How Organisations are Bracing Up for Change through Digital Transformation.

In a world characterized by evolving technology, consumption and smart computing, industries stand to be at the forefront of digital disruption. Though the current shift promises a great number of opportunities, there are many who predict that robots and systems may displace human jobs on an unprecedented scale, making it the least favourite trend to look forward to. Pundits and consultants world over are analyzing how digital transformation can amplify jobs, economies, people and processes without phasing out each other.

The impact that these changes bring about is worth introspection. In a job market overrun by unemployment and talent shortage, the way digital transformation redefines industries will be a critical factor in pushing economies forward. With new technology comes the need to reskill workforce, diminish redundancy, and strategize existing portfolios. Adapting to change requires creation of an environment that enables regulators, investors, organisations and talents to harmonise with smart systems which are indispensable for our future.

Kingsley Strategic Institute’s panel discussion on ‘Digital Transformation: How to Manage and the Implications for the Jobs of Tomorrow’ captured several insights on how technology impacted industries, multi-generational teams and HR strategies. Organised on 27th August 2019 as part of their Digital HR & Talent Management Conference 2019, the discussion was moderated by Dr Henry Yeoh, Deputy President, Malaysian Institute of Human Resource Management (MIHRM). Panelists included Prof. Dr. Peter Shephard, Executive Chairman, CREDO Trust, Manish Mehta, Business Director, Propay Partners, and Prof. Khaeruddin Sudharmin, Advisory Panel Member, Othman Yeop Abdullah Graduate School of Business (OYAGSB), Universiti Utara Malaysia/Senior Research Fellow, School of Management, Asia e University.

Why HR Needs to Think Strategically
“CHROs and their departments need to think futuristic and long term if they are hoping to alter the way HR has been traditionally functioning over the years. Through conceptual working models, HR leaders need to align their thinking in terms of organisational strategies by bearing in mind the human factors in digitalisation and economics. Analyzing future trends using Big Data and AI can further augment decision-making with more accurate data,” said Prof. Dr. Peter Shephard during his presentation at the event. 

While making a case for HR at the boardroom, Dr Shephard also analysed some key trends affecting the HR industry at large. “The VUCA factor is an important part of strategic management where vision trumps all odds. There are new scenarios, new jobs and new skillsets dominating the market that is powered by robotics, machine learning and the Internet of Things. While Gen Z is filling the workforce, the aging workforce is building up too. Currently there are 2 million people over the age of 65 in Malaysia forming the 3rd Age Economy,” he noted. 

HR plays a vital role in this era of shift. Having a seat at the boardroom is crucial to creating new strategies and disposing off ancient policies. “We should understand that people make or break a strategy. HR capital strategies cannot be implemented without full employee support and a commercially savvy HR leader,” Dr Shephard pointed out.
He observed three key strands relating to people – organisation, leadership and communication and engagement – as compelling strategies for bolstering HR practice within organisations. “Hire the best, train them well, challenge them frequently and take risks by promoting them early. You will almost always achieve superior commitment and performance. Attracting the best and creating the desired culture and values allows them to perform. You need smarter, more educated managers nowadays in order to match competitors,” he said.

Changing Expectations – Living in Real Time 
Employees are basically different behavioural sets within a given talent pool. While some are socializers and leaders in their respective capacities, others are thinkers and innovators. If HR is entrusted to build seamless digital employee experiences for different kinds of employees, then it cannot by any means stick to the traditional yardstick. 

Panelist Tony Tenicela, who is the Global Leader of Marketplace Diversity & Workforce Engagement Services at IBM said, “Though there is an abundance of disruptive technologies, it’s the way they are orchestrated that defines the customized experience.” 

Tenicela also added that changing expectations were the main reason organisations like IBM were altering their approach to employees. In a recent survey conducted by IBM’s Institute for Business Value, 300 professionals were interviewed on ‘What They Really Wanted From the Company’. Tenicela noted five practices that organisations were using to create more effective employee experiences: personalization, responsiveness, simplicity, authenticity and transparency. 

“Around 70% of the workforce is made up of millennials, who drive this personalisation approach in our respective enterprises. They are constantly looking for responsiveness in real time and rely on chatbots to answer their questions quickly,” he added. 

Watson, the company’s signature AI business platform that engages with employees through natural language, is an admirable feature that offers real-time interaction. That apart, IBM also employs pulse surveys to spot what’s trending in workforce to formulate data-based decisions. Their social dashboards (another digital feature) present an overview of employees’ engagement with managers, other employees, community forums and provide a peek into every employee’s online presence.

Adopting Digital Transformation
Panelist Manish Mehta, Co-founder and Business Director of Propay Partners leads a pan ASEAN HR and payroll advisory company headquartered in Malaysia. As an entrepreneur, Mehta offered the panel an abstract view of how digital transformation worked in agile, industrial ecosystems. Apart from technology, processes and infrastructure, Mehta emphasized the importance of people as drivers of digital transformation. 

Quoting Digital Marketing Institute, Mehta reiterated that digital transformation can only happen by building a culture of digital learning and development within the company. “Leadership, collaborative working environments and new learning methods are imperative for transformation. If leaders are not clear about their objectives and how they communicate that to frontline teams, there is going to be poor customer engagement, which will have a direct impact on results. With new shifts happening, it’s important to train and upskill multi-generational workforce and prepare them for the future of work,” he observed.

Diminishing structures have paved way for agility too, forcing companies to move from task-based to outcome-based work, he added. Even work portfolios are changing with companies evolving their roles and competencies. “The rise of Chief Information Officer as in the case of McDonald’s and Future Group India’s Chief Belief Officer shows how much companies are reinventing job roles,” Mehta said. 

Jobs of the future will require investment in learning that companies may begin to double up as B-Schools themselves, training personnel via online courses and virtual reality. He also pointed out how every job in the future was going to be a STEM job (requiring competency in science, technology, engineering, and math). With AI and data analytics powering his own payroll solutions business, Mehta concluded that survival of organisations depended mainly on how well they adapted to change in the evolving digital landscape. 

Changing Leadership Mindsets
In his speech on digital transformation, panelist Prof. Khaeruddin Sudharmin remarked on the importance of HR’s shift from being the record keeper at organisations to a strategic partner at the boardroom. Its place among finance, operations, development and other verticals, he said, was a result of embracing digital change and empowering people to focus on the organisation’s core goals. 

Digital Transformation, according to him, has also impacted the way performance reviews are carried out. With a good number of corporations moving away from traditional appraisal systems, the spotlight is on organisations that are engaging people on their skills and competencies. “Today it’s either talents evaluating you or you evaluating them,” he added. 

“Digital Transforming is about skills, big data, AI, predictive analysis and blockchain technology. If we look closely, you will notice that transformation has always been a continuous process. Today, we need to know if jobs will be displaced by this transformation. For us to embrace, adopt, adapt digital transformation, it’s important that leaders change their mindsets, attitudes and introduce a digital working culture or opt for failure,” he concluded.

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