When it comes to digital, HR haven't a clue

When it comes to digital, HR haven't a clue
Promoted by When it comes to digital, HR haven't a clue

But then again, who does?... I have been at Organisational Design, HR, L&D and Org Development conferences in the past year or so, and recently the Digital Skills Summit run by Wired Sussex. The common thread is confusion and conflation, when it comes to digital. Stepping over the question for now of what we mean by digital (it is many and different things depending on your context), is the challenge one of learning, skills, education, professional (and/or personal) development, training? Is this something for Universities, Colleges and other learning organisations to fret over and attend to, and what role does ‘business’ have to play? Relative to what criteria/competencies and whose needs?

In analogue terms, the ground is stable (-ish). Digital, less so, and not simply because of digital being about speed/fast/generations-not-understanding-each-other-and-how-about-some-reverse-mentoring etc. All that is true, and useful, but there is something else going on.

The Digital Skills Summit brought together “businesses and skills providers, to identify and work to address the skills gaps that are prominent within our sector”.  It also explored “continued learning within employment and best practice for up-skilling staff and encouraging learning”. Enter HR and L&D stage left? The conversations were revealing. It started off with a proposition that educational institutions need to keep pace, and became evident that there were two other things going on:


1. The “Businesses have a lot to offer here” Thing.

There were some great case studies of how some organisations (Stefan Hull from ProppellerNet and Sophie Davies-Patrick from Clearleft being useful examples) recognize that organisations that operate in a digital space, or want to adopt digital ways of working, need to engage at the level of culture, and by extension fundamentally challenge some of the assumptions regarding how to ‘do’ learning and development. For example, opening up a conversation that is transparent, non-hierarchical in its decisions around learning, and working towards a culture of support and challenge.

 
2. The “There is an Answer if we Look Hard Enough” Thing.

And yet, there was a straining for some kind of easy answer, a silver bullet for the Digital Werewolf. My observation during the panel session was that, for many of the managers and leaders I work with, they are struggling to get their heads round digital. Whether that be in terms of strategy, digital ‘mindset’, how to understand the cultural implications, or their own identities and feelings of technological inadequacy.

Crucially, what is it that digital requires them to be and do differently, if anything, and how do they remain grounded and resilient in the midst of all this… stuff?

 

A way forward?...

The recent HR Grapevine conference was themed around how “HR can change the world”. One way would be to begin a subtly different conversation, and to consider how HR might behave/do differently.

An example: a senior digital product development specialist I spoke with expressed his frustration that his HR department have not updated their competency framework to take account of even rudimentary digital skills e.g. new leaders and managers are not assessed as to whether they can download and use a smart phone app, and given the organisation, that is a core skill.  And equally, the very reason this gap exists indicates that there is a need for more conversation, support and challenge between HR and those it works with and serves.

And there is evidence out there of HR itself learning how to adapt. A recent DBS MegaHackathon  which was “a bid to create a more digital mindset among its employees.” The following quote is a great example of how HR can change the conversation:

“As the bank embarks on its digital journey, it is essential for us to innovate and find new ways to groom the next generation of digitally-minded leaders through exposure, education and experiential learning.”

Maybe you don’t need a Silver Bullet, just a willingness to have different conversations, and create the time and space to do so.

 

Steve Hearsum
Development Consultant and Programme Director – Leading in a Digital Age


Comments (1)

  • Andy Gillham
    Andy Gillham
    Thu, 9 Apr 2015 3:35pm BST
    Being a critic of Digital is not the same as being a Luddite. But you have to know what is going on to offer a credible view. Therefore HR people must be knowledgeable about Digital because its so pervasive. BUT simply digitising everything that moves is not a valid strategy and not being au fait with every latest innovation doesn't make you a dinosaur. Implementing new technologies to HR is right if it improves performance and simply a trendy indulgence if it doesn't. But isn't that true of most things.

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