HR gets digital (in 48 hours)

When the CEO is demanding across-the-board action on “digital transformation”, sitting still is no longer an option for HR. Laurence Smith shares the difference that can be made toward HR becoming digital-savvy in just two days.
By: | April 16, 2018

Scenario: The CEO is demanding action on “Digital Transformation!” Marketing is doing more “digital marketing”. The IT team is implementing new systems, doing something called “Agile”, and possibly even launching a chat-bot or two.

What should HR do for its part? That can be a difficult question if you’re not ready to take these first steps into the world of opportunity that is the digital space.

You know that the future of your organisation depends on digital transformation, but you’re not yet clear on how to process? You know that HR should be enabling this Digital transformation, but don’t quite have a clear roadmap in your mind?

But you’re smart enough to realise that HR itself needs to get “digitally-savvy” before it can help the rest of the organisation, and you’re looking for how to get started.

Sound familiar? This article provides a process, based on my work at DBS and various other organisations, that works with HR teams at both the global and local levels.

I was recently privileged to facilitate a two day workshop on Digital Transformation for the regional HR leadership team of Moet Hennessy. This was initiated by two visionary HR leaders, each very different: one European, Frederic Chardot, and one Asian, Jayesh Menon. What unites them both is a burning desire to have HR become a powerful enabler to their organisation, even though their industry is arguably one of the most immune to digital disruption and non traditional competitors.

We broke the challenge down into three phases which proved to be an effective formula.


Phase One: Preparing for the digital world.

We first created a fun and engaging way to get people to start learning about the digital world. This had the benefit of subtly breaking down any fears through greater familiarity and encouraging people to engage with topics that might normally have seemed scary or intimidating.

A “Digi-Challenge” playlist with content on artificial intelligence, big data, and analytics, blockchain, and design thinking, was rapidly consumed by the team, driven by both the intrinsic desire to learn and the gamification mechanics and leaderboard built into the mobile micro-learning platform* we used.

This campaign was started two weeks before the workshop itself with an email sent out by the Head of the Region, clicking through to an introduction module explaining the purpose of the overall initiative and workshop. This also encouraged participants to learn with the promise of prizes for the top three at the beginning of the workshop.

Each Friday before the workshop, the Learning Coordinator would then send out a screenshot of the leaderboard, congratulate and recognise the top three and any fast movers, while discretely encouraging anyone slow to make a start, and reminding them that each piece of content was only five minutes long.

The outcome of this was that everyone started learning about various aspects of the digital world, and, almost through subliminal absorption, started reducing their nervousness about digital as they picked up more lessons and ideas. We also created some custom content for them on new and surprising innovations and disruptions in their particular industry (this set up a specific objective for the second day of the workshop).


Phase two – Understanding the digital world

By the time of the first day of the workshop, there was a degree of excitement and eager anticipation. We started by looking at some of the data and insights from the Digi-Challenge, ranging from the self-assessments to people’s opinions on the likelihood of each of the industry innovations being truly disruptive and threatening.

The rest of the morning was dedicated to learning about the “Digital World”:  and the “Uberfication and datafication” of everything, as well as learnings from DBS Bank.

The afternoon was ‘outside-in’ with an overview of the HR Tech space by Adrian Tan, and showcases of two innovative HRTech startups, TrustSphere and PyMetrics. We then headed off to IBM to see Watson and learn more about Cognitive Computing.

The outcome of the first day was a combination of shock and awe. The Shock among participants came at the degree of disruption driven by digital in general, but also the potential impact on their industry – one they had long regarded as pretty much immune to digital disruption due to the extensive legacy and strong brand values.

The awe, as they started to understand the opportunities offered by HR Tech, Cognitive Computing, and – most importantly – the beginning of an awareness of the critical importance of building a digital mindset.


Phase three – Acting in the Digital World

The second day of the workshop was more hands on, with a crash course in Design Thinking and an experience of prototyping an original app. This was followed in the afternoon by an examination of the 6D’s model of digital disruption, considering how this impacts the beverage industry, and also looking in more depth at various disrupters and non-traditional competitors in their industry.

