People + Strategy Journal

Fall 2020

From the Guest Editor

HR has a responsibility to consider: how do we keep our people safe, productive, included and engaged while also enabling our organization to be successful during this new quantum shift across nearly every aspect of organizational and personal life?

By Joe Whittinghill, Microsoft

Digital Transformation Goes Beyond Technology

joe whittinghillThe business, technological, social, political, environmental and financial disruptions the world faces today are changing organizations and people more than contemplated or planned for by most. We are in the early stages of the Digital Age, and it has come with challenges beyond technology that are being (or will need to be) urgently addressed. 

Adapting to these challenges has proven to be more difficult though benefits are emerging that are more encouraging than projected. It is not easy to find an organization that is not affected by the Digital Age or under pressure to adjust to it. We focused this issue on what will allow an organization and its people to adjust to digital. And through this process, we have found this may be one of the most important times for HR professionals in the short history of this profession. It is our belief that HR has a responsibility to consider the following: how do we keep our people safe, productive, included and engaged while also enabling our organization to be successful during this new quantum shift across nearly every aspect of organizational and personal life?

We wondered about the current reality of these times: 
  • How can an organization’s strategy, design, culture, values and purpose enable employees and leaders to navigate uncertain times? 
  • What are the features of agile organizations that operate at scale? 
  • How does an organization and its people learn new skills and capabilities to ensure success? 
  • How can HR professionals engage to help organizations and people given all this change? 
In the articles that follow, we hear about the success and failure of individuals’ ability to respond to crisis and leadership abilities to lead through crisis. We are seeing human resiliency in action as we collectively rise to the occasion and figure it out when the path forward is less clear than ever. We are seeing organizational agility and learning to be paramount to forging ahead. 

Chris Worley discusses how agile organizations are designed and how they change. In order to orchestrate multiple and continuous changes, his team developed the engage-and-learn model to accelerate change rather than attempt to control it. Worley encourages HR to separate traditional transactional and shared services from the HR processes that drive competitive advantage and change.

Bob Johansen challenges us to think through what humans do best and what computers do best. While at times overwhelming, he contemplates that the future is more promising than ever. He also provides his insights on the evolution of the HR function and encourages readers to explore the symbiosis between humans and machines. He goes on to make a persuasive case to HR leaders to embrace technology, lead the effort and re-invent the HR function accordingly. 

At Schneider Electric, the concept of digital innovation was well underway and familiar before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Rather than beginning to create a new strategy to incorporate digital innovation into their current work environment, they focused on accelerating their digital transformation. This acceleration was driven by the need to maintain engagement with many existing communities as well as rethink internal business processes like a digital talent management platform. The authors point to their culture and core values as a key enabler to navigate uncertain times.

The Coca-Cola Company’s cultural transformation was grounded in the belief the company’s adaptation to change and growth was dependent on becoming a learning organization. For the 134-year-old company, this means unlearn, re-learn, re-tool and re-invent. Like many others, the global pandemic accelerated their efforts to become a learning organization and also refresh their approach to be inclusive of a virtual, integrated learning environment. They emphasize that leadership is a key that will unlock the door to success faster and more durably than other factors. People are looking for continuous role modeling and humility from their leaders. Humility leads to listening, and listening leads to learning. 

Many cultural transformations begin with a revised mission statement. For both Coca-Cola and Microsoft, the mission has become the company’s purpose. For Microsoft, the purpose became a north star that employees could align their own passion with and find opportunities within the company to live their purpose. 

The way we work and how we interact with each other will be different. We are all on a journey and the stakes are much higher. Both organizations and people are counting on HR to help guide and lead them through. I hope the concepts brought forth in this issue provide thought-provoking and actionable ideas for you on your journey.  

Joe Whittinghill
Corporate Vice President, Talent, Learning, and Insights