Workforce Digital Transformation Summit in Amsterdam – Key Take Aways

I’ve been participating in the Workforce Digital Transformation Summit taking place for two days in Amsterdam at that just ended. Two intense days of interesting presentations and discussions, covering a variety of topics all focused on Digital Transformation and the effects on companies and HR. 

Day one of the Workforce Digital Transformation Summit

Moderator of the day was Sven Sommerlatte. Besides being VP, Head of Human Resources of Sanofi, he also manages a blog, and a busy Youtube channel focused on Leadership and Management. His introduction covered the four key questions that were also the backbone of the event:

  1. How is Digital transforming our organisations?
  2. What Workforce do we need to respond to the Digital Requirements of the Future?
  3. How is Digital Impacting HR?
  4. How do we need to Transform HR?

He made a very compelling case for the need for reconsidering the entire concept of Digital Transformation. Particularly interesting his point of view on the Workforce Needs, as he referred particularly on the Skills Shift that is happening, with the evolution not just on technical skills, but rather on the increased relative importance of social and emotional skills.

Another critical message he gave is that Digital can become a strategic differentiator for HR as it can enable the HR roadmap of the future. I don’t entirely agree on this (and I have mentioned this later on in my intervention), but it depends on what we intend as Digital. If we think of the technology component, then I believe that it quickly becomes a point of parity, not differentiation. Technology is instantly available to everybody.

It was then my turn to speak, with a presentation focused on Building Strategic Capabilities for HR. I’ve presented my experience at VF, and the complexity of going through this journey, concluding on the vital message of putting Human back in HR.

Fig.1: My Presentation

After the break, we had a presentation from Monique Hopmans from Ingram. Her focus was on The Future of Workforce. She also reinforced the message that we need to beyond traditional hard skills: we need the right personality with the right mindset. An interesting point she made was around the evolution of the Workplace. As we move to be able to work anywhere, how is this acceptable for all cultures? Not having an office, is it ok for everybody?

We also need to consider the Social Value we create in the work of the future. We cannot just dismantle the traditional employment contracts, without considering alternatives. How do we define the new contracts? How do we redefine the way we work together?

It was then the moment of Meredith Taghi from Deutsche Post DHL. I had already seen a presentation during the HR Congress in Nice, but her point of view added some flavour on the journey they are doing. Her presentation title was Talent Equilibrium – Is achieved via an Experience, not a Process. I loved her definition of how Talent Management is sometimes felt. 

Reasoning on Experience instead of Processes is a key learning. But she also shared some more. The first concept is that Managers should not be in the way of developing experiences. An interesting message as when we think of careers in some organisations, often it’s the (current) manager the biggest blocker. The other important maturity element is to move to a Skills-Based organisation, moving away from roles. If we could have access to “Moments of Skills” we could be much more efficient. Instead, we still have to reason on full roles, with all the side effects.

The model is currently implemented in the workforce segment they identified as “Knowledge Workers”, and has had a quick buy-in both by managers and people fed up for being identified just for the function they belonged to. Interestingly also a note about its implementation: the Skills System has been implemented in conjunction with the Compensation Team, as this built a solid business case.

After lunch, I moderated a Panel Discussion with SvenCamilla Ellehave from Rockwool International and Floor Scheffer from Tata Steel Europe. The title of the session was Navigating the HR Revolution. We chatted about the role of HR, and what the transformation means for our function. Camilla had some powerful points of views on how digitalisation will also affect the more traditional industries: the role of HR should be preparing the organisations to survive the impending transformation. As we looked again at the future of work, Sven even wondered if the entire concept of the organisation as we know it, from Adam Smith, should be put under discussion.

Next was Hanna Summa who presented the case study of HR Transformation for Pöyry, a company that just rebranded as Afry. It was interesting to note how HR Transformation was for them a key component in the entire Business Transformation process of the company, who needed a turnaround after having been almost bankrupt. One critical comment she made was that the company, during the difficult years, had put up more and more controls, process and policies in place, getting into a negative spiral that killed the much needed entrepreneurial spirit.

Camilla came back on stage and talked about HR Analytics. With a compelling presentation, around the concept of analytics as a key asset for HR as a business function.

Marta Olmos from Amadeus presented a very detailed use case on how her company approaches HR Transformation Projects and particularly HRIS Software selection. Interesting her recommendation to move away from the traditional project cycle, as it reflects a sales approach, and move into a process that looks at objectives rather than requirements and is more agile.

Then Floor came back on stage to present how a large steel operator is approaching Digitial Transformation. Interesting to notice its focus on competency mapping of digital and technology roles, as the organisation needs to “pump” its technology muscles.

The last presentation of the day was by Fernando Almeida from TE Connectivity, who spoke about the impact of digital transformation on Workforce Planning. He presented in detail their workforce planning methodology, and how this sits within the organisation business processes. Interesting to note how the widening skills gap is making this more challenging, especially as he suggested that the traditional Build vs Buy model does not work anymore. The proposed solution is a “Six B Model” where together with the conventional Build (train internally) and Buy (i.e. recruit) four more ways to obtain required skills are added. Borrow from an external partner, Bind by focusing on retention of critical talent, Bounce by removing poor performers and Balance by elaborating alternative scenarios. Workforce Planning becomes so the canvas of the entire People Strategy.

Lots of content for the first day!

You can follow the content of Day two on the next page!

Day Two of the Workforce Digital Transformation Summit

I had the honour of chairing the second day and started the day with a quick recap.

