Digital technology and its corollaries, such as artificial intelligence, robotics and bionics, are heavily feeding the buzz for speculations, frightening at times and wonderful at others. Some suggest the end of professions, work, and even death itself (1). Others describe the almost supernatural capacities of the algorithms we imagine capable of making decisions, predicting the future and perhaps even overthrowing us one day.
Of course, this digital revolution promises to be of such magnitude that it will bring profound transformations to work, business, human relations, as well as the perception we have of our environment. Robots will accomplish a certain number of tasks, thus far performed by humans; our environment will be more and more encoded, quantified and analysed; probabilities will constitute an increasing element of decision-making, and technological progress will lead us to consider, with a new light, some important aspects of Life, such as Distance, Health or Time.
Unfortunately, the dominant discussion remains passive and incantatory, where cybernetics is only, fundamentally speaking, the reflection of Man’s future intentions for himself, equipped with new technological means.
It is hence time to consider a more active, rational and pragmatic approach. The time has come to handle and manage this phenomenon – at the crossroads of Man and Machine – by pulling together the complementary expertise of both ISMs and HRDs within the company.
Despite their different points of view, ISMs and HRDs nonetheless share a focal point when it comes to professions and work, its organization being the primary raison d’être of companies. In such a context, their collaboration appears as most logical. The absence of such collaboration would be most certainly deleterious and would bring about the dark scenarios which nowadays cause much ink to flow.
For instance, how can one imagine the automation of work without understanding it completely, and without knowing its best practices? In contrast, how can work, professions and the company’s structure evolve wisely without a thorough understanding of technology and its implications?
No matter the upcoming digital evolutions, it seems that HRDs and ISMs have many challenges ahead of them, to be overcome together in order to reinvent the company:
- Manage the evolution of employee work practices (mobility, nomadism, remote collaboration, etc.)
- Design Man-Machine collaborations
- Identify best practices
- Teach Machines
- Picture Man’s new capacities
- Optimise exchange flows between the company’s professions
- Manage changes
- Foresee risks and hindering situations. Rather than setting Man against Machine and forecasting a so very empty future, let’s assume that a strong ISM-HRD collaboration is the key to a successful Digital Transition.
Q1: Jean-Yves Lignier, Club MOA is not only destined for digital decision-makers, but also stands as a think tank for the future and for the impact of digital technologies. To what extent does the Digital Transition constitute a part of your thoughts?
Digital technology has been at the very heart of the club’s concerns since its founding (over 15 years ago).
Before delving into Digital Transition through the organisations attending the club, one ought to consider the more global context of this transition we are faced with. In social terms, we witness the result of a double phenomenon: on the one hand, the effects of globalisation encouraging permeability between nations and cultures, and on the other hand, technological progress accelerating this phenomenon. Metaphorically, the principle of osmosis well known to biologists, or the thermodynamic laws for physicians, seems to apply to the evolution of our planet’s social and economic balance. In this context of liberalisation, by facilitating innovation, digital technology plays a catalytic role. This partly explains the rise of unexpected competitors along with surprising growth rates. Therefore, lean startup methods enable young digital companies to create low-cost prototypes they can very swiftly test on the market, to validate the concepts and tailor their solution at the least expense. On the contrary, investments are often heavier in traditional industries, even if the example of 3D printers has enabled simplification in terms of product conception in certain areas. At this stage, let us simply bear in mind that the company must face a shift in paradigms. Digital Transition is not a choice. It is imposed on most organisations and involves most employees.
Within this context, an issue is raised for traditional organisations: their legacy cultivates “Knowledge” and “Know-How” capital, despite a sometimes observed degree of inertia which can rapidly become disabling, or even fatal in the absence of strategic insight or too slow a change. Everyone recalls the emblematic example of photography leader Kodak, who missed the digital turn…
The capacity of our organisations to transform themselves naturally stands as a recurring topic in our considerations.
Q2: What role will HRDs play during Digital Transition? What key complementary skills do they bring to the table?
New skills to face an accelerating rhythm of change…
The phenomenon of social evolution presents an unprecedented characteristic: the rhythm of change is closer to an exponential curve than a simply linear one. Change is accelerating.
This has a direct consequence on the expected quality of the company’s workforce: adaptability, the rapid capacity to adapt to a succession of events, will become ever more precious. It will consequently be necessary for managers to take ownership of these transformations, to be in a position of mobilising employees by integrating them into these evolutions at the earliest stage, so that they may carry them rather than endure them. Leadership is becoming an essential quality for managers. Any form of organisation favouring collaboration must be favoured in return, in order to harness collective intelligence.
For a Human Resources Department, the capacity to attract, select and retain new talents implies synchronising with all professions, in order to take appropriate action regarding the human and organisational challenges each profession will be facing. HR Departments merely referring to statistic reports and individual annual assessments risk permanent dephasing.
On the other hand, beyond the simple conformity that exists between a vacancy form’s drafting and the expected qualities of a given employee, companies are confronted with new motivational issues. As such, a recent study revealed that 70% of employees are not genuinely involved in their work.
