‘Don’t forget the people’, firms rushing to digital transformation are warned

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UK organisations are hampering their digital transformation efforts by overlooking the people and skills aspects of transformation, and focusing too heavily on technology.

That’s the finding of new research from Capita Resourcing which reveals that 82% of HR leaders say their workforce needs to improve its skills in order to get the most out of digital transformation.

94% of HR leaders report difficulties accessing the skills their organisation requires to support its transformation objectives, and the research reveals that many of the most significant transformation challenges facing organisations are skills-related . More than a third (36%) of businesses are suffering due to a lack of leadership skills and experience of running change programmes, whilst 35% are finding it difficult to predict future jobs and skills requirements. Beyond this, 29% are held back by a lack of digital skills amongst their workforce and 28% are hampered by a lack of access to high quality digital talent.

More than 200 HR leaders at companies employing more than 100 people reported that their organisations have primarily focused on technology within their digital transformation programmes, in terms of resource, investment and time. Only 33% felt that culture and people have been a key focus in their transformation strategies up until now, and only 35% stated that skills had been prioritised.

Geoff Smith, Executive Director at Capita Resourcing, said: “Our research has clearly highlighted that digital transformation is about so much more than just technology. Organisations must start to realise that transformation always needs to be workforce-driven, and it’s therefore essential that the HR department plays an important role, to identify and access the skills required at each stage of the journey, from planning and design, through the change programme itself, and beyond. In doing so, HR can protect and establish the right culture and behaviours within the workforce. HR leaders need to step up and work alongside their counterparts in IT to ensure that organisations take a holisitc approach to transformation.”

Smith continued: “With access to high-quality digital talent so challenging, HR leaders need to adopt new thinking and embrace new approaches to bringing these skills in to the business. The organisations that enjoy most success in their transformation efforts will be those that can create agile workforces, adopt channel agnostic approaches to recruitment, develop their own talent pools, and instil cultures of continuous learning across their workforces.”

More than three quarters (76%) of HR leaders believe that HR has historically been an afterthought in digital transformation and only half (50%) are satisfied with their own involvement in digital transformation initiatives. 84% would like to take more of a leadership role in transformation initiatives but many are currently held back by a lack of skills and confidence.  A fifth (20%) cite a lack of leadership experience, whilst a similar number feel that a lack of time (19%) and a lack of senior support or sponsorship (18%) is preventing them from taking a central role.  Worryingly, two thirds (67%) of HR leaders say they are worried they are falling behind in their personal knowledge of technology and new ways of working.

On a more encouraging note, however, HR professionals do feel that they can have a positive impact on transformation initiatives by taking on a leadership role in a range of areas. These include ensuring that existing staff are given the opportunity to develop the skills that the business will require post-transformation (96%), and identifying current skills gaps in the organisation (95%). Beyond this, HR departments can take a leadership role and ensure the success of transformation initiatives by creating and maintaining an agile workforce, conducting regular employee pulse checks throughout the transformation change process, and promoting a digital mindset and culture of learnability across the workforce.