These are the most critical skills for Digital Transformation

The way we live, work, and relate to one another is on the verge of a fundamental overhaul; this isn’t mere speculation anymore, but an impending eventuality. While many of these changes are well underway, there is a need for clarity amidst several important stakeholders. Do you, as an employee, feel confident that your current skill set will ensure your employability tomorrow? As an employer, do you understand the transformation that is necessary to survive? Do you comprehend the ways in which businesses are about to change? Are you prepared to balance human and machine intellect to derive the best from both? Let’s find out.

One way to define digital transformation is to undertake “the realignment of, or new investment in, technology, business models, and processes to drive new value and experiences for customers and employees and more effectively compete in an ever-changing digital economy.”

According to a Skillsoft study, only 50% of those who participated in a survey admitted to having a strategy in place, 24% admitted to no such policy, and more alarmingly, 26% said that they didn’t know, indicating confusion over what is actually needed for a sound digital transformational policy. 

Digital Transformation Strategy in Learning & Skilling

Nearly 70% of the respondents of the survey agree that their workforce needs to improve their skills to meet the digital transformation opportunities and challenges. Furthermore, 50% consider the requests to update and align skills sets to support the digital transformation is a big priority, 24% are beginning to witness such requests, 20% believe that despite the lack of requests, one needs to work in the direction nonetheless. 

Here are some of the most critical skills needed to manage a transformation:

New transformation technology skills:

  • The Basics of New Transformation Technologies

  • Designing a Design Mindset/Designing and Delivering New Digital Experiences

  • Adaptive Thinking and Agile Approaches

  • Digital Communication/Virtual Collaboration

  • Computational Thinking & Cognitive Load Management

Critical adaptive thinking and agile approaches skills needed:

  • Thinking Adaptively/Developing an Agile Mindset

  • Agile Management Technique

  • Agile Product Ownership: Role and Responsibilities

  • Lean Product Management

  • Automating Business Processes

Design mindset skills needed:

  • Design Thinking

  • Customer Journey Mapping

  • Data Modelling for Digital

  • Data Visualization

  • Exploring UI/UX Design

Merely upgrading technical skills will not be enough. To ensure that the core business values and culture sustains, communication, leadership, soft skills and operating models, all need to undergo an evolution. While the challenge is definitely complex and uniquely multifaceted, building a few foundational capabilities can ensure a smoother transition to a more robust transformation strategy. A few of such capabilities are:

  • Required understanding of new technologies (include AI, IoT, ML, etc.), existing and emerging technologies 

  • Designing new digital customer experiences

  • Developing new business models that capitalize on new technologies and experience

  • Leading and managing in the digital age

The transformation provides organizations with a unique opportunity to proactively help in bridging the skills gap in Digital Transformation. The reality and pace of change that is impacting business is no longer in a distant, unsure future. Rather, it is one which is well past its way from infancy, and one which we, as individuals, employers, industries societies, and governments, seem massively under-prepared for. The best, and most effective, way is to understand what going ‘digital’ means, find out what it means for you, list the areas you need to work at, design a strategy and get cracking! 

The What and How of a Digital Strategy

Companies are struggling to build a digital roadmap for their HR function. But is it a good idea to implement one at all? The answer is: Yes, absolutely. We are in the midst of the 4thindustrial revolution, the world of work is changing faster than ever before, it is a revolution that was anticipated by science fiction authors before economists and business leaders even became aware of it. A digital HR strategy provides the opportunity for HR to shape the future of work for their business and have a clear view on how jobs will be lost and gained. A roadmap sets course and speed for the HR function and for people priorities within the company. Companies with a distinct HR Digital Roadmap endow themselves with a foundation to not only cope with these changes but to influence them to gain competitive advantage.

The conventional way: Digital HR = HR Technology Roadmap

Of course, a digital world does not only require change from people and businesses. It also comes with new technology enhancing the activities and effects of an HR function: Technology being put into the hands of end-users, new digital listening techniques, interpreting vast amounts of social media information to better understand and even predict the wants, needs, and capabilities of people. This opportunity is mirrored by an evolving HR technology market. Gartner sees cloud-based HRIS on the ‘slope of enlightenment’, with Workday, SAP, and Oracle as market leaders, and mainstream adoption happening as we speak. The market is growing by 12% per year. And from our research we know that the average Fortune 500 company spends 10 M USD per annum on new, cloud-based HRIS. Obviously the standard approach to the digital age in HR is a heavy investment in technology that helps to ‘do what HR does, but in a digital way’. This approach often leaves HR teams very busy – and often unnerved by the major efforts, often two years of labor, it takes to implement the new technology.

The better way: Digital HR = Business Value in the New World of Work

Is there a better, more promising alternative to just trotting down the same alley as before, ‘doing what HR does, but in a digital way’? Yes, but HR has to identify the right levers that it can pull to generate business value in a digital world. TI People’s research studied this question and found that HR should set three new priorities: 1/Actively manage the customer’s experience of the function, 2/develop the organization from job-based to skill-based and 3/ provide workforce analytics insights. HR teams should focus on these three levers and not allow ‘the new HRIT system’ to dominate their agenda. And HR teams should not only change the WHAT of the digital agenda but also build new HR capabilities to operate in this new environment – and in that way shape the HOW.

The WHAT: New Areas of Focus

The ‘What’ is about incorporating these three priorities in a three-year HR strategic plan:

The What: (Real) digital HR priorities


Customer Experience of HR (CxHR) means running HR while always keeping in mind the perspective of its internal customers. Although the use of term ‘customers’ as applied to HR is debatable, it is nevertheless a helpful shortcut to the fact that employees’ or candidates’ perception of HR at decisive moments – ‘Moments that Matter’ – shape their opinion of the company and impacts their engagement. These ‘Moments that Matter’ are aligned to the employee’s perspective and might overlap with HR service ‘silos’ (as for example in recruitment) or cut across several of them (as in relocation or career change).

CxHR is the key driving force when it comes to the future of the HR function, as we have laid out in this article. It consists of three components: 1/Agile service design – which simplified means to (re-) define HR processes fast, and from the perspective of the customer. 2/Customer Experience Management follows Kaplan’s and Norton’s statement ‘What you can’t measure, you can’t manage’. For HR executives this means: To implement changes from agile service design as a ‘minimum viable’ service, measure its impact on the customer experience of the service, then iterate to continuously improve the experience. In a final step these newly designed services should be supported by 3/ Applification & Machine Intelligence to provide the best possible experience while keeping sufficient scale and holding the cost base down.

Skill-based organization of work is the major value contribution that HR can bring to business. Following the research of McKinsey Global Institute, work and employee matching can be improved significantly by using techniques of online talent marketplaces, applied within companies and externally. These techniques will enable networking and collaboration. They require a new version of skill management, including prediction of future skill demands, detection of current skills of people in real time, and effective mechanisms to match skills and tasks. Additionally, they require a new network leadership culture, a culture in which trust and indirect management and feedback – continuously, effortlessly – is the norm.

Workforce analytics is the third key pillar supporting a HR digital roadmap. Using workforce analytics, companies will provide insights to their managers for better people decisions and talent outcomes. To do so, they need a comprehensive definition of analytics, consisting of descriptive analytics (including reporting as well!), the – pretty sexy – predictive analytics and a modern, less cumbersome and more skill-focused version of workforce planning.

The HOW: HR Innovation Culture

When executing these ‘What’-priorities, companies often face a disconnect between their own HR capabilities and the requirements to execute against the HR strategic plan. Bridging this gap and developing these capabilities is the ‘How’: Creating a new HR culture defined by a new set of behaviors, skills, technology tools, KPIs, and communities of practice:

The HOW – Establishing an innovation culture in HR

From the HR leadership team’s point of view, this model can be specified like this:

Behaviors: As HR professionals we know our stuff. And we are the guardians of compliance with employment law, equal pay, diversity and inclusion rules. But we feel the need to be innovators as well, to act and think in new ways that cross HR silo boundaries and simultaneously support business strategies.

Skills: Our classic HR skillset centers around HR operations and talent management. A modern skillset adds design thinking and analytics. Design thinking will help us create innovative services for better customer experience fast and enable us to be adaptive to the speed of the business. Analytics will help us generate fact based insights for better people decisions by business leaders.

Technology Tools: Our traditional tools in HR have been first and foremost designed to automate our existing tasks, implementing new tasks having never been their main objective. That is about to change: We need a set of tools that establishes new innovative behaviors by the HR team and fosters further innovation over time. Exemplary, this could mean to measure and benchmark customer experience of HR services at touchpoint level (and in real time) to feed continuous service improvement.

KPIs: Traditionally we have measured HR by engagement and cost. As engagement is a less actionable KPI for the function, most decisions are being taken based on cost/budget allocation considerations, hence defining HR as a cost-driven function. In a digital world, we can measure our real performance – by analyzing the customer experience we provide to our employees, managers, candidates, freelancers and alumni. And by looking closely at the new KPIs describing the agility of the organization, meaning, for example, the portion of work organized by skills vs. by jobs.

Community: In a digital world, the group of people we should establish networks with is about to change as well. So far, HR employees mostly surrounded themselves with other HR specialists. In this age, we need to build a new community of like-minded peers that embark on the same digital journey; it should include out-of-the-box-thinkers and practitioners with innovation backgrounds (product design, marketing, etc.) both inside and outside our company. This will reinforce our commitment to HR innovation and inspire us to tackle the digital challenges ahead.

A Balanced Digital HR Strategy

For a successful digital HR strategy, HR executives should focus at first on balancing both, the What and the How. In collaboration with some 40 global companies, TI People has developed a template for a balanced digital HR strategy – which is already fit to be put in place. While continuing to work with these companies, this template will be updated accordingly and enriched with new components. One example of a specific application of the What and the How in a digital HR company could look like this:

The What & How Wheel for a balanced digital HR strategy

3 The What & How Wheel for a balanced digital HR strategy


Set & adjust digital HR strategy: A vital step for two major reasons: Taking it means identifying the few digital HR priorities with the highest business impact and gather the entire HR leadership team behind these priorities. A typical first step of a digital HR company is a structured, yet pragmatic look at the current digital HR maturity – ideally assessed relative to peer benchmarks, strategic goals of the company and to the company’s risk profile. In an innovation workshop attended by the HR leadership team these results will be translated into action items. Finally, a roadmap (18-36 months) for digital HR activities is going to be defined.

Manage HR by customer experience: We already identified the importance of the HR customer’s (managers, employees, candidates, freelancers, alumni) experience with HR services as the driving force of digital HR. For a useful and profitable implementation, digital HR companies usually set out on a threefold journey: First, they train HR in design thinking to establish a common ground when it comes to discussing customer centricity and agile design of HR services. Second, they rede­sign ‘Moments-that-Matter’ for employees or managers or candidates. It has proven extremely helpful to do this in the framework of a design thin­king workshop. In this workshop ‘personas’ of HR customer groups and owners of ‘touch­points’ and ‘channels’ of a service should serve as sparring partners for the HR team. And third, companies measure the experience of their customers at the touchpoint level in almost real time (using digital listening techniques).

Maximize HRIS returns: In 8 out of 10 large organizations, the implementation, the rollout or the selec­tion of new HR technology is a major focus topic. For each new technology in HR it is important to under­stand the interdependency between the ROI of a new system and its end-customer adoption. Digital HR companies analyze this interdependency and – given its relevance – assess best practices of other companies to improve end-user adoption.

Build an HR innovation culture: An innovative culture requires constant influx of innovation into the daily routines of HR leaders in digital HR companies. As a foundation and as a starting point, digital HR companies attend meetings with innovation leaders of other companies (conferences will not do the trick – real interaction is needed!). They encourage their teams and put them under obligation to attend webinars for innovation topics. And they provide smart e-learning options to their teams to ensure a common level of understanding digital HR. Beyond these foundational activities, digital HR companies are open to creating digital HR solutions together with other companies. Breaking the silos is important – and co-creating ‘the next moment that matters’ (for example onboarding) with a handful of like-minded people from other innovative companies will make a big and decisive difference.


HR needs a digital HR agenda that focuses on the few activities that generate the biggest business value in the new world of work (the WHAT). And it needs to change the way the function works – an emphasis of innovation focus is the new HOW. Both, the WHAT and the HOW, have to be an integral part of the digital HR agenda. If not, HR is doomed to simply translate ‘digital HR’ as ‘a new HRIS’ – which is a high-risk undertaking, missing out on the great digital opportunities already on the table.

Building New Organisational Models to Achieve True Digital Transformation


By Gloria Lombardi

Every organisation should be developing their digital workplace. It’s not about one, single solution, but about understanding all the many and varied tools and digital experiences staff need and have when working. Leaders and managers should understand that data is an asset, and should be looking for ways to use business intelligence to inform decisions and create new opportunities. The business needs pushing in new directions, but strategy and decisions need to be supported by relevant information, and considerate of employee productivity and satisfaction.

Yet here we are, 18 years into the new century, and many companies still don’t know how to define, manage, or develop their digital workplace. Too often, internal processes are antiquated, relying on laborious manual steps. Worse still, managers fail to grasp the true meaning of ‘transformation’, and don’t fully consider the people and process changes required when new technologies are deployed.

“Management doesn’t care very much about the digital environment of employees. Strangely, they care more about the physical environment but the digital workplace has been massively neglected. Senior managers pay no or little attention to their the intranet,” says intranet maverick and worldwide experienced consultant, Gerry McGovern.

MARGINALIA spoke with McGovern to explore what organisations should be doing to ensure they create an effective, 21st century digital workplace. In this interview, McGovern suggests a radical change of leadership style and organisational culture, which puts the individual to the centre of attention. He gives practical examples, and also shares some emerging trends coming to the workplace.

GL: What is holding organisations back when it comes to their ability to create a digital workplace that employees find easy to use?

GM: The core problems are lack of management, focus, and engagement. There is a historical lack of respect from management for employees. Employees are given poor systems and expected to understand how and when to use them, even when things take longer and they can’t see the benefit. 

If we compare the quality of internal versus external digital tools – enterprise software versus public consumer software – they are like night and day. There’s a vast difference in the quality of the experience they deliver. 

Management doesn’t care very much about the digital environment of its employees. Strangely, they care more about the physical environment but the digital workplace has been massively neglected. Senior managers pay no or little attention to the intranet; so employees struggle with subpar software and become disengaged, partly, because the digital tools they’re forced to use make everything so arduous and have steep, and costly, learning curves.

GL: What do employees need and want from their digital workplace?

GM: Employees expect just the basics from a digital workplace. People have been shown by Amazon, Google, and even Twitter, how easy things can be. So, they just expect things to work and to be relatively simple. They certainly don’t expect to have to deal with a torturous, horribly designed, IT system.

Most organisations are not delivering the essentials, and so employees are frustrated. It’s essential that information and processes are up-to-date and accurate. But the ability to manage and make information findable in most organisations is still terribly poor. It’s down to a lack of management; there are no quality controls, and no processes for removing out-of-date and irrelevant information from the intranet, the document management system, or the various project management ‘systems’. Metadata isn’t used in a consistent manner, to make information findable. People think that they just need to buy a search engine to solve all their problems, but content and the search engine needs good management. It’s the maintenance of standards and day-to-day management that’s missing from the digital workplace.

GL: What types of organisational models could help companies thrive in this and the next decade? Are you seeing any emerging trends?

GM: New organisational models are indeed beginning to emerge. Everybody talks about collaboration, which is more than a practice; it’s actually a journey to a new model. A collaborative approach to organisation is at the other end to hierarchy; I think traditional, strict, hierarchical organisations are not fit for purpose in the digital economy. They are too slow, too cumbersome, and they don’t create the desired results in many business situations.

More collaborative types of decision making are emerging. There’s a different model of management that is much more focused on evidence and much less on traditional hierarchy and ego. Leadership becomes more humility driven. The management structure is more data driven, more flexible, and adaptable. Those flexible organisations have an obsession with simplicity and reducing complexity. They have a constant strategic focus on simplifying the life of the employee and internal processes. 

GL: What should traditional organisations do to become more future-ready?

GM: Focus on less, and do it much better. Improve the tasks of the employee – whether it’s collaboration or product development or whatever it might be. 

Focus on the crucial task, what I call the ‘top task’ of the employee, and streamline it in a iterative model via continuous improvement based on the evidence of the worker’s ability to actually do those tasks. So, manage based on the outcomes of individual rather than the ‘opinions’ of the manager. That is a real shift. 

Understand what is critical to employees to do their job on a day-to-day basis. Then, measure it through an observation of the user experience, the employee experience: observe what people are doing and record the evidence, for example, noticing that, ‘50 percent of our sales reps cannot find an up-to-date sales presentation’. Report the metrics around the ability of the workforce to do critical tasks in their day-to-day work – show management and stakeholders what works and what doesn’t work for employees

GL: You mentioned ‘humility’ earlier. Similarly, a business professor at the University of Virginia Darden School, Edward Hess, believes that, ‘humility is the new smart’, highlighting the criticality of this skill in the technology-driven age. 

How can you actually teach humility to organisations?

GM: It can be difficult to teach humility. But if organisations constantly focus on the evidence, they can better create a sense of humility in some people. For example, saying, ‘We tested what you said would work. Actually after testing it, we found out that it didn’t work’. By relying on evidence, people can avoid ego traps and opinion-driven decision making.

So, constantly test and observe to see if any particular idea works or not. Often, when people test their ideas in real situations, they realise that those ideas are not, after all, quite as smart as they thought they were. Theories need testing, rather than trusting blindly.

The opposite of humility is the ‘godlike’ sort of management structure, where people just make decisions based on their gut instinct, and rely on their position of authority They do not look for, or need, evidence. 

In contrast, a ‘humanity-based’ management model comes about when individuals constantly seek evidence to make the right decisions. We will never have all the information, nor all the answers – the world is too complex. But we can make better decisions when we use our experience in-sync with evidence, and alongside our colleagues – we need diversity, not group-think, when making big decisions.

We need to know how to know rather than to know the actual answer. We can know how to get the answer. We don’t necessarily know the answer straight off. Jean Piaget, the developmental psychologist, said “Intelligence is what you use when you don’t know what to do” – we need to be humble enough to know when we don’t know stuff, and intelligent enough to know how to find out more. 

GL: Can you share some examples of organisations that have embraced a culture of humility?

GM: Successful companies are emerging with newer, better models for engaging employees and empowering them.

Google, for example, does not have the classical organisational hierarchy. They are much more consensus driven and collaborative; they have flatter structures. There is less dictatorial management than in traditional companies, which are harder to change because they often have 40 or 50 years of management legacy.

Facebook is another example. A Product Manager at Facebook gave a talk once, saying that managers at Facebook have no authority. ‘They cannot tell anybody to do anything. What they are good at is influence, and they are always looking for the evidence’.

Amazon is a strange type of environment: it is ‘difficult’ in some respects, but very driven, and with a culture of evidence as well. They are constantly testing and experimenting, and making decisions based on what is actually working and not working.

Zappos is another interesting example of a culture that is quite different from a traditional, ego-based, hierarchy structure.

GL: This is a period of time when everyone talks about predictions for the New Year. And MARGINALIA is about the future of work. We certainly don’t have a crystal ball, and, using your humility argument, we should say that we don’t have all the answers. 

But do you have any expectations or views to share with MARGINALIA for what could happen in 2018 regarding the evolution of the world of work, and the digital workplace, in particular? 

GM: Generally speaking, it’s interesting to observe what has happened with Slack over the last couple of years. Slack shows how digital workplace systems do not have to suck; internal tools can be relatively easy to use, and useful in the process. Slack brought to us the possibility that we can develop and deploy enterprise systems which are actually useful and easy to use. However, the consumer-oriented user interface may have brought ease of use, but many organisations use and abuse Slack to the extent that people are swamped with notifications and banal conversations. We must remember that new ways of working are needed when we adopt new systems.

An ‘awakening’ is happening inside workplaces. The youngest generations are just much less accepting of the extremely poor quality internal systems that their older colleagues were forced to use. There is almost an internal revolt against horrible systems; they’re simply not willing to accept the low quality tools that have been delivered by the organisation in the past.

In some instances, IT strategy is just ignored and people just find their own tools – often cloud services and mobile apps. If IT and management do not rise to the challenge, they are going to find themselves redundant.

A while back, we had the bring your own device (BYOD). Now we have bring your own technology and software – bring your own everything. So, what’s the purpose of managers if employees have to find the right tools to allow them to collaborate efficiently? What is the future of the IT department if they don’t own or support cloud services?

The trend is continuing: employees are designing their own digital environment, influencing their colleagues’ ways of working, and bypassing traditional management.

Why #learning transfer is more important than evaluation

Most learning and development professionals are great at building content focusing on the learner. We can also evaluate and test if this knowledge retrospectively. However, we don't have the data and insights to know that behavioural and skill development is being displayed in the work place.

Being able to measure learning transfer and look at impact rather than ROI is key to influencing the future direction of L&D processes and culture in your organisation.

Painting a picture…

We work really hard to deliver a great learning experience, everyone on the course feels positive, energised and ready to take back these new skills and behaviours into the workplace - they ‘are’ going to be a better leader.

Learners are 100% committed to the change process. As the person who designed and probably delivered parts of this course you are feeling proud and energised that everyone had such a great time, and you feel super positive believing that the learners will go and action what they’ve learnt, and performance improves because of it.  

However, on returning to work the following week nothing much changes! Why?

The results from the latest Global Learning Transfer Research 2017 shows that only 7.7% of respondents felt that their approach to behavioural change was highly effective and 29% don’t actually know if their learning interventions are benefiting job performance. Yet still 30% believe their function is to “support their employees in improving job performance”. This is a huge disconnect!

So why is there such a void between what we in L&D believe is happening, and what is actually happening in the real world?

Evaluation is important but only a small part of the story. It allows us to ask questions about the course and trainer, or test ‘knowledge’, to see if the learner can actually retain information they have been ‘given’, however it’s delivered.

Learning transfer looks specifically to see if that new skill or behaviour is actually being displayed in the workplace, which is surely why we send our employees on courses.

34% from the research agree that their main aim is to ‘drive improved business results’.


I would also argue the data and insights we can gather from measuring the impact of effective learning transfer is hugely more valuable than that we get from our evaluation techniques. I use the word ‘can’ strongly; the vast majority of organisations are not gathering any data in this area at all.

In the future, this will be key to influencing the direction of an organisation’s learning approach. If we don’t have the correct data (or any data at all) how are we supposed to really find out what L&D activity works & what doesn’t?

L&D teams get hung up on ROI and attempting to measure in monetary terms and that’s understandable as professionals take steps to being more business-oriented. Let’s take it as a given that training is, the vast majority of the time, beneficial all round.

As we move into a data-driven world, we as L&D professionals will be expected to prove that: the intervention has had an impact on the individual; new skills/behaviours are being displayed; and that the training added value and had an impact, not just to the individual but to the organisation who invested in it.

This moves L&D into the role of performance consultants as well as content curators. 

How does this look from the learner’s perspective?

By way of an example take a leadership development course. Typically costing in the region of £10,000+ per learner and run over a series of months with the various modules focusing on all the areas it’s been identified that the leader needs to improve.

Both during and after the course, if the individual is not made accountable to apply what they’ve learnt they simply won’t - even with all the best of intentions! Accountability is fundamental to the successful learning transfer. We can’t say that purely delivering the programme means it was a success.

What measurements have we got to say that new skills and competencies are applied? Where’s the proof that this intervention has benefitted the organisation?

What are top-performing organisations doing?

Behavioural change is not easy. It can be done over time, but there needs to be a process of accountability all round and also the ability track & monitor these improvements. Creating the right conditions will certainly aid that process a great deal.

Top-performing organisations, as highlighted by the Towards Maturity Benchmark 2016/17 analysis found that companies in the top quartile align their L&D activity with business need, 93% vs 62%.

These companies are also building a culture of learning through allowing their staff to make mistakes, 72% vs 35%. This is one of the single biggest areas of thinking we should explore further. As adults, we are so frightened of making mistakes we can almost paralyse ourselves into not changing at all.

We need to accept that change happens over time and mistakes will be made along the way. Surely it’s far better to allow those steps towards improvement than to instill a feeling of fear that everything has to be perfect all the time! That’s simply not the way of the world, so let’s embrace failure and learn from it.

94% of top-quartile organisations also allow for new skills to be practised, vs 41% who do not.

Practice & reinforcement is absolutely key to allowing performance improvement to take place & flourish. If we are not giving our learners the opportunity to use these new skills how can we expect them to hone & improve upon them.

Finally, we look at engagement, 82% of top companies allow for sharing of successful stories, a very simple but effective way of highlighting to the rest of the business the value that L&D departments bring to the organisation.

Where to next?

With all of this evidence, why are we not concentrating more on learning transfer than evaluation? Good question!

Perhaps it’s because the evaluation piece is perceived to be easier and less complex, therefore cheaper and less time consuming. Could it be that because we as L&D professionals are not being asked for the data that we simply choose to ignore it?

As we often use external providers & once they have delivered “their bit” & have been paid, they don’t see it as their responsibility to embed the learning?

I don’t actually believe there is one single answer, but it’s a multitude of these elements combined.

However, what I am sure of is that in the future we will be asked for the data, and the sooner we start collecting it, the better our decisions will be and the more insight we will have into all our learning & development activity and effective learning transfer, thereby ultimately improving performance of learners and the business overall.

Putting People First to Create the Future of Work


By Gloria Lombardi

The benefits of a well-designed and well-managed digital workplace should be obvious, but it’s not enough to simply invest in the latest, greatest technology. The cultural shift required for embedding new ways of working demands a clear business change strategy, and most importantly, a deep understanding of employees’ needs.

A decent digital workplace enables real-time communication and synchronous, or asynchronous, collaboration that cuts down admin and improves productivity. Social communication tech enables the previously unheard majority to be directly involved with business and so improves agility. And emerging technologies, such as flow technology, pragmatic analytics, AI and chatbots, can analyse masses of data, free people from repetitive tasks, and offer a different interface to systems.

But it’s wise to be wary; all this tech, all these new interfaces and systems and apps can feel overwhelming or intrusive for some people, and may even make them feel disconnected from their colleagues.

While our tech is now ‘always on’ and we are ‘always connected’, we should remember that work belongs to humans. Business belongs to people. Technology must serve our needs, not the other way around. A simple ethos like this is something all organisations need, to be productive while still being focused on the meaning of work and the value of the end result.

The future of work is being created right now by our developing ways of working and by innovators in the field, and will be supported by the evolution of next gen enterprise infrastructure. Our supporting tech will need to interact with individuals in useful and convenient ways, it will need to prioritise people, putting them first. This is what Juliet Hailstone, Head of Marketing at people first, firmly believes.

MARGINALIA spoke with Hailstone to explore how the people first platform contributes to the future of work. Powered by artificial intelligence features, the platform promises to deliver improved productivity and engagement. In this interview, Hailstone shares her views on digital transformation’s impact on HR, the impact of AI on the employee experience, and offers her predictions for 2018.

Gloria Lombardi: Our workplaces have been transformed by technology. How do you see the evolution of HR as a consequence of this digital transformation?

Juliet Hailstone: Looking at the impact of digital transformation on people and how it impacts their expectations within the world of work, it seems that companies are spending more and more money on HR technology and engagement tools; this type of technology stack is growing. But employee engagement, productivity, and the overall satisfaction of employees are all decreasing. So right now, something isn’t working. We need to ask why this is?

One of the reasons is that technology is often applied to the world of work in ways that compromise people’s productivity rather than enhancing it. A recent study by Gallup found 52 percent of employees are going through the motions of being at work – doing what they’ve got to do – but are often not engaged, not happy and therefore not as productive as they could be if they brought their ‘full selves’ to the party.

One of the main impacts of digital transformation is that people practitioners and strategists have a bigger responsibility to try and fix all this. Primarily, it involves considering the world of work from the people aspect: What do people need? How do they work? How can the company help them to be the best they can be, to benefit of their own happiness and productivity levels?

So rather than it being about processes and systems, the responsibility now is to use the technology to put people first. We could continue to let tech dominate human relationships and prompting growing levels of disengagement, or we could put people at the heart of everything, and make digital transformation work for them.

GL: So, what should HR do to ensure they are putting people first when adopting digital tools?

JH: Businesses need to get on board with a new kind of relationship between the employer and the employee. Putting people first involves companies committing to a more open relationship with people. It’s respectful and balanced, and it’s about achieving the best for both parties. For business leaders and their HR teams, it’s about accepting the inevitable culture change, working to embed a new ethos, and considering the different ways employees and employers can work together to achieve the best possible results.

GL: Could you share a concrete example?

JH: I can use ourselves, people first, as an example. We live and breathe the ethos of ‘people first’. We have very respectful relationships with each other no matter where someone would sit in the traditional ‘business hierarchy’ (we have a psychologically flat structure). We know each other’s strengths, and we are decisive on how we want technology to be used. We obviously use the people first platform ourselves. The chatbot’s ‘Focus Mode’ is my personal favourite – it screens our emails and helps protect our moments of optimal productivity.

There’s a great deal of discussion around being in the flow at work at the moment, and that’s what the people first team lives. Our technology complements it and helps us to stay in the flow, and be productive and engaged. We’re strongly connected to our purpose.

GL: How does the people first platform work, exactly?

JH: The people first platform very much contributes to the future of work. It is built on Microsoft Azure technology (PaaS). The app includes the HR management tools you would expect to find in a well-established HR system, but that is only the start. people first applies AI and flow technology to keep people happy, engaged and at their most productive. The system proactively uses data to support managers and employees to do the best job they can – be that during an augmented check-in, through automatic job crafting, or through chatbot briefings, coaching and ‘Focus Mode’. It’s all about keeping people in the happy, productive, energised and engaged flow – where people are energised by their work to deliver the best outputs they possibly can.

So, the people first app is much more than just an HR system; it’s about people realisation.

And technology-wise, the open people platform within which the people first app sits is truly open technology, so our partners can easily link to people first, or build their own apps using the people first development tools and sell them on the people first marketplace.

GL: How does your use of AI impact the employee experience? 

JH: people first is infused with artificial intelligence. It is everywhere – from employees’ ability to undertake transactional HR matters such as booking holiday through their chatbot, to automatic data insights fed to those that need them.

During check-ins, people first virtually coaches managers through the process using insights, almost acting as a third person in the room that is recording the process and making recommendations to ensure that both parties get the best outcomes.

