If you are the CHRO in a company where you have a strategic role, then you must understand what the CIO is facing in the digital world. When it comes to evolving the IT organisation, it is likely the CIO either “gets it” or doesn’t. If they get it, you can be a valuable partner. If they don’t get it, you could play a role in potentially saving the company. So what is the evolution that is needed? Why does this matter to a CHRO?

We aren’t going to tell you the specifics. We’re going to help you figure it out on your own.

First, let’s look at the type of technology organisation that existed prior to 2007, when the digital/mobile revolution truly took hold. This of course coincided with the launch of Apple’s iPhone. The most vivid example of how the world changed is easily seen when comparing brick-and-mortar traditional retailers to purely digital competitors such as Amazon. The enterprise technology that drove, and very often still drives, traditional brick- and-mortar businesses is not technology designed for rapid modification. The technology connections were built around the concept of a Bus running on hardware sitting in data centers, while their purely Internet-based competitors had much more flexible connection infrastructure and were based in the cloud. While there are many other significant differences, at their core purely digital companies think differently about their technology and have the benefit of running and working on technology that has been nimble from the start.

The result of this new commercial paradigm is truly coming to a head. Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers are cutting back and failing at an alarming rate. Online commerce is exploding exponentially. If traditional retailers had adopted nimble, cloud-based, modular systems architecture more rapidly, they may have actually had an advantage: the ability to deliver to customers in both the digital and physical worlds. Instead, they often lagged on the digital side and eventually suffered from disintermediation and the slow demise of the physical marketplace.

Hopefully you are not asking what this has to do with the CHRO. Hopefully you concluded that a strategic CHRO, playing an active role on the company’s executive committee, would have been looking at technology from an organisational perspective while the CIO was looking at it from a technological perspective. According to Phil Fasano, former CIO of AIG and Kaiser Permanante, “these perspectives are complementary, with a natural opportunity for partnership on the digital agenda between the CHRO and the CIO.” This strategic CHRO would have been at the front of this revolution by keeping a finger on the pulse of change in the organisational designs and operating models of digital competitors. Doesn’t the CHRO own the people strategy? The CHRO should not simply be an order taker, but should instead be aware of new trends and business strategies because these things ultimately determine the organisational design and the people strategy. By reading this, perhaps you have concluded that if you are a CHRO and your colleagues are not staying ahead of the curve, you are in a terrific position to play a big role in waking the company up to the potential need to evolve. That’s why this is important to CHROs and why they must be prepared to meddle if necessary.

Thinking like a CIO, and understanding the needs and challenges related to evolving a legacy platform into something new and nimble, would have led a CHRO to suggest changes in organisational design and individual competencies. Since the CHRO is responsible for ensuring that the company has the right people in the right place at the right time with the right competencies, then they must continually be out front looking at the competitive landscape and collaborating with their colleagues who run businesses and critical functions like IT. In terms of human capital analytics support, Krishna Nathan, CIO at S&P Global, offers advice: “With the advent of AI and Big Data, a CHRO in today’s world should insist on collecting and analysing vast amounts of data. How can you analytically predict attrition? Identify those employees most at risk? The CHRO needs to ensure that he or she collects the appropriate data so that the CIO’s teams can derive meaningful predictions from it.”

So what are some key HR differences between legacy company technology organisations and their digital competitors? From an organisational design perspective, the digital competitors are more likely to have operations and application development working in unison. This creates a closely tied app DevOps workflow that enables the rapid change. These companies locate technology personnel as close to the coalface as possible often enabling them to co-create with an actively involved customer base. From a workforce competencies perspective, the differences are significant and meaningful as well. While there is an old saying that you “go to war with the army you have,” that should not be a long-term approach. Over time, but as quickly as possible, the people strategy must evolve so that the organisation has the new critical competencies necessary to succeed. Companies today are facing thought-provoking build-vs-buy decisions around this new breed of talent. They hunger for a “shot in the arm” from people with new skills and, often, new mentalities – but then often struggle to integrate two disparate workforces. “Reverse onboarding” can be required – in what ways will the existing organisation’s culture change to better include and enable new (and badly needed) talent? In this regard, to include reskilling in talent strategy can be powerful, especially when the workers who are chosen to be reskilled have been thoughtfully selected for having a robust ability to learn.

Taking the big-picture view, there is in fact a competency set that is common to successful digital companies and is measurable.

Our research lays out five measurable competencies for digital sustainability, which correlate strongly to growth in gross profit margins.

  1. Discipline and focus

Tech organisations must be clear on what digital means to their specific organisation, and be prepared to execute effectively and single-mindedly toward that vision. Prioritisation of the right initiatives is critical, as is repeatability and scalability.

  1. Connectivity

For a tech organisation, the key to connectivity is setting up vibrant ecoystems to let both internal and external collaboration flourish. Joint learning and co-creation is the order of the day.

  1. Openness and transparency

For the sort of collaboration that enables connectivity to flourish, open and transparent communications are a must. Tech organisations that demonstrate this capability empower their people; all voices are heard in a fully inclusive environment where decision-making occurs on a public stage.

  1. Empowerment and alignment

Digitally sustainable organisations empower the parts of the organisation that sit close to three key sources of value: customers, talent, and data. For a tech organisation, then, putting as much authority as possible in the hands of those who touch data is critical. Such organisations then align the entire tech organisation around the shared digital journey to further drive the ability for the frontline to make decisions in the moment without fear of missteps.

  1. Agility

Agile technology organisations plan and execute in parallel, make decisions quickly, and don’t shy away from risks. Our research shows such organisations are populated with highly learning-agile executives – who are 18 times more likely to be high- potential than their peers.

Why are these competencies important, and how do they translate to concrete business activities?

Let’s take the example of agility. Korn Ferry research demonstrates that agile organisations have 25% higher profit margins. Why? We’ve identified three components that drive the kind of agility needed for a digital world: first, the aforementioned learning agility among executives; second, rapid decision speed; and third, lean management. Think about an organisation that truly displays these three traits. It can explore new areas easily and pivot quickly to anticipate disruption. Without an abundance of layers in between the frontlines and top management, the right customer information constantly flows in and enables better strategic decision-making. Agility may sound abstract, but it in fact fuels very palpable outcomes.

Accordingly, as the CHRO, you should drive a heat-map exercise to determine the abundance or lack of these competencies within your organisation, more broadly as well as in the IT organisation itself. After all, what good is a strategy if you don’t have the capability to execute? Like it or not, organisational capabilities are derived from the aggregate competencies that reside in the workforce. If the competencies are not there, your organisation does not have the capabilities it needs. It is as simple and as complex as that.

So, as a CHRO, we encourage you to think like a CIO and, yes, meddle if necessary. After all, it isn’t meddling; it’s really your job.

To learn more about what it takes to be digitally sustainable, download The Korn Ferry Digital Sustainability Index Report and join our webinar series.

 

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About Contributor

Melissa Swift is the Global Leader for Digital Solutions at Korn Ferry Hay Group. She is charged with driving the development, alignment, and marketing of innovative solutions for digital transformation offerings. Melissa partners with clients to understand their deepest challenges in the digital arena, and to address those challenges in novel and comprehensive ways. She is a frequent speaker and writer on the digital topic and her research has been published in such venues as Harvard Business Review and The Wall Street Journal.

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