Digital Transformation: How and Where Your HR Team Should Start
Samantha McLaren

By: Samantha McLaren on July 30th, 2020

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Digital Transformation: How and Where Your HR Team Should Start

Digital Transformation

Est. Read Time: 3 min.

Most HR teams recognize the importance of digital transformation. But when it comes to identifying and implementing necessary organizational changes, how do you actually get started? This was the subject of a recent webinar by Human Resources Executive, sponsored by PeopleDoc and moderated by Steve Boese, HR Technology Conference Chair. Joining Steve were two digital transformation experts from HR advisory firm IA: Mary Faulkner, a senior advisor, and Kimberly Carroll, managing principal. 


All too often, Mary and Kimberly see companies getting stuck in a state of inertia for so long that, when they realize massive changes are needed, they rush to implement new technology in the hope that it will solve all their problems. Unfortunately, this often results in a “lift and shift” mentality, with teams repeating the same inefficient or ineffective processes, only with different tech. While modern HR technology can be a game-changer, digital transformation is about more than tech alone, and there are other changes that need to happen before you can realize the full potential of these tools. 


“Technology is just the way that you are executing on the transformation that you want to have,” Mary explains. “Technology is the glove, and the organization is the hand that makes that glove work.”


To avoid simply lifting and shifting, which may result in a costly failed transformation, Mary and Kimberly recommend adopting a continuous improvement mindset that fosters sustainable change. Here’s how and where they say you should start.


1. Start now—because the “perfect” moment does not exist

One reason that companies give for holding off on making necessary changes is that the timing wasn’t right. But if you’re waiting for a perfect moment, you’re going to be waiting forever, because there’s no such thing. 


“Most organizations will never be ready,” Kimberly says. “You don’t want to wait until you’re too big. You don’t want to wait until you have time, because you’ll never have time.”


That’s not to say that timing has no impact. If you’re making a change that requires many hands on deck, for example, you might not want to do it during the holidays when half your team will be out. But in many cases, there’s no time like the present. 


Something you can do today to get the wheels turning is to review your company’s process documentation, from core HR and onboarding to payroll, benefits administration, and recruiting. You may find that opportunities for improvement immediately jump out at you. 


“A lot of organizations don’t understand the nitty-gritty detail of their process,” Kimberly says. “There’s a lot of handwriting on those processes, so they’re not up to date.”


2. Start small—because small changes add up to huge improvements

After reviewing your processes, you’ll likely come away with two or three (or more) that could benefit from immediate work and simplification. At this point, pick one small area to focus on—say, new hire onboarding—and create a more detailed process map that outlines what happens at your organization from end to end for that specific process. This shouldn’t take more than a few hours, and the results can be eye-opening. 


“We have seen it be so cathartic for different teams to go through this process,” Mary says. “Because it helps lay bare all of their pain points, it shows where all of the hand-offs truly are, it shows where there’s rework, it shows that there’s duplication of effort—but it also highlights this work that you do every day that nobody sees.”


Once you have a map of your current state, build a map that details the ideal future state you want to reach. In all likelihood, you’ll spot a few small changes you can make right away without requiring any higher approvals. 


There may also be bigger changes that need to happen, of course. But ultimately, this exercise serves two key functions: helping your team internalize that there’s a better way of doing things, and helping you achieve vital leadership buy-in.


“It goes a long way to help leadership understand all the things that are happening that you would love to be able to fix with their support,” Mary says.


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3. Start smart—because a plan will illuminate the path forward

With a clear picture of your ideal future state in mind, you can then put together a roadmap of the steps you need to take to get there. 


At this stage, build a priority matrix to ensure you’re tackling projects in the smartest order. This shouldn’t be based on who shouts the loudest—it should be an objective view of which projects are the highest priority, based on whatever criteria are most important to your organization (e.g. value to the customer or ROI). 


That said, your priorities are likely to change over time, and your plan should change with them. 


“The plan is a living, breathing document,” Kimberly says. Reviewing it on a quarterly basis is the best way to ensure it’s still aligned with your needs and that you’re making meaningful progress. 


4. Start collaboratively—because no one can do this alone

The final piece of advice that Mary and Kimberly offer is to get the right people on board from the very beginning. Collaboration and communication are critical to the success of any transformation


“Big or small change, if you try to do it in a vacuum, it will fail,” Mary says.


Even if you don’t think another function needs to be directly involved in a change you’re making, if it affects them, they deserve to be involved in the conversation. Otherwise, people may get territorial about who owns what. 


“You’re fostering and building a relationship so that, going forward, it’s just second nature to confer with one another,” Mary says.


The most important step is getting started

When companies don’t know where to start with digital transformation, they often don’t start at all. But transformation doesn’t have to be a huge, scary thing—unless you put it off until massive changes are needed. 


“Not everything has to be a huge change,” Kimberly says. “If you have a continuous improvement mindset and you think through the changes that need to happen, they could be small. They could be incremental.”

One small change that can have an outsized impact is switching to paperless employee files. To discover a four-part framework that can help you start making this switch today, read our eBook, The Complete Guide to Digital HR Document Management.

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About Samantha McLaren

Scottish-born Samantha McLaren is a copywriter and editor with a specialty for the recruiting and HR space. She has written dozens of articles on topics ranging from employee retention and engagement to employer branding, company culture, and management strategies.