In his keynote address at the opening of Gartner’s ReimagineHR conference in Orlando, Florida on Sunday, Gartner Group Vice President Brian Kropp shared a very salient figure with the hundreds of HR executives gathered in the room: 67 percent of CEOs tell us that if their organization does not make significant upgrades to its digital capabilities by 2020, it will no longer be competitive. “And if you work for one of the 33 percent,” Kropp told the attendees, “start polishing your résumés,” because those two-thirds of CEOs are probably right.
Digitalization is one of the most pressing challenges facing businesses today, and it’s not hard to see why. When CEOs talk about digitalization—in meetings, in employee communications, and increasingly on calls with investors—they frame it as a means of driving increased efficiency, productivity, and growth, the better to compete in a fast-paced and constantly changing business environment. However, Gartner research has shown that over the past five years, employees are exhibiting dwindling rates of discretionary effort: Just at the moment when organizations need to get the best out of their people, fewer of them are going above and beyond the call of duty. Meanwhile, labor markets in the US, Europe, and around the world are historically tight, so organizations have to work harder to find the right people and hold on to the valuable talent they already have.
As a result of these trends, HR leaders today find themselves in a situation where the CEO is demanding improved performance from employees, while employees are demanding an easier and more seamless experience at work that matches the app-driven, on-demand experience they are increasingly used to in their personal lives. Digital solutions are needed to meet these demands, but those solutions involve much more than merely adopting new technology; fundamental aspects of the way the organization works need to be rethought and redesigned for a digital world. HR has an enormously valuable role to play in ensuring a successful transition into the digital enterprise, but it’s not always obvious how to achieve that goal, and many organizations have been going about it the wrong way.
“What does digitalization mean to you?” Prompted with this question in a poll, Sunday’s audience responded with words like “efficiency,” “easy,” “seamless,” “simplicity,” and “experience.” These answers reflect HR’s unique mission today of driving business outcomes while (or better yet, by) improving the employee experience. Here are five of the key challenges posed by this new environment, and what—in brief—HR can do to tackle them: