Who owns Digital Transformation?

Who Owns Digital Transformation?

There appears to be a constant discussion about Who Owns Digital Transformation. I wrote already in the past that I think that HR needs to play a vital role in this journey. A recent survey by Talent Garden in Italy goes one step further. It arrives at defining that 32% of the interviewed people think that the Chief People Officer should drive the transformation.

Who owns Digital Transformation? 1
Fig.1: Percentages of Answers to the question “Who is leading Digital Transformation”. Source: Talent Garden HR of the Future

As an HR, I should be flattered by such a result. However, there are a few issues. First, the survey involved 500 HR managers. It does not mean that the results are wrong but poses for sure the question of how “objective” is the point of view of the respondents. 

Second, the understanding of what Digital Transformation is, pose already some concerns. 52% of the respondents to the survey thinks that Digital Transformation is just the “Digitization of processes by the introduction of new technologies”. Only 30% thinks of Digital Transformation as a new way of conducting business or managing a relationship with customers. 40% of the survey respondents admit that they don’t have clear what Digital Transformation really means

Third, when the survey looks a bit more rooted in what HR thinks to be able to achieve in Digital Transformation, responses are again pretty limiting. At the question “What contribution can HR Bring to Digital Transformation” 34% of respondents identify “Process digitisation and change management”. 27% identifies” new People Management practices”. 23% “Employees Service & Process Digitization”.

A true role for HR

Let’s face it: HR today in most organisations doesn’t have the credibility to Own Digital Transformation. But it can lead the way, and enable the transformation by creating the necessary added value for the organisation to thrive in a new digitised world. 

If I can interpret Chiara Bersano’s comment on the research done by Talent Garden: It’s our sacred role as vectors that HR should play in leading the way towards digital transformation.

Conclusion

I think that the work that Talent Garden is doing on the front of Digital Transformation is innovative and relevant, especially in the Italian cultural context. Their goal of developing an actual Digital HR is genuinely innovative. But we cannot forget that Digital Transformation will not be achievable without full ownership by the business in the organisation.

This is a crucial element. Also, at a recent event, we discussed what role HR should play. We need to take the lead on the cultural side of the transformation. But we don’t have to confuse this with full ownership of a change that goes down the inner DNA of most organisation. Yes, we have the tools (such as Organisation Design, and Matteo Sola recognizes this in the intro to the research) to facilitate and even orchestrate the transition. But we can only succeed if there is a genuine business commitment of all functions in the organisation.

And you? What do you think about Who Owns Digital Transformation?

Sergio Caredda - Blog Signature
  1. Great post. I have been in situations where ownership of digital transformation and strategy is not clear and really is not successfully initiated until there is clear sponsorship from an executive. In my opinion the executive that really needs to own this is the sponsor who will be respected and able to resource and fund the project. I would say the largest thing is there needs to be a commitment on the transformation from the executive and other teams. Most transformations touch many areas of an organization and the commitment within these teams and across the organization is the difficult part. HR and Organizational Development Departments in my opinion are often pulled in to lead as they can affect the workplace culture and reach across the organization the easiest. In my opinion this sometimes is not the best as I think there should be a clear sponsor with capacity and in a best case scenario a Change or Project Lead who can help on a successful journey.

    • I totally agree. The problem with sponsorship goes beyond budgeting though. When we talk about Transformation, we often look at processes that touch the way business is delivered and value is created in the organisation. It is very difficult for example that a Sales leader rooted in traditional B2B practices can lead the transformation towards a true DTC business model, for example. As you write, HR *needs* to be put in the loop to shape the culture that is needed by the company after transformation. But you cannot leave it alone. True ownership should be at the CEO level, or at a business shared responsibility level, also because here we are not talking of a project with an end date, but rather of a continuous change process.
      Sergio

      • Agreed on that for sure – I enjoy reading much of your posts and the last part speaks to me as it is a continuous change journey.

  2. […] Should HR have a role in this? Certainly, it needs to have a strong role exactly because organization design and culture are two key enablers for the transformation, and HR should lead in both fields. But we have also seen that I’m critical on the idea that HR can really lead the way. […]

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