginning. A catalyst, not the conclusion. Even more than that, you need to accept transformation work is never done.

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To ensure true, sustained, perpetual transformation of workforce experience and the HR function itself, every CHRO must have a digital mandate for 2021 and beyond. That mandate must include a clear and compelling why (mindset). A digital mindset, clearly articulated vision and alignment around what success will look like is much more important than how you’ll execute the work (people, process, technology). The entire “Digital Equation for Success”–encompassing all four elements–will be unique to your organizational goals and unique challenges, although some themes are universal and must be addressed. Work will never look the way it used to: Gone are the days of the 9-5 workplace; people expect a seamless, easy, modern experience of workforce solutions that feel personalized and relevant to them; and we desperately need digital culture to be defined and extended to where and how we work now. Again, aligning around a vision for what digital success looks like in your organization is mandatory before you spend an ounce of energy or resources on persona development, journey mapping or technology selection to bring that vision to life.

The Year of Re-

These are the reasons I’m calling 2021 the “Year of Re-.”

Whatever changes you made, whatever transformation work you initiated–even if you’d previously made significant gains to elevate, modernize and reposition HR to better support the business and meet the needs of the workforce–your work will be wasted without a digital mandate for 2021 to both secure your foundation and serve as a guiding North Star for continued transformation.

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Approached with renewal and optimism, as this next chapter is one of rebirth.

Our callings are to reset our strategies, refresh our mindset, reframe work, remind ourselves why, reorganize our function and reimagine the right future for the now of work.

Jason Averbook, Mercer
Jason Averbook
Jason is a Senior Partner and the Global Leader of Digital HR Strategy at Mercer | Leapgen, with a career that spans over two decades in the HR and technology sectors. From 2018-23, Jason co-founded and served as CEO of Leapgen, a company committed to shaping the future workplace. Now, under the expanded partnership of Mercer | Leapgen, Jason continues to challenge executive mindsets, advocating for a shift from executing technology projects to embodying a digital function. Jason also serves as an adjunct professor at universities worldwide, has held senior roles at industry giants such as PeopleSoft and Ceridian and is frequently quoted by top media outlets.