This type of observation should urge HR Departments to trigger innovation conducive to their practices, as well as take interest in new tools such as the Blue Ocean leadership matrix.
Beyond simple leadership, HR Departments must contribute to the evolution of managerial practices: stepping out of the hierarchical and mechanistic business scope to push managers forward in their stance, replacing inspections by coaching (more positive and pedagogical), encouraging customer support instead of the personal satisfaction of one’s N+1, and promoting employee empowerment.
Rising complexity and a human system:
Organisations encounter an uncertain and interdependent world in which technical excellence is no longer sufficient. Company-wide integrative potential must be developed. It is one of the issues affecting enterprise architecture, a developing discipline in the most mature organisations. We have devoted several sessions to this topic, especially with Daniel Krob.
However, even the best methods will not be enough to solve the totality of our problems. Firstly, the number of parameters exceeds our capacity to manage in unitary terms. Secondly, a managerial approach that is too focused on efficiency tends to lead difficultly quantifiable social goals to be neglected. To overcome this complexity, the greater tendency resides in the use of dashboards, indicators, decision-making, data mining tools, etc. This can turn out to be a major bottleneck since these systems take a sole interest in what is measurable. The risk lies in ending up with “human systems”, with part of their substance removed, not making any sense of working for such an impersonal structure. At the occasion of a meeting around the theme of BYOD, Gérard Taponat recalled that organisations only take interest in benefits and economic expenses on behalf of this obsessional measure. Then follows a decision-making logic, subject to immorality from a social perspective.
Q3: How should an ISM-HRD collaboration be organised to sustain this transition, and with which “deliverables”?
Regarding the issue of Digital Transition, the company needs to be in a position to determine strategic orientations that take this dimension into account. Therefore, either the company needs Senior Executives who show some form of interest in such issues and who can enroll in sometimes complex analytic and conceptual reflection, or at least be capable of surrounding itself with digital experts who have an ability to apprehend strategic subjects with the aim of enlightening the leader in his orientations. That is why CEO-ISM-HRD dialogue ought to be encouraged.
In order to meet the company’s business objective, understanding the market remains a fundamental matter. Given the increasing stand of digital technology, organisations must be able to rely on business line managers who are capable of integrating digital issues linked to their own scope of responsibility. This implies a strong collaboration between ISMs and business unit leaders, as well as the contribution of HRDs for the integration of organisational changes and evolutions within the very nature of the existing vacancies. ISM-HRD collaboration must, above all, take part in the improved understanding of each of the company’s business units, complying with strategic issues and changes.
For ISMs and other business unit leaders alike, the HRD must be capable of keeping up with the necessary change of conduct this Digital Transition implies. The HRD must be a proactive actor so that the company may be provided with managers having the skills to support the company’s transformation.
All in all, the governance of the working world’s profound mutations that await us (robotisation…) is not limited to ISMs and HR Departments. It involves both the CEO who sets the course, and the business units which must define a tactic while aligning operational achievement to the strategy.
Q4: Are you aware of any organisations having such an example of ISM-HRD collaboration?
Within the club and among the members, we have no emblematic example of ISM-HRD collaboration capable of meeting the issues of Digital Transition. Worse yet, for certain organisations, the HR Department is limited to administrative management, leaving plenty of room for progress.
However, we have had excellent feedback concerning our innovative practices which enable the company to significantly improve its results by using participatory approaches, respectful of employees. It is in this way that Fanny Bouvier shared particularly rewarding feedback on her use of Corporate Social Media, for the better conduct of Information System projects. We also pay close attention to those who seem to be pursuing the right path, the French telecoms company Orange being one example. Before long, we will be inviting them to take part in our works.
Q5: Would you find it useful for HR decision-makers to join Club MOA?
Club MOA was born into a dynamic of openness, and we would obviously be thrilled to organise meetings at a crossroads of HR and IT concerns. As a matter of fact, in 2014, we offered an evening centered on HRIS, which HR Department representatives from our member organisations were invited to.
Beyond HR topics, most Project Managers who are part of the club embody a cross-cutting role which acquaints them with most company business units. This confers them a natural capacity for open dialogue with all actors of the company, and not only the HR Department.
Our reflections have gone as far as taking us beyond the company boundaries, since matters relating to social responsibility encourage us to consider the interrogations and analysis of sociologists, labour psychologists or other contributors whose own views can only enrich ours. The theme of Social Media, for instance, clearly highlights the fungibility of the relationship between business and society.
After all, Digital Transition addresses society as a whole.
 See “State of the American Workplace” on http://www.gallup.com/.
 Professor, Chair for Complex Systems at Ecole Polytechnique (France). Daniel Krob is also the President of the CESAMES association, specialising in enterprise architecture issues.
 Director for Social Affairs at Manpower France, Gérard Taponat is also the Director of the Master’s Degree in Negotiation and Social Relations at the University of Paris-Dauphine.
 Executive Sponsor of the Project Managers Community at Société Générale