How Microsoft is driving digital HR transformation

HR should play a lead role in building a dialogue with managers and employees on how technology can work for them in driving a digital transformation program

HR should play a lead role in building a dialogue with managers and employees on how technology can work for them in driving a digital transformation program, according to the head of HR for Microsoft Australia.

People can either be a key driver or barrier to tech adoption within a business, depending on their buy-in to the process, said Ingrid Jenkins, director of human resources for Microsoft Australia.

Technology can also be used to vastly improve HR processes for employees and managers, resulting in a snowball effect of positivity and paving the way for even greater digital transformation within a business, she added.

“For example, through technology, employees and managers can directly self-serve and readily access information as needed to do their job,” said Jenkins.

“It can also provide greater access to staff development through digital; opening up more training options and increasing cost efficiencies.”

As HR practitioners continue to evolve as thought leaders within businesses, Jenkins said technology solutions can further support productivity within the HR function.

“This can help free up time, which can then be spent on strategic HR initiatives which will drive greater business growth and impact,” she said.

“It means it’s important for businesses – and the HR departments within them – to get on the front foot and proactively re-think their people plans”

Digital transformation is a significant change program, and Jenkins said HR has an opportunity to play a lead role by partnering with business leaders on how they undertake digital transformation programs to ensure the organisational culture – how the organisation operates and what it values – complements the digital transformation agenda.

This includes helping team members understand the ‘why’ of the transformation and the potential upside for both the company and individuals.

“This should help facilitate stronger staff engagement and lead to a smoother implementation of new processes,” she said.

“Even if organisations don’t consciously want to transform their operations to use the latest digital technologies, they will need to if they want to remain competitive in attracting and retaining the best talent.

“It means it’s important for businesses – and the HR departments within them – to get on the front foot and proactively re-think their people plans to support a digitally transformed work environment.”

The next five years will bring further disruption, and Jenkins observed an interesting interplay between technology and the workforce happening already.

“Digital tools can provide more flexibility and choice for employees and can therefore help with attracting and retaining the best talent,” she said.

“Further, this technology is widening the talent pool.

“By breaking down geographical barriers, organisations have an opportunity to think more broadly about sourcing talent and employees also have the opportunity to think differently about their working arrangements as they move through their careers and life stages.”

“There is no ‘right’ approach to implementing digital changes within an organisation; all transformations are unique to each individual business”

Microsoft has been an early adopter of digital capabilities, and Jenkins said the company has put a number of initiatives in place in order to bring staff members into the process of digital transformation.

One example of this is in Microsoft’s marketing function, and Jenkins said global marketing operations have been overhauled over the past two years to take advantage of the latest digital technologies to meet the needs of sales teams and customers.

“As part of this shift, we moved from a sales-driven to a buyer-driven purchasing process,” she said.

“We expanded our view of the customer journey to connect with customers through multiple marketing channels, and have replaced a high volume of low-quality leads with high-quality leads generated using marketing automation techniques.

“We have been ‘testing and learning’ from the experiences within our organisation and we’re not alone: most leading organisations have only just started on the path to digital transformation, undertaking change in the past 12 months.

“There is no ‘right’ approach to implementing digital changes within an organisation; all transformations are unique to each individual business,” said Jenkins.

“However, we see value in focusing on small ‘shapeshifts’ towards one wider ambition, rather than a complete business overhaul implemented at once.

“You need a story that draws a compelling line between digital initiatives, the organisation’s vision, and how that ambition translates for individuals.”

Jenkins said the benefit of this approach is that it minimises complexity and confusion within the organisation, and helps build support as it continues wider transformation.

“A fundamental component of success is ensuring the organisation’s culture complements its digital evolution and that change is communicated effectively”

A key ingredient to successful digital transformation is the organisation’s cultural evolution, and Jenkins said it is important to build a mindset to support and build innovation.

“Like any major change program, it’s important that cultural levers, such as performance management, reward and recognition and talent creation, complement the wider strategic objectives of the business in context of the digital world,” she said.

A measure for success when it comes to digital transformation is a corporate mindset geared to change: from leaders compelled to push innovation to a dedicated staff energised by change, Jenkins added.

“This ‘growth mindset’ is a pervasive success factor, and is more important than the need for the latest technology and gadgets,” she said.

“It helps build a culture that accelerates transformation, propelling the business through disruption.

“For HR, there is an exciting opportunity to partner with leaders to build an environment that embraces learning and empowers all employees to own innovation in their day-to-day roles.”

Like any other strategic business change, Jenkins said HR professionals need to ensure that they remain relevant and are evolving their people strategies to complement the digital transformation agenda.

“A fundamental component of success is ensuring the organisation’s culture complements its digital evolution and that change is communicated effectively.

“One of the biggest fears from employees is being made obsolete by technology but is easily combatted with a clear dialogue around any change, outlining its positive implications for individuals and the business broadly,” she said.

“Transformation is underpinned by a digital mindset that is a unique interplay of technology, people and process”

Microsoft recently launched a new report, Embracing digital transformation; Experience from Australian organisations, which is based on qualitative interviews with 30 senior leaders of business and government organisations.

When it came to digital transformation journeys, it found that most organisations were opting for a ‘test and learn’ approach involving discrete projects and experiments, rather than business-wide structured programs.

These smaller shifts allowed for fast iteration, encouraged buy-in from the rest of the business and reflected the pace of change in digital technologies.

Leading organisations typically transformed the customer experience first, using data to win, grow and retain their customer base or better serve citizens.

They then moved on to other areas, including empowering employees, optimising operations and transforming products and operations.

The research also found digital transformation requires a pro-innovation corporate mindset ahead of the right technology.

Successful transformation programs had buy-in across the business and were supported by strong leadership, an entrepreneurial culture and a pipeline to digital skills.

Organisations fell into two groups based on the extent to which they exhibited these traits: proactive and embracing organisations made transformation a top priority and empowered their people to pursue it, while motivated but constrained organisations often found their digital efforts hampered by internal obstacles.

Proactive organisations also recognised the importance of questioning existing business models and experimenting with news ones, but only a handful were acting on this as part of the digital transformation process.

“Transformation is underpinned by a digital mindset that is a unique interplay of technology, people and process,” said Microsoft Australia’s MD Pip Marlow.

“It is adopting this mindset that we believe truly puts an organisation on the path to digital transformation.”

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