A digital transformation doesn’t contain the use of digital technologies in the first step but the development of a strategy, which contains infrastructure, organization models and the quality of the management. In the meantime, the digital transformation should have arrived everywhere. Also in the HR (Human Resources) department, at least in the use of language and the expectations to this.

One is covered with lecture invitations, seminar offers, newsletter and blog entries about the topic digitalization, primarily also in the area “learning & development”.

The HR managers surely heard about this topic and eventually they were also already invited to a presentation about this topic. But how far did they actually already engage with the topic? There is a new study about the topic digitalization, which was carried out by Bitkom and Kienbaum and says that the digitalization isn’t behind in the HR branch further than in other departments.

My experiences are differently. Unlike the study, unfortunately, within the last months, I could observe that digitalization and HR management are lived apparently very far away of each other. A HR management tool was only recently implemented in many enterprises but hardly included software for staff development, social media for employer branding and the recruiting of new staff, or even a strategy for employee further education based on a blended learning concept (combination of classroom training, mentoring, e-learning, videos as well as other digital studying media). But why?

On the one hand, in many cases this certainly is connected to the general company strategy, in which the digital transformation is not yet or just partly included. Primarily medium-sized enterprises often have difficulties in the area. On the other hand, it is however related to the HR managers themselves and the structure in the HR department of companies.

When looking at the background of HR managers one will state that most of them have made the classical education or studies in HR and additionally there are some psychologists. But there is almost nobody entering HR departments from a different educational background. The question one needs to ask now is why? Persons who have a sense for people were in demand in this area for years. People with empathy, coaching or psychology background were and are asked to provide their knowledge or experiences within this area. And this is completely right! But within all this years, it was forgotten that technical understanding and know-how is equally needed in this field of work. The today’s HR departments not only need persons with a feeling for people but also persons with knowledge in marketing, IT or educational management.

Until today many HR departments are looking for new staff in a classic way. But is their communication actually focused on their target groups and appeals the communication channel to the right person so that they desire to work for this company? Here I would like to refer to the keyword “employer branding”. A job advertisement today is much more than it was 20 years ago and for that for example knowledge of marketing is needed in the HR department. Social media channels like Twitter, Facebook, Xing or LinkedIn must be target groups focused integrated – and this with a strategy. But then, why are so few HR managers active within social media, a medium to come directly into contact with people? Is this a fear of digital media or is it simply the feeling that they don’t know exactly what they shall or must do with it? And how can one take this fear away from them?

At the moment there are lots of topics concerning digital transformation coming up to HR managers and if they don’t hurry up to learn and alter their work, they are taken off soon. And this does not only include the introduction of digital media in work processes of the HR department but also the transformation of the company culture to today’s working world which has changed strongly by digitalization. This can contain, for example:

  • the introduction of new working time and place of work models, as, through the digitalization, employees need more liberty in the organization of their work;
  • playing a part in the development of new organizational structures towards flatter hierarchies;
  • the support at the change of management styles to an outcome-oriented style of management with more confidence towards the employee, less control and more right in helping to shape;
  • the management of “virtual” teams which must be led from distance as they work at different places around the world;
  • the introduction of digital tools for managing the well-directed and efficient development of employees;
  • the development and use of digital media for studying for employees in form of a knowledge database;
  • the introduction of an internal social media tool for the employees i.e. to exchange fast and uncomplicated specific questions concerning work content related topics.

The digital transformation makes work more exciting! It is an opportunity for every HR manager to get out of the corner of the employee administration and to become shapers of the enterprise and actual developers of the employees. I can just recommend to everyone in the HR branch: lose the shyness about digitalization and get active fast!

Author: Ann-Katrin Hardenberg