Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the ‘Transform your Business (TYB)’ conference, hosted by the Quadriga University of Applied Sciences in Berlin. It is a platform for professionals to discuss and learn about the many technology trends of today, like AI, New Work, Data Analytics and how they can (and should) be applied to business.

After attending numerous talks, workshop sessions, bar camps and inspiring key notes, one of the key themes that I noted was that, as many firms begin to find themselves thinking and strategizing about what the digital revolution really means for their business, HR is a fundamental asset in realising the opportunities of these technology trends within a firm. In the following, I reflect on this idea and hope to highlight why HR is most uniquely positioned to lead the digital transformation. The fact is, the days of whether or not HR should have a seat at the table are over and I encourage firms to work with their HR Team to realise its full potential.

It is all about the people:

Transformation is created by people and requires a fundamental shift in their mindset to be most effective. It isn’t about what people know, but what they are able to learn (and imagine) from each other and the groups they find themselves in. The toughest challenge may be creating the cohesive culture that is required for this change to take place. Transformation can be frightening and consequently demands an environment in which fear is replaced with courage, ego is replaced with confidence and routine is replaced with challenge. Achieving this change requires new skills, and most importantly, empathy (and I don’t mean a ‘fuzzy’ emotional feeling).

Rather, empathy here refers specifically to the employee experience as it is lived – the importance of connecting ‘people’ and ‘organisational processes’ to create effortless, personalised interactions between them that encourages employees to be creative, to share their ideas and to innovate. Innovation starts with empathy and encourages a worldview in which others can bring their ideas to life by creating and re-creating the world in which we live. Transformation isn’t a finite good. It is an ongoing journey and starts with people – not technology.

Follow the purpose:

Being the first to embrace the digital transformation will pay off. However, execution with the right focus is important. Firms must look to work with HR to familiarise themselves with their purpose – employees won’t buy into what they do, but rather why they are doing it. Only investing in new technologies to modernise existing processes and systems is inefficient and doomed to fail. Instead, innovation demands a purpose that is both transparent and embedded throughout the organisation.

The policies and practices of HR must actively contribute to the employee experience, supporting a culture that allows employees to understand their role and realise their potential in amidst the firm’s long-term purpose as it adjusts to gain from the opportunities the digital transformation brings with it.

Establish change in the corporate DNA:

A firm that is looking to embrace the digital transformation and embrace change needs a change management plan that addresses culture as much as technology. Implemented correctly, the digital transformation will change the way a company thinks, works and accepts change. In this sense, firms must work closely with their HR Team to assess and possibly even ‘re-write the rules’ of their organisation.

The right reward mechanisms need to be put in place to encourage the desired results. Innovative thinking and creativity must become a “lived” behaviour across all levels of the organisation. The digital transformation demands new leadership skills – successful organisations will be composed of those employees who see purpose in their work and build relationships with each other in a way that fosters creativity and innovation.

The power of alignment:

Together, firms need to work with their HR Team to develop their strategy to establish the right mindset among their employees. The same goes for clarifying where their employees’ focus needs to be – expectations are only effective to the extent that they have been communicated. Embedding the desired culture and adopting the right change management tools are essential to realising the power of the people in the organisation in addressing the long-term success of the firm. It’s time for firms to partner with their HR Team and realise the opportunities that lie ahead.

Written by Jessica Schneider