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The Role of HR as a Business Enabler of Digital Transformation

Hosted by: Orange

Orange digital ribbon

An animated group of senior Regional and Global HR Leaders joined ChapmanCG for an engaging roundtable session at Orange in Paris to discuss HR’s role as a business enabler of digital transformation with international HR Leaders across a variety of industries. Orange was the perfect host to kickstart this discussion, given that in 2011 their CEO hired a Head of HR rather than a Chief Digital Officer to lead their digital transformation – thereby effectively highlighting the focus was more about people rather than purely on technology.

The Digital Workplace, Digital Workforce and Digital HR

Many organisations are looking at digitalising their systems, their products or simply ensuring they have the right skills for the future and looking at how to develop more agile ways of working. According to a 2017 Global Human Capital Trend report by Deloitte, HR has the “dual challenge of transforming HR operations on the one hand, and transforming the workforce and the way work is done on the other.” The report also referred to the three areas where this is taking place – Digital Workforce (designing talent practices, hiring digitally savvy employees and creating a culture of innovation), Digital Workplace (enabling productivity through modern communication tools/software) and Digital HR (digital tools and apps to deliver HR solutions and innovations).

Technology, People and Engaging Communication

Technology is a core part of a digital transformation, however equally vital in the process are the people, and successful transformation is partly due to effective and open communication. With any change or transformation, one of the most important challenges is to ensure that employees are on board with the journey, so encouraging employee engagement is key – people have different levels of technical ability and adapt at different rates. Creating an element of entertainment and competition has also proven effective – bringing together functions or regional teams to compete in a company-wide quiz or gaming scenario can get people involved in learning new skills together in a fun, engaging way. Recent research by HR futurist, Jason Averbrook looked at how to build a future-ready workplace and where technology fits within in this evolution.
He noted that “[T]here are hundreds of enterprise solutions available on the market, but they won’t change anything unless the workforce changes with it,” he said. “HR needs to also look at the mindsets, processes, and the people involved.”[i]

The Importance of Expertise in Leading the Digital Journey

Managers also need to feel supported in times of change and during our HR Leaders session we talked about creating a platform for them to express more freely also being beneficial. Creating a vertical HR community, rather than an atmosphere of “us vs them” can help with alignment. Communication is key to bring people on board and ensuring both HR and managers have the expertise to lead the digital journey is important.
One of the biggest considerations for HR in the digital race is looking at talent – talent pipelining, skills anticipation and assessing potential future gaps, then hiring externally or upskilling existing employees to help future-proof the organisation for tomorrow. HR needs to consider a number of factors, including the speed of change, budgets available and how to sync HR with the business by transforming competencies rather than purely the transformation itself.

Bringing New Innovations to Life Quickly

HR Leaders are constantly looking at ways to keep up with the pace of change and how to bring new innovations to life quickly, and an example of this was raised by one HR organisation who looked at what their IT department was doing with agile methodology and saw a way to introduce this type of thinking into HR. The Agile method is an approach to project management that promotes continuous development by breaking large projects up into smaller bite-sized pieces or timeframes and promotes working on each stage as a team before progressing to the next. The continuous feedback, fine-tuning and ability to adapt to different outcomes means that teams are empowered to reflect on what is working, what is not and adapt accordingly as a project progresses. One HR leader referred to the way they gained acceptance for using agile methods outside of IT as similar to “teabag infusion” and leading by example, one project at a time – so that as people see the success of projects, they are more likely to be inspired to adopt similar methodologies.

Engaging Management and Buy-In Strategies

One question on how to engage management buy-in around new digital ways of working was answered by the suggestion to find allies or advocates in the business with an interest in digital who can help support and lead by example on smaller projects. Thus, as wins and improvements are noticed by others, it helps to demystify the fear of digital change. Statistics around success and ROI can be very effective evidence to show how digital initiatives can be beneficial across different functions, particularly when relating to talent – performance, employee engagement, development and more.

The Cost and the Success of Digital Change

Far too many HR leaders are focusing too much on the workplace technology available to them, rather than building up a digital mindset across their organisations.[ii] Whilst other companies are lucky enough to have digital technology at the heart of their industry focus, even less obviously tech-focused industries are embracing digital innovation, such as running logistics in the form of driverless trucks, trains and drones. However not all organisations have the same level of budget to invest in technology, so we discussed ways to encourage digital change in leaner models.
Some HR leaders in the group had seen success in bringing in digital change through experimentation using existing resources, rather than awaiting sign-off on significant investment. They are creating an environment of empowerment, encouraging colleagues to think creatively and bring their own project ideas to the table, however big or small, enabling them through a mindset that suggests it is better to have tried and failed than not tried at all. One HR leader referred to a collaboration tool initially created for internal use that was so successful, it has now been developed and monetised as a product for external clients.

The Four Pillars of Digital Transformation

At the end of the day, digital transformation is much like any other business transformation and should be viewed as such. An organisation needs to understand first and foremost, based on their business and transformation objectives, what outcomes they are looking to achieve, whether the workforce has the right mindset and skill sets to deliver these objectives and whether they can support the processes for delivering the business and transformation objectives. It’s only then they should decide on which platforms and technologies they need in order to make that happen.
Averbrook proposed one way to look at digital transformation is to view it as four pillars, with technology figuring as the least critical. It is the mindset of both people and the organisation that is the most important avenue to change.
He outlines the four pillars, and their weights, as:

  • Mindset:  the willingness and enthusiasm for digital endeavours across the organisation –  45%
  • People: the specific skills and attributes among the workforce – 25%
  • Processes: The strategies for communicating and effecting change – 25%
  • Technology: The actual software tools – 10%[iii]

In other words, any digital transformation will only be as good as the mindset, people and processes that drive it. If HR can work with the business to support on these three crucial aspects, the actual technology piece has a far higher chance of success.


ChapmanCG, Orange, Digital Transformation, Executive search, Human Resources
ChapmanCG, Orange, Digital Transformation, Executive search, Human Resources

[i] Averbook, Jason, The four pillars to building a future-ready workplace, HRM Asia,, 28 Jun 2018
[ii] Averbook, Jason, The four pillars to building a future-ready workplace, HRM Asia,, 28 Jun 2018
[iii] Averbook, Jason, The four pillars to building a future-ready workplace, HRM Asia,, 28 Jun 2018


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Key Contributors:

Anna Taylor
Anna Taylor

Senior Director

Consulting Team
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Anna Taylor
Consulting Team

Anna Taylor

Senior Director

Anna is a Senior Director with ChapmanCG, responsible for senior HR searches in the United States. She has been with ChapmanCG since 2015 in various roles around the world.

Originally from New Zealand, Anna has over 15 years of US and international search experience. In her current position, she leads regional and global HR searches across a variety of industries and HR specializations. She is most often called upon to lead heavily nuanced VP, SVP, EVP, and CHRO searches which require a creative approach and hard-to-find HR skillsets. A super-user of ChapmanCG’s technologies, processes and methodologies, Anna acts as a mentor to the global consulting team on best search practices.

Prior to joining ChapmanCG, Anna worked for a boutique technology search firm specialized in assisting both public and private organizations scale and build an international footprint throughout Europe and the Middle East.

Anna has an MSc in Psychology from Canterbury University. She enjoys travel, yoga, and the odd half marathon in her spare time—although she can be easily convinced to postpone a training session for good wine with friends instead.