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The HRD according to Darwin: adapting the organisation to the digital

Posted by: ADP on 5 April 2016 in Human Capital Management

To guarantee the process of digital transformation, your organisation must be open to learning. Who other than the human resources director has the essential levers on hand to help the organisation succeed in this transformation?

In a questionable environment about business models and their consequences on  established companies, never have Darwin’s statements rung more true for companies: “Though nature grants vast periods of time for the work of natural selection, she does not grant an indefinite period; for as all organic beings are striving, it may be said, to seize on each place in the economy of nature, if any one species does not become modified and improved in a corresponding degree with its competitors, it will soon be exterminated.”

If the digital transformation field is perceived by 73% of CEOs (Forrester/Russell Reynolds 2014 Digital Business Survey), the HRD aren’t its standard-bearers. And yet, it’s from the heart of the organisation that change should come, precisely via the HR function’s scope of action.

Digital transformation and business model changes

For too many companies, the digital transformation still consists of developing the online sales, converting the marketing to digital, and even changing client relation channels. Although these changes are essential, they should not conceal a deeper requirement.

For, beyond research of new channels and new offers, it’s the value proposition and the way in which it’s delivered that should be transformed. It is for example, a brave choice that 3 Suisses made to abandon paper catalogues, to not only change the “format” but also the entire underlying value chain of the distance selling. This means they deliver offers continuously, over 10 collections rather than 2 seasons.

The learning organisation: A necessary condition of the transformation

Yet, if the transformation of the business model fails for an established company, perhaps hustled by more agile newcomers, it’s often due to organisation stiffness,  which restrains the company from transitioning from the old to the new world faster than its competitors. The changes to make are often known. It’s the decision on whether to implement which may lead to failure.

The set-up of a learning organisation that is first capable of unlearning by chasing its certainties, means betting on cleverness, innovation, experimentation and therefore on one hand, internal cooperation and the other, on opening to the outside world.

An efficient baseline: the 7 components of the organisation according to McKinsey (7S) 

image1McKinseys’ 7S offers an efficient analytical template to align an organisation. For, developing a learning organisation means acting on each of its levers. We offer here a key question for each of the components in order to bring the new learning organisation in a digital world. Each HRD can therefore clearly evaluate its current and ideal level of contribution in the digital transformation.


1) For the three “hard” organisational components:

  • Strategy: How to develop a decision and planning mode which will foster membership and innovation, by decentralising the power as much as possible?
  • Structure: How to modify the management lines to quit the vertical subordination logic and develop a horizontal cooperation one?
  • Systems: How to change the daily activities and procedures to foster agility and adaptation to evolving background?

2) For the four “soft” organisational components:

  • Common values: How to push forward values to blend into the company DNA everything that promotes transparency and collaboration?
  • Know-how: How to develop collective skills, “resources” for the organisation, to deliver the new value proposition on new channels?
  • Leadership style: Beyond the structures and values, how to align the leadership style with the transparency and exemplary imperatives?
  • Teams: How to grow associates levels of expertise, offering a double challenge, the one of developing relational and behavioural aptitudes, and the one of elevating the technical expertise level against an increasing complexity?

The HRD is in the best position to act on transformation levers for the entire organisation

The HRD certainly hasn’t yet identified its primary role in achieving transformation of the business model and its crossing point – the setting up of a learning organisation. The leadership taken by the Marketing Director, Information System Director, or even by the Digital Director dedicated in this digitised transformation can certainly hide the key role of the HRD.

And yet… the “soft” components, can be under-estimated, although evidently powerful and under complete control of the HRD. Regarding the “hard” components, they must be an intense exploration field for the HR function: structure modifications, by the adjustment of physical and virtual spaces but also the management lines and project management; subsidiarity implementation faced with an increasing obsession for centralisation; modification of the decision making modes and of the strategy planning by fostering diversity and participation rather than prescription…

HRD friends: Darwin invites you to unfold all your transformational levers!

Each company must take Darwin’s “ultimatum” very seriously: it must adapt itself faster than its competitors. This speed race, made complex for established companies facing new-comers, requires that the HRD to grab hold of the organisational transformation field, cause and condition the success of digital transformation. Setting up a learning organisation is a challenge that only the HRD can bring to life through its 7 components. In this new position, the HRD can reinforce its duo with the CEO and give the function highly added-value missions on which to focus and concentrate on.

By Stanislas de La Foye, VP Strategy and Marketing

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TAGS: Darwin digital transformation Human Capital management Human resources human resources director

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