HR, Don’t Miss out on the Digital Action

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In the face of digital transformation the role of the Human Resources (HR) director is set to metamorphose. Pascal Poiget (E83), digital managing partner with executive search firm Headlight International, explains why HR managers must embrace the change.

Retail, automotive, banking, press, pharmaceutical, energy… no sector remains untouched by the digital transformation. The digital shift has an impact not only on markets, services, products, flows and organizations, but above all on employees. And every size of company is affected - from small businesses to large groups.

Faced with this unprecedented challenge, which manager is best placed to lead the digital transformation? Marketing, IT or sales directors are often the first venture to into new digital territory. The more innovative groups are increasingly taking on board a new manager: the chief digital officer (CDO) – appointed by the management team and with a seat on the executive committee.

But the HR director rarely makes a front line appearance, even though they are the first concerned by the changes. Why is their role such a pivotal one?

The digital transformation concerns the whole company. And it’s a fundamentally strategic issue, but also a managerial one. Also, on issues of change management such as this, the HR manager should be the first consulted - and the person in charge of the project. Plus, the HR role is moving away from the management of responsibilities in silos (recruitment, training, compensation) to people management at a micro and macro level, via an HR portal that allows the different departments to work in collaborative mode, with access only to the content that’s relevant to them.

So why is the role of HR manager - the logical accelerator or catalyst of the digital transformation – often a background one? Because digital evolution is considered a technical, rather than a strategic issue. And if some bosses are prudent or circumspect about major changes to the organization or business model - for fear of resistance and its consequences - HR managers are even more so. And yet it’s HR professionals who are the lynchpins to identify the right drivers, limit the obstacles and help the company make the necessary changes.

As the saying goes, the cobbler always wears the worst shoes. Many HR managers didn’t anticipate the digital transformation in their own department through an effective HR information system. And by focusing on the technical aspect, some companies missed the fundamental issue: change on a company-wide scale. An omission which has left its mark.

The ideal team to lead a company’s digital transformation is the HR manager and managing director: the two orchestra conductors who, in contrast to other support or operational functions, need to lead changes that imply high budgets and significant investment. This will increase the chances of success further down the line.

At Headlight International, we help general and HR managers long-term formalize digital transformation specifications, prioritize people needs and recruit talent. France isn’t the only repository of talent, and we use our international network and extensive knowledge of the service and distribution sectors to find digital personalities to work in France. And we advise our clients on integrating those outstanding personalities, combining know-how and soft skills to implement a strategy that has become essential for companies in 2016.


First published in Reflets ESSEC Magazine113. Click here to subscribe. 


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