The system learns when employees are at their most productive and helps them to protect their focus time, recommending ‘focus mode’ activation to protect them from interruptions.

There are many more examples – hopefully these examples show how infused and intelligent people first AI is, and how ready it is to help keep employees happy and in the productive flow right now. The entire people first platform is intelligent enough to help any employee to do their best work. But it’s not ‘big brother’; the platform isn’t watching people work – people are working with the platform to create a better work life.

GL: Looking at the year head, do you have any expectations around the future of work. What are your future of work predictions for 2018?

JH: We should assume that AI and automation will continue to impact work, but people will remain the most important focus. Our work systems and tools will take on aspects of our personal tech and our consumer tech, and people will bring their personal productivity tactics to the workplace.

The technology that fails to take on board the people aspect of work, that fails to genuinely help people when they’re new, when they’re busy, when they’re frustrated, or simply when they want to give more of themselves but don’t know how, will not be fit for the future of work.

The future of work is about people. The most innovative and most useful tools will help people find their flow – to be productive and enjoy their work. Such positive engagement benefits both parties, the individual and the organisation; it’s an alliance. Organisations will need to recognise the value of this alliance, building respectful relationships to support a happy and engaged workforce.

The Rise of the Social Enterprise: A New Paradigm for Business

After a year of research and another enormous survey of business and HR leaders around the world, we just released the Deloitte Human Capital Trends 2018, entitled “The Rise of the Social Enterprise.”

What we found, after detailed analysis of the data and many interviews with business leaders, is that business today is entering a whole new paradigm for management: one which considers a business less of a “company” and more of an “institution,” integrated into the social fabric of society.

I know that sounds a bit high-level, but the detailed trends make it clear and real.  Consider just a few statistics we found.

  • 65% of companies surveyed now rate “inclusive growth” as one of their top three goals, eclipsing strategies like “growing market share” or “being the category leader.”
  • “Citizenship and social impact” were rated critical or important by 77% of our respondents, and this topic was rated the “least ready” issue among the executives we surveyed
  • The need to create 21st century careers, improve the relevance of reward systems, focus on employee well-being, and address the issue longevity in the workforce all rated as top 10 issues in the human capital agenda.

The trends we found, which are listed below, are topics one would have considered “soft” or “nice to do” in a prior age. Today, because of the power of each individual in the world of work, they are urgent.

One of the trends we identified is that companies today must be “social” in a truly external sense. Customers, stakeholders, communities, business partners, and employees all have an enormous impact on a company’s brand, growth, and profitability. Being a “social enterprise” means going beyond a focus on revenue and profit and clearly understanding that we operate in an ecosystem, and all these relationships are equally important.

Interestingly, the biggest challenge we found in this research is that C-suite executives are not operating or organized effectively to deal with this new world. If you think about the trends we highlight in the study, each cannot be addressed without an enterprise-wide, cross-functional approach. So the idea of having a C-Suite executive who owns various functional areas alone simply does not work.

In fact what our research found was that a new model, which we call the “Symphonic C-Suite,” is key, and companies should take on these issues as a team, creating a model we call “teams leading teams,” instead of the siloed functional ownership we see in the C-Suite today.

For me personally this work is always among the most exciting things I do here at Deloitte, and this year’s report speaks to the need to find mission, trust, and value in our lives. We are living in a world of tremendous economic growth, technology revolution, yet also one of income inequality, contentious debate about nationalism, and lots of concerns about diversity, inclusion, fairness, and equity at work. I think our research shows that all these topics are now coming together, and business leaders must address them in an integrated and strategic way.

One more point of introduction. As you read these trends and think about how they impact your organization (whether you are in HR or line leadership), I think you’ll find that there are two real dimensions of transformation taking place.

Fig 1:  The Two Dimensions of the Social Enterprise Paradigm

First is the horizontal axis – moving from an organization which operates as functional groups to one that operates as a “network of teams.”  I’ve written about this extensively before (last year it was discussed in detail in the 2017 trends) and this trend has accelerated.  This year I’ve met with banks, manufacturers, insurance companies, and healthcare providers who are all moving toward a “networked organization” model.

Second is the vertical axis – where every part of the company (sales, marketing, product strategy, engineering, HR, and finance) looks at the impact of external factors on the company and the company’s footprint in the external world. As one of our clients put it (a consumer goods company), customers now do business with companies who are local, companies who do good things in the community, and companies that do good things for society. This goes far beyond “corporate responsibility” into really being a good citizen, and redefining value propositions in this way.  And this means doing a much better job of managing data, by the way, an issue that has become “front page” around the world.

(One only has to read the news to see how today even the technology industry is impacted by this trend.)

Highlight of the Ten Trends

Let me briefly highlight the trends here (in order of urgency from the research), and I encourage you to read the whole report, download the app, and attend one of our webinars highlighting the research.

#1 The Symphonic C-Suite

As I discussed above, the most urgent trend we identified was the need for C-Suite executives to operate in a more integrated way (we call that “Symphonic”). Today it’s as if each C-suite exec (CEO, COO, CFO, CMO, CHRO, CTO, etc.) is leading their own set of instruments, playing the music they think will contribute best to the overall orchestral performance. Of course in the symphony this would be a disaster, and the analogy plays out well in business as well.

Consider the issues of gender pay equity or data privacy, for example. No one C-Suite executive can “own” this problem, because it impacts every part of the company. Ditto for problems like “improving well-being” or “reducing attrition” or “improving our employment brand.” The latest survey from The Conference Board found that “attracting and developing talent” is now the #1 topic on the minds of CEO’s – that issue, along with the others I mentioned, cannot be owned by the CHRO alone.

#2. People Data:  How Far Is Too Far?

We are all bombarded with news about AI, autonomous vehicles, and a never-ending discussion of the potential role of computer intelligence in our lives. What our research found is that this enormous issue – that of taking better responsibility for our data – is high on the minds of business leaders.

As I was writing this trend I had the opportunity to interview the head of research for one of the largest technology companies in the world. He told me that we still don’t really know how to make AI “safe,” because all this data we are collecting can predict and recommend actions that might be biased, single-minded, or ultimately just dangerous. Of course tools that predict attrition or recommend new learning programs are useful, but what happens when systems “recommend a salary” or “recommend a performance rating?”  That kind of software can change our human behavior and clearly changes our perceptions of an individual.

