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The Digital Dawn


Change is inevitable in business, but the digital revolution is at the heart of many recent shifts in the workplace.


When the BBC announced in July that it was to cut 415 jobs from its news department and create 195 new digital positions, it was a clear message about the organisation’s future – and the organisation is far from alone.

Mike Cornwell, Chief Executive of The Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing, in the UK says:

“In the beginning, digital was really about a change in emphasis in marketing and communication but it’s now about complete organisational change.”

Many HR functions are already playing an important role in helping to go beyond observing digital trends (and where the organisation falls short), and actually develop the talent to make and lead new trends. This new generation will be those who code, develop apps, build websites and work on digital initiatives such as search engine optimisation (SEO) or social media, and will be led by the people who can understand and drive digital strategies.

This is not an IT issue and it isn’t restricted to the technology sector. Annika Joelsson, Global Head of Talent Development at market research company Ipsos, says HR professionals need to move towards a strategy of ‘HR from the outside in’:

“It’s not sufficient any more for HR to only look at what’s going on inside the company and react to that. HR needs to understand the societal and demographic trends and come up with constructive proposals and strategies.”

These changes to the workforce can take many forms. Kirsten Oates, Head of People and Culture at media agency Maxus UK, says, “In three years since I joined Maxus UK, SEO has grown from one person to a team of 12, while our effectiveness team, which deals with analytics and econometrics, didn’t exist at all. It now has a team of six, working across different projects for the business.” The need to continuously learn and adapt to a fast-changing market, says Oates, means Maxus is looking for people “who have the ability to lean into the change to a digital world; who will be open to change and want to work with it.”

A great example comes from the HR team at telecommunications firm Telefónica O2 UK. “We asked one of our interns in HR what she thought of our induction,” says Ann Pickering, Group HR Director for O2. “She said it was a bit paper-driven, a bit ‘chalk-and-talk’, a bit PowerPoint. My response was: “Well, go away and do something about it.”

The intern, who had a background in computer science, created an app so good that Pickering is rolling it out across the entire company. “It’s outstanding,” she says, “but what was so interesting is that it wasn’t a big deal to her. She blew me away but she was quite surprised at my reaction.”

Skills Schools

It is increasingly apparent that digital skills are relevant to nearly every role, whether that it be junior, senior, technical or strategic, and Cornwell reports growing interest in some of the Institute’s more general courses, which provide a broad base of generic digital skills:

“The amount of information that organisations have at their fingertips now can be incredibly instructive, in everything from customer services to lead-generation,” he says. “But businesses need to understand how all the channels work together in harmony, and plan for that level of integration.”

And the digital revolution hasn’t ignored HR. The proliferation of digital channels such as LinkedIn for recruitment has forced HR professionals to embrace new ways of working, says Sarah Sandbrook, HR Director At IT business T-Systems Ltd, and the change shows no sign of slowing.

“We’re catching up internally, and are putting our induction process online and making sure that all of the things that are available for our employees via laptops and desktops also work on phones and tablets.”

“But the biggest thing for us really is to make sure we can anticipate where trends are going and that we’ve got the skills, tools and technologies in-house to really leverage that. We have to make sure we’re ahead of the curve.”

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