Fig.2: The Event Banner

The first speaker was Bjarte Bosgnes chairman of the Beyond Budgeting Roundtable who spoke on Beyond Budgeting as an enabler for Agile. I will come back on the concept of Beyond Budgeting as I have his book on the topic in my reading list. I thought his key messages, particularly around the need to think in terms of Management Innovation and not just technology.

He spoke a lot of the Illusion of Control that many of our management processes give (and Budgeting is one of these). The goal instead needs to be to move to full transparency as a way to avoid too many controls and checks. In Equinor, they translated this in an approach named Ambition to Action, which is a process to translate strategy and manage the risk that enables the required transparency and flexibility. This process also delivers a continuous dialogue on what to measure. Nothing happens just because we measure it.

It was then the turn on the stage of Kiki Van Den Berg EVP HR at RaboBank who spoke about Transforming Workforce and Scaling. She brought the experience of scaling Agile ways of working to a team of approximately 3000 people, and the challenges faced. She stressed how this approach could bring happiness in the Workplace, that she defines as being able to give a meaningful contribution to the business, feeling the success of your achievement. One of the critical lessons they learnt in scaling agile was that of syncing the organisation on one way of working and one “rhythm”. No more different sprint length per team, but one unique “heartbeat” across the org.

Frank Theilen VP Digital Transformation at Emerson, looked at Digital Adoption Challenges. His point of view was interesting as he looked at the challenge of adoption from multiple angles: Leadership, Employees, Customers. He looked at how business leaders can adopt innovation mindset, how employees will change behaviour in their adoption journey, and how customers can adopt new services through the usage of MVPs as a platform to share value.

After a short break, it was the turn of Sarah Clark from General Assembly, sponsor of the event. Her intervention was about the failures in Digital Transformation. She presented many data points from different sources but focused primarily on the key reasons why some transformation fail. Human Factor is on top. 

Then Joelle Carrere from AkzoNobel has spoken about Data Visualization. She covered the challenges of bringing back different business units and functions under one unique umbrella and focused on the centrality of Master Data Management in this. On HR data, the challenge that persists is the scepticism of many. 

After lunch, we had Asif Sadiq from The Telegraph who covered the critical topic of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging. He made a couple of fascinating points, challenging widespread assumptions on current Diversity and Inclusion practices. We tend to put people in boxes based on one attribute, usually the more “visible” one. The issue is that Intersectionality is a reality. People belong to multiple groups at the same time, and they often don’t recognise themselves in the most visible one. In this boxing then we often forget Men. We don’t do enough on talking to them on the importance of inclusion, which then creates the reaction and results in defensive behaviours. We need to redesign our processes taking into consideration all diversities, whereas instead, we tend to do this only applying a concept of “normal” that doesn’t exist. This applies to new technologies and algorithms, as well.

We then had a panel discussion on the topic of HR Technology and Change Management, moderated by Fernando de Almeida. Frank Theilen, Hanna Summa and Meredith Taghi took part. The key outcome here is that HR technology implementation is always a journey. HR comes from a period when it fell in love with all new shiny objects, implemented the, but did not really reason in terms of their added value (which BTW I think is the reason of why so many investments in HR startups have happened). HR needs to learn more with technology partners on this, and especially take the bull by the horns and own the change management part.

The two last presentations were from Clara Jakubik from Keolis and Erzsébet Malzenicky from VEON. The first was about the implementation of a Digital Academy for the entire population of Keolis. A considerable endeavour especially for the employees (think bus drivers) not connected to the company’s IT systems. It was a tremendous journey. Still, with a strong commitment of the leadership and thoughtful thinking of the content, it became a great example of how we can spread digital literacy in our companies. 

The Veon case was a bit of a “hit” on our stomach. Most of the companies participating in the event did not come from technology. So we all felt the discussion to be about something that is still in the future somehow. Veon is a telecommunications company, with operations in many emerging countries. For them, Digital Transformation started ten years ago, as they were transforming ing mobile…and has never stopped!

Her conclusions were an excellent summary of the entire event. Simplicity is a crucial attribute for success. There is a tendency to create complexity, but this will not sustain the test of time. We need to think holistically, as technology is affecting everything: employees, customers, partners. And we need to think about all their individualities. We need to use data to gain credibility and define our decisions. And we need to consider at transformation as a long journey against a moving target, not one process. 

Summing Up

The Workforce Digital Transformation Summit was an exciting event, with two days of full immersion. The first conclusion is that nobody has a silver bullet on this topic. There is not “One Solution”. It’s the world of trial and error and learning around the way. But for sure, the issue is on everyone’s agenda.

The second significant point is that it is not a destination but a journey. And this is the most significant change in our mindset. We then need others in our organisations to also understand this, which calls for an essential role for HR in shaping authentic digital cultures.

Last but not least, the change will happen whether we want it or not. It’s in our power to define which role we want to take in this. 

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Sergio Caredda

Digital Knowmad | Multipotentialite | HR Leader | Transformation Agent | Future of Work thinker | On a mission to re-embed Human into HR.

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  • Brief, interesting and straight to some of the key points to building up the future workforce.
    I like your belief that the technology component isn't a differentiation, especially if access to it is really instantaneous. But is it the case today?

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    • Hi Massimo! Issue is that technology can be easily bought now. True in most cases is not immediate, but it is also true that the differentiation points among technologies are not many. HR can differentiate in the way it adapts processes to deliver significant experiences, using tech intelligently

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