With the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation, a new EU regulation) now becoming law, companies must do a much better job of managing, stewarding, and securing data about people. Too many stories have come out about data leaking into the wrong hands, and often the ramifications of this release are not initially known. While the HR profession is very excited about the opportunity to finally use analytics to make better decisions, this year our research shows a need to focus on privacy, security, governance, and “auditing” of these systems in a much bigger way.

#3. From Careers to Experience: New Pathways

This trend, which has accelerated in importance each year over the last four years, is the one I personally think is most important. Everyone in the working world is now concerned about the future of their career in a world of AI, robotics, and ever-changing technologies and jobs.

I’ve done many presentations on the Future of Work in the last 18 months, and in every case I find people astounded about the way new jobs are being created at a faster rate than we have seen in decades. Today the jobs of “machine learning engineer” (which didn’t exist three years ago), “social media curator,” or “robotic system trainer” are growing at astounding rates, while all our traditional roles in sales, marketing, finance, and HR are changing as well.

What we found in this research is that companies now understand that their “upward path” career models are often very limiting, so they want to create models for “facilitated talent mobility” – models that give people hope, new skills, and continuous development in areas the company needs. But this is turning out to be harder than they thought, and the tools and systems to make this an institutional process are not quite ready.

The L&D market is going through a revolution and new tools for continuous learning are arriving this year, so this trend will be one you want to read.  I would put it on the top of your list of issues to address this year.

#4. Well-being:  A Strategy and a Responsibility

I was at a recent meeting of HR executives and one of the vendors cited a statistic that blew my mind: one in six Americans now take a psychiatric drug to help with depression, anxiety, or sleep[1]. In today’s digital world of work, there’s a new level of stress in the workplace, which in turn creates a variety of issues with sleep and well-being, which in turn creates medical conditions (heart disease, diabetes, overweight, etc.) that reduce our health.

The trend is not that healthcare is an important benefit for employers: rather the trend is that this is now a strategic issue that impacts workforce productivity, profitability, and employment brand. As I’ve surveyed this market and talked with many companies about this issue, I think we’ve reached a point where “employee engagement” is almost a meaningless phrase if it does not embrace the need to “make work healthy” and help people bring their “best selves” to work every day.

I won’t cite all the statistics here, but as you read this trend you’ll see that well-being is now a key corporate strategy and one that must be measured through performance and productivity metrics, not simply those that reduce the cost of insurance.

I think this topic also crosses the boundary into citizenship and responsibility – if you are not building an organization that helps people stay healthy and happy you are not fulfilling your responsibility as an employer, and that impacts your customer brand.

The leading practices for well-being at work are all being invented now, as our organizations become more “real-time” and demanding by the day. I think you should read this trend as a wakeup call and think hard about whether you are putting the right level of focus and energy into this topic.

#5. The Hyperconnected Workplace: Will Productivity Reign?

As a professional in my early 60s, who grew up in companies that had no voicemail, no email, and no electronic communications at all (except fax machines), I am particularly sensitive to this trend. Today, whether we like it or not, we are all “over-instrumented” and “overloaded” by messages, communication tools, and more intelligent systems telling us what to do.

At this point in time, based on the research we’ve done (and many of my own studies), I believe we work in an environment where technology is ahead of our ability to adapt. As we talked about in last year’s trends, economic productivity has not kept up with economic growth (or salary increases for that matter), and this is a funny paradox when you consider how many successful technology providers there are.

As we discovered in this trend, almost every company now has multiple systems for messaging and communication, we are all implementing internal social networks at work, yet we have very few rules, models, or practices to help people figure out how to use all this “stuff” without wasting their time.

I met with a vendor last week who has developed algorithms to monitor your email traffic and office calendar, and immediately give you recommendations on when to “push out a meeting” or “not respond to a message” in order to give you more thinking time to be productive. Our latest L&D research found that employees have only 24 minutes a week to “learn” on the job, so a new breed of micro-learning tools are emerging to help us time-slice our development.

As we discuss in this trend, this is a problem yet to be solved. I certainly hope that AI and analytics tools will give us smarter suggestions about what to ignore and what to do, but unfortunately we are all human and we often respond to things in ways we cannot fully understand.  (Look at how easy it is to create “clickbait” on social networks).  Let’s not let our companies turn into “clickbait” factories for our people, and in this trend we tried to give you some examples of how to deal with this issue.

#6. New Rewards:  Personalized, Agile, and Holistic

This trend is one I’ve been wanting to write about for some time, and I think the time has come. As a global business and HR community, there has been a lot done to make jobs more flexible, make careers more agile, and help managers become better coaches and mentors to our people. But what we have not yet done is figure out how to pay, reward, and recognize people in a way that is similarly modern and “digital,” in this new world of work.

I’m not saying people aren’t paid enough – the trend in compensation is upward and companies are now working very hard to improve fairness, transparency, and completeness in the compensation world. What is missing is a new design for agile, personalized, and holistic rewards, one that is relevant to each individual and gives organizations the flexibility to offer just what is needed at the right point in time.

The compensation and rewards industry is massive, and in most companies salary and benefits are the single biggest expense. But when we asked companies if their compensation strategies aligned to the company’s business priorities, we were shocked to see that only 20% of companies answered yes. This has to change.

Today, as we discuss in the trend, organizations need to do a much better job of paying people in ways that matter to them, creating more transparency in the process, and giving people more information about why compensation decisions are made the way they are. Everyone feels personally invested in their pay, bonus, and benefits, so in many ways this is the most powerful lever we have as leaders.

Just to give you a sense of the disruption ahead in this area. One of the larger payroll providers told me in the last few months that they see a trend toward “instant pay” – people getting paid every day for the work they did that day. Bersin recently started providing services for “conjoint analysis” of various pay and benefits programs (letting employees value how much they truly mean to them, rather than evaluate them based on the cost), and found that different segments of employees have vastly different desires for how they want to be rewarded.

These are important issues, along with the topic of fairness, gender pay equity, and generational pay equity, that have to be addressed now –and they fall into the category of “being a good citizen” and “focusing on the employee experience,” not just “being competitive in the market.”

