With the conclusion of the second edition of the Digital HR Summit in Amsterdam, it’s now time to reflect on some of the key messages and concepts we learned more about at the event.
The progression of HR as a function and as a profession has been marked for a number of years by the ever-closer union between HR and the business. This union is showing no signs of slowing down, yet at the same time, there is an emerging complexity in the form of digital technologies that has begun to make its presence felt. These technologies are growing in importance and relevance, and quite simply are going to augment the manner in which not only HR functions on a daily basis, but also how the business, the workforce, and society does too.
The questions that digital technologies and digital transformations therefore present to all businesses are nebulous. On the surface, the complexity is manifested as business challenges – questions of strategy, culture, and leadership. Beneath each layer however lie a number of hugely complex economic and sociological challenges (from Robotization to ‘Employee Experience’), each with the potential to change the way organizations operate and how work takes place.
To dive into some of these topics (and hopefully advance the conversation), The Digital HR Summit Amsterdam featured 20+ international HR experts, speaking across two interactive days of workshops, keynotes, panel discussions, and break-out tracks. With 140 attendees, the event proved to be an intiguing collection of both HR and business professionals eager to learn more about one of the most fascinating areas of modern business.
Digital HR and Digital Business – Some Key Learning Points
Advanced technologies, AI, and Robotics are here to take the administrative burden away from HR in its everyday operations
Let’s face it, nobody likes to have to do administrative tasks. But for the longest period of modern history, somebody has done them. In the world of HR, administrative HR has been in a sense, the backbone of HR’s operations and a core supporting role in the functioning of the business. However, with the advent of more and more advanced technologies, AI, chatbots, and other such tools, these administrative tasks are no longer going to have to be managed by HR professionals. This potentially frees up many people to move into more meaningful roles, and of course, can help the business save more time and money. This is not a new concept, however over the last year or so it’s become increasingly obvious that this is a new operational standard by which all HR functions will be held to.
The adoption rate of AI by organizations is still very low on a worldwide scale
Despite the obvious business impact that advanced digital technologies, AI, and robotics will have on the business (and we will have to talk about the ethical concerns too), a very small minority of organizations globally have adopted any such tools. It is estimated that around 6% of companies have implemented some form of AI or cognitive tool. As such, there is an enormous potential for change throughout various industries and markets that are currently not using these technologies. This gap makes it all the more essential for informed HR professionals to pivot into a leading role as a driver, shaper, and strategic change agent. It’s clear that the transformation is coming, but how it will actually impact companies and individual industries is the more pertinent question.
“Digital transformation starts with talent first. Get the right people on board, they will figure out what to do, then co-create job descriptions together”Mark Vlaanderen, Head of HR, Philips IT
Job crafting and adaptive learning will become essential for personal career development and organizational growth
As technologies influence the types of work available to the market, and as companies change and evolve to deal with new pressures, it’s unsurprising that there is going to be some significant changes for how the workforce is constituted. HR is not only going to have to balance implementing and leading organizations enhanced with AI and other cognitive tools, but they are going to have to re-structure and re-constitute how works takes place for the people of their organization. Some people will lose their jobs to robots and AI – but it is utterly essential that new jobs will have to be created to help displaced workers. Furthermore, HR has an important mandate to develop a learning and development strategy that ensures jobs are crafted to give new opportunities and meaning to work, as well as to make employment a sustainable feature of a future society.
The emergence of Agile HR
Agile has been so overused as a term in the business world it almost hurts to have to write about it again – but there’s a reason why it’s so popular. All businesses are aware of the need to be agile, resilient, anti-fragile, adaptive (and so on), yet HR has been largely left out of this conversation till now. It only makes sense that if the business is to change to become more agile, that HR must too. However, agile for HR isn’t just about transplanting a new methodology into the HR department – oh no, it’s about how HR can lead business transformations, leverage new technologies, work distributed, become more decentralized, develop flexible talent practices, create agile teams, re-invent performance management and much more. We’ll be developing some more Masterclasses on this topic soon!
HR professionals who possess AI competencies will be the successful HR professionals of the future
With an increasing sense of inevitability, AI will find itself as a core part of virtually all organizations. HR professionals are not only going to have to be aware of the use and implications of such technology on the business and its people, but they are also going to have to be skilled and competent in using AI for the best potential impact. This isn’t to say that HR people (as with many other business professionals) need to be technically proficient in a field beyond their current skill set; but that they need to be adaptable enough to learn about AI and how it can inform the work that the organization will rely on to drive profitability and longer-term viability.
“It is the job of leaders to keep the sense of purpose alive, so when human energy is combined with technology, real positive impact can take place”Gerard Penning, EVP HR Downstream, Shell
The term HR is a polarizing one. On one hand, it captures a rational if somewhat impersonal view of the role that HR plays in managing the employees of a given organization. On the other, it can be moderately inappropriate (I mean, nobody really wants to be called a resource), and arguably fails to signal the complexity of what HR as a profession today does. As we learned during the Summit, it seems likely that as HR has got closer to the business, it will also need to get closer to the people in the organization. HR must begin to understand the people of the workforce, their motivations, goals, aspirations… because with the emerging changes in the market, one thing AI can’t do (just yet), is manage the complex and meaningful relationships between humans in all their imperfect, dirty, glory.
HR needs to learn about technologies and the business; but in the end, HR should learn about how to be a better partner to people too
Following on from the previous point, it’s worth to re-emphasize that HR professionals simply must learn to be a better guide and partner to the people in the organization. You can upgrade tools and strategies all you want, but if you don’t step into the space where human relationships matter, you’re fundamentally missing the point. HR needs to become human centric, it needs to be more than just an executable arm of the business – it needs to be a center of human excellence, an ethical guide, a barer of opportunities, and a trusted source of authenticity. Because in a time where technologies are going to out-strip many ways of doing business and change the interfaces of society, HR leaders in particular must be a personable source of leadership, hope, authenticity, and opportunity at work.
Last, but certainly not least of all – the entire team behind The Digital HR Summit series would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who helped make the event a great success. From our valued attendees, fantastic speakers, supportive sponsors, venue staff and partners – without all of you we would not have been able to pull it off!
We hope that you will join us again in the future for another event on the topic of Digital HR – or perhaps something a little bigger in Nice later this year!
The 4th HR Congress Nice, November 19-20 will feature a selection of sessions that will explore this topic and much more! Follow the HR Congress Blog for more interesting ideas and content from around the world of work!