Leveraging Human Capital to Win in the Digital Age

Michelle Moore Article

As the pace of technological advancement accelerates, organizations in every sector around the globe are facing the impact of digitization in almost everything they do. 

Whether it be new digital business models, digitized business processes or the use of technology to improve client and employee experiences—almost every organization has shifted their attention to evolving their digital maturity.

Many organizations make the mistake however of thinking that becoming more digital is as simple as investing in new and innovative technology. The reality is far more complex. While becoming a truly digital organization does require investments in technology—it also requires new partnerships, processes, and different organizational, leader, team and individual capabilities.

At an organizational level, competition often comes from non-traditional threats and staying ahead of this phenomenon takes true innovation. This is no easy task as innovation inevitably requires shifts in corporate culture. Innovating also requires changes to the risk profile, and many organizations, especially those in highly regulated industries, are not that comfortable with that concept. Innovation also requires agility, faster decision making and accelerated project cycle times. This can also prove to be challenging in any organization, and even more so in those that are traditional and hierarchical.

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Becoming a more digital organization impacts the type of work that teams do, and how teams work together must be optimized and radically changed as they focus on becoming digital. Launching more innovation projects means that teams will frequently find themselves in conflict and doing things they have never done in the past. They will also have more pressure to achieve results more quickly. To be successful, new and different skills and knowledge may be required. To get things done the current trend is to parachute in contractors or resources from other ecosystem partners. These individuals must assimilate quickly within environments that are often quite dissimilar from where they have come. They must also effectively work within diverse teams that demonstrate agility to achieve challenging goals with tight timelines.

At an employee level, pressure is increasing on both leaders and individual contributors to evolve their mindset and upgrade their skills to work more efficiently and effectively in the new digital environment.  Research has proven, that for innovation to truly succeed everyone in the organization needs to adopt an owner’s mindset. People also need to continuously think in a client centric way, constantly looking for opportunities to do new and innovative things that benefit their customers, exceeding their expectations, while delivering better business results. At the employee level, they must learn to better leverage technology tools to increase personal productivity, and work in more collaborative ways with a broader group of stakeholders.

In this new and demanding reality there are four things that human resources professionals and business leaders can do to increase the likelihood of success:

1. Put the right people in the right jobs
Talent has never been more critical. Organizations must be proactive and think carefully about structure, job roles and the skills and expertise required to plan and execute a digital strategy. They also need to find the right people, place them in the right roles, and ensure they thrive.

The starting place for a new talent strategy should be to understand and explore the talent that already exists inside the organization. To do this HR leaders need to ensure that tools and processes exist (or are rapidly implemented) to help leaders and employees have effective career conversations. Redeploying current talent can be a great way to accelerate success and build stronger engagement by matching skills and interests of current employees with the needs of the organization.

If outside talent is required, organizations need to think carefully and creatively about the best way to find and get what they need. As dramatically different skillsets may be necessary throughout a digital transformation, planning shorter term strategic assignments to be completed by experts may be more effective than hiring one person permanently who may not possess all of the capabilities required.

Leveraging talent that exists within the organizations of ecosystem partners is also a good option.

Finally, as the barriers between humans and machines disappear, HR professionals and business leaders will have to learn to leverage technology, automating different tasks to complement the human workforce.

2. Grow strong accountable leaders

Strong leadership at all levels is another key factor in success. Organizations need to first establish if they have the right leaders—those who can beat the competition and avoid disruption by setting and executing an innovative strategy. Strategic workforce planning capabilities and complete succession plans that consider emergent skills are imperative to ensure business continuity as leaders retire or move into new roles either within or outside of the organization.

Accountability is imperative at all leadership levels. Competing in the current business environment is more challenging than ever before, and leaders need to be prepared to make tough decisions and hold themselves and others accountable for results.

3. Teach teams to be more effective

Without effective teamwork and cooperation, innovation will not work. Collaboration does not come naturally to everyone, and teams are becoming more diverse, which can lead to conflict and prolong the time to becoming fully productive. Organizations need to make sure that individuals and teams learn how to work iteratively and synergistically, and to minimize or avoid unproductive behaviors. Training that focuses on teaching team leaders how to align their teams and maximize individual and group performance needs to become part of onboarding and the leadership curriculum. Early identification of underperforming teams is important with provision of appropriate support to get back on track. 

4. Manage change proactively
As organizations continue to evolve, HR professionals and business leaders cannot forget about the importance of change management. In today’s world, change is not an event, it is continuous, and will only increase in pace. Neglecting change management during times of digital transformation can lead to employee disengagement, increased employee turnover, innovation project failure and dissatisfied customers. In best practice organizations, formal change programs and processes are part of all digital planning, and skills like resiliency are taught to all employees to ensure everyone is keeping pace in the new normal.


Surviving and thriving in the digital business world is not without its challenges. Digital transformation however also presents tremendous opportunities for organizations to better meet current and emerging client needs and even reinvent industries.

What is important to remember is that the organizations that succeed won’t be the ones focused on technology alone. Those who harness the power of human capital within the rapidly changing context will be the winners in the digital age.

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