#7. Citizenship and Social Impact: Society Holds the Mirror

This topic, which was rated important by 77% of companies around the world, is the one where companies feel the most behind (51% feel unready to deal with this issue). Why? Because it’s quite confusing and often unclear what to do.

The issue we write about here is the need for CEOs and business leaders in general to take a stronger position on their responsible role in society. While business leaders are not “elected” like politicians, in many ways they are “elected” by their boards and employees, so they must think about everyone in the ecosystem in the interest of the company.

Companies themselves, as Larry Fink from BlackRock and Marc Benioff from Salesforce have stated often, are valued based on their responsibility to society, so even CEOs who don’t want to deal with this issue are being asked to be more active in public issues. A recent articledescribes the conundrum “activist CEOs” face in their jobs and points out that while any position you take on social issues is likely to alienate someone, your employees and shareholders now want you to say something. So it’s not a topic that can be ignored any more.

I won’t go much further here but let me cite one more interesting fact. A recent study of product buyers was asked to qualify their buying preferences for vendors that had CEOs that took strong positions on social issues vs. those that did not. They found that random customers were 40% more likely to buy from companies who’s CEOs took positions they felt good about than those who did not, so the power of dealing with this issue is high.

#8. AI Robotics and Automation:  Humans in the Loop

This is a trend we all see every day:  companies are now waking up to the fact that nearly every job (including HR) is being impacted by AI and automation, and there are a wide variety of new jobs being created. As I like to describe it, AI does not “eliminate jobs” it “eliminates routine work” which in turn creates new jobs.  And as economists have found, only about 6% of the jobs in the world are focused on “building machines” (ie. Software engineers) so 94% of us have to learn to “use the machines,” again changing how we do what we do.

In this trend we highlight how quickly companies have awakened to this trend and how well they understand the topic. What they do not yet know is how to redesign jobs, how to redesign work, and how to build the new skills that are needed. And in the realm of HR, AI and cognitive tools are radically changing the landscape.

One of the issues we raise in this trend is the need for business and HR leaders to understand that AI is a technology, not a solution. It may create smarter decisions and higher quality outputs, but it has to be monitored and trained. And AI is dependent on data, so in order for companies to have great cognitive solutions for customers or internal operations there has to be a strong focus on quality data.

I believe we are in the first inning of a lot of job and organizational redesign driven by automation and AI, and this trend highlights some of the issues to consider.

#9. The Longevity Dividend: Work in an era of 100 year lives

This trend is a fascinating one, and opens up a topic that most of us understand and will live through in our lives. We are living longer, we are working longer, yet all our talent models, pay practices, and cultural values have not yet adapted to the change.

Let me highlight this issue with a few facts.  In most developed economies the birth rate is below replacement. This means that in order for the economy to grow, we are going to need more people – so the economic incentive for people to work longer is here.

At the same time, we still live in a world that highly values youth. We are just coming out of a decade of research on Millennials and now the Gen-Z workers are here. This cohort is similarly skilled and ambitious and there is a tendency for business and HR leaders to leverage these groups. I was at a meeting with 200 of the top execs from a large client and the CEO looked around the room and said “there are almost no Millennials in here, we need to fix this.”

I absolutely agree. It’s important to build companies that promote, develop, and challenge young people and companies that do this find themselves filled with new ideas, new work practices, and lots of excitement and growth.

At the same time, the baby boomer population is almost as big as the Millennial cohort and as baby boomers work into their 70s, 80s, and beyond, they make up a similarly important segment of the workforce. Today I believe we are “negatively biased” against age (the Deloitte Human Capital Trends 2018 study found that 41% of companies believe “age is a competitive disadvantage” in their organization). Yes, older people might make more money and older people may have older skills, but believe me (spoken as a 62 year old “young person”), we are just as anxious to learn, contribute, and grow as anyone else.

As we discuss in the report, there are some innovative programs and ideas out there, but generally speaking most corporate talent models do not understand or incorporate this “seasoned workforce” well. I won’t try to solve the problem in this article, but let me simply leave you with the thought that this will become an increasingly urgent problem and the sooner you think about it the better.

#10. The Workforce Ecosystem: Managing Beyond the Enterprise

The last trend, but by no means an unimportant one, is the recognition that the “workforce” of today is not a set of full-time, salaried people. We live in a world where contingent, gig, and crowd-based workers make up a significant percentage of the workforce and these “alternative work arrangements” are now the fastest growing segment.

Our research found, as we have seen in prior years, that companies are not yet ready to deal with this new world and while some embrace these alternative work arrangements well, most are nervous about how to manage this ecosystem well. Companies are concerned about legal issues, intellectual property, proprietary work practices, and a variety of cultural challenges.

As we have all seen in the ride-sharing and home-sharing industry, these are problems that can be solved. Once you come to the conclusion that your workforce won’t all be full time salaried people, it’s simply time to sit down and decide how you want to manage this new part of the ecosystem. There aren’t quite enough HR tools and systems to do this easily yet, but as you’ll see from the research the market is moving fast.

My research shows that most of us still do like to be part of a “team” or organization in our careers, but there are periods of time and many individuals who prefer to work as contractors, agents, or specialists. Thanks to technology this is easier than ever, and our research shows that companies that learn how to manage this ecosystem can create a new, more flexible balance sheet and often move faster, gain deeper skills, and grow at a much faster rate.

Bottom Line:  A New Paradigm for Business is Here

As I look back on all we’ve studied for this report and the ten trends we highlight, I am left with the conclusion that “being a social enterprise” is a paradigm shift in management. Not only must we deal with the ten trends above, but we have to recognize that business today cannot operate by only considering employees and customers. We now need a set of strategies, investments, and values that reflect the broader role businesses play in our society.

We are not trying to say that every company has to become an activist organization in their industry. But our research does show that over time, companies do have to “do good” in order to “do well.”

In the short run, you can make lots of decisions that optimize revenue, profits, and growth. But over time, as your business grows and the influence of society impacts you more, you will run into the pressures of “being social” and we believe it’s better to understand this issue earlier rather than later.

I hope our study gives you the insights and perspectives needed to help you understand the “rise of the social enterprise” as well as some new ideas, strategies, and solutions to make your organization thrive.