After a virtual tour of Moet Hennesey’s innovation lab in Europe, we closed by spending a couple of hours challenging ourselves to think deeply about what this all meant for HR, and agreeing on next steps to bring the learning to life.

The Design Thinking crash course leveraged an exercise from Stanford’s dSchool (Design), and was based on a process we did with the top 200 managing directors at DBS a few years ago. In three hours it enables them to get hands on with design thinking and prototyping in a way most had never experienced before.

After lunch, we focused on exponential thinking and the implications of the Steven Kotler and Peter Diamandis model of the 6D’s of Tech Disruption, which is – to my thinking –  the most powerful framework for viewing today’s world of digital disruption. It makes you consider some fairly significant implications for your industry and organisation.

We ended, of course, with action planning and thinking through what extra projects could be created to bring digital mindset to life within the HR function.

The outcome of this was a shared experience of digital disruption and an understanding of some of the vital tools for being digital and a determination to take the rest of HR on a similar journey.

The Moet Hennesey HR team

The Moet Hennesey HR team

Well, that’s the official story of what we did – now here’s what really happened….


Behind the development

Upon reflection, one of my key learnings from the whole ‘Digital Mindset’ initiative at DBS, which included the famous and award winning #DBSHackathon series, was that you had to take people through a journey of self discovery and re-invention. And we did an accelerated form of that in these two days.

Most people when encountering “digital transformation” for the first time respond either with vague curiosity or a burning denial. For the majority, this fear of the unknown generates a strong “fight-or-flight” response and “denial of digital”, while not a viable long term strategy, is extremely seductive in the short term.

Here’s what we did. Day One was all about taking them “from Denial to Despair”.

We spent the day blowing their minds with the speed, velocity, and intensity of digital disruption. We gave them so many examples from all industries, including their own, and all walks of life, that they could no longer deny that digital disruption was real; that it was impacting everything; and that artificial intelligence was a real threat to jobs, possibly even their own.

But Day Two was all about building their confidence. We had them take a crash course on Design Thinking – 80% had never done that before. We had them build their very own first prototype app using Marvel App as a prototyping tool.

We helped them see how easy it was to quickly experiment, prototype, and iterate. In three hours, they learned that this stuff is not hard – in fact, it’s great fun! They learned that every single one of them was capable of creating a prototype in a morning, and some of what they produced was really good!

In the afternoon, we took inspiration from a virtual tour of their own innovation lab, observing how many cool things their own organisation was working on, and then – and only then – we started thinking about how HR shapes this future.

What we had learned was that ‘with Confidence, comes Capabilities.’

Building digital mindsets

We then split into groups and worked on how HR can frame and describe “Digital” so that there is a common working definition that they can share with their teams and stakeholders to guide their efforts moving forward.

A proliferation of post-it notes on flip charts finally led to a few potential definitions, the one they settled on was: Digital Mindset is enabling new, agile ways of working and experimenting.

As a final action, we decided on next steps and various project plans were proposed. But most interestingly, the participants decided that ‘Digital Mindset’ should not be an extra project. Not because this wasn’t important enough to warrant extra effort, but that it was so important that it should rather simply be the way work gets done.

So they decided that their biggest priority was to apply this digital mindset to as much of their work as possible, and make it both the new mindset and the new way of working.

In two days, with a little ‘pre-learning’ to reduce the anxiety, we’d taken them from “Denial”, through the trough of “Despair”, and then rebuilt them with a new found confidence about digital. Finally, we started them on the path of their own learning journey to new capabilities and a truly digital mindset.


Laurence Smith

Laurence Smith

Laurence Smith is the host of HRM Asia’s Digital Mindset forum, and regularly contributes articles on how technology is changing the way workforces, and HR, operate.

The third and final part of this series will be an interview with Jayesh Menon, HR Director of Moet Hennessy Asia-Pacific. on his vision for “getting HR digital” and making HR an enabler of transformation. Watch this space!