Digital – the new HR space?

Tim writes…

Last week I attended a great event called ‘Our Digital Future’ run by the Liverpool City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). The aim of the day was to bring together people working in the Digital and Creative sectors to discuss the skills and business support that are needed to enable those businesses to grow and thrive. We had some excellent keynote speakers and some fascinating table discussions, facilitated by the Liverpool Girl Geeks.

In my last role, I was both Head of People and Head of IT. From the outside these two may look like strange bedfellows and, frankly, sometimes, this was true. Managing a complex employee relations issue one minute and attempting to negotiate a national network upgrade the next was always an interesting switch to make – but the disciplines have more in common than you might first think.

The digital skills gap is becoming an increasing problem and HR needs to get involved. Automation, ever-increasing social and digital technology, AI, augmented reality…. all coming to a workplace near you in ever increasing amounts. A recent Government report said that 90% of jobs require already digital skills to some degree and concludes that the digital skills gap is costing the UK economy £63 billion a year in lost GDP. Whilst some organisations are already thinking about this stuff, many are not. But those that aren’t could soon find themselves left behind. Permanently. Disruption is probably one of those annoyingly overused words in the modern business world. But digital disruption is happening to all sorts of business models and will continue to happen. No organisations and no business sectors are immune from its challenges and opportunities.

Dan Rubel from Shop Direct spoke on the day. He talked about their evolution from the catalogue-driven Littlewoods organisation to now, where they see themselves being as much of a tech business as a retail business. A mindset many organistations need to adopt – and HR too. As Dan said, ‘underpinning our digital success is our people’.

It was going round and round in my head that this is our space and it is time for HR to step up – and, in some cases, to catch up. We can’t just be the people people any more. We need to be the people people who can also do tech. In the past, the tech side of a HR role probably amounted to advising what the Acceptable Email and Computer Systems Use Policy ought to say about discipline (we do love a snappy policy title in HR don’t you know). But now we need to be thinking about the impact of technology and digital on our businesses. Right now and in the future. How is it going to change our business, our sector, our marketplace? Will our employees have the skills to be able to help change the model? If not – what are we going to do about it?

For HR professionals, it starts with you, now. This is a big opportunity. Get the skills. Understand the landscape. And then help others at your workplace to do the same. Your employer and your colleagues will be indebted to you and it will have a lot greater organisational impact than the Email Policy, I promise you.

It’s hang back or get ahead time.