7 ways HR earns its seat at the boardroom table
The role of HR is changing in a radically different business world. As innovation in technology pushes the competitive frontier, attracting and retaining the right talent can help your organisation keep pace with the digital era.
Marilyn Chaplin is Group Executive for People & Culture at Dimension Data, which was recently recognised as a Global Top Employer 2016 for the second year running by the Top Employers Institute. We spoke to her about the trends and technology reshaping the next-generation of HR leaders and how they can transform their role to become a strategic advisor in the boardroom.
“Gone are the days when HR was seen as a transactional, box-ticking, paper-heavy administrative department,” she says. “The digital explosion is impacting the way we attract, retain, and manage talent.”
In fact, technology is fundamentally changing the way everyone in an organisation experiences HR — from how job seekers hunt opportunities online, to onboarding new employees, right down to how you internally deal with compensation and benefits, or even succession planning.
As workforce management systems become more sophisticated and core HR functions increasingly become automated, it would be easy to overlook or dismiss the role of HR.
“However, the fundamentals of HR, like corporate values and culture, remain critical,” she stresses. “At Dimension Data, we deliver services to our clients through our people. We’re passionate about making a difference to our clients and that passion lies in our people. The more engaged our employees are, the better their performance.”
① Get smarter with big data
If digital technology is reshaping HR, then data is the catalyst for that change. There is a trend towards harnessing big data in HR to gain richer insight into workforce trends, refine recruitment initiatives, and ultimately deliver better service to clients.
“Data is going to be crucial for better understanding and executing a business strategy,” Chaplin says. “If you don’t have this information at your fingertips, you won’t be able to make agile decisions to increase your competitive advantage.”
Richer intelligence allows HR leaders to ‘see’ the shape of the organisation. This omniscient view empowers you to make critical decisions, such as what functions can be automated, where you can build shared services, or create centres of excellence. “This is especially important from a cost perspective,” she says. “Not only to keep your own costs down, but to pass that benefit on to the client.”
Most important, however, is the role of data in recruitment. “If you want the right person in the right role, you need data analytics,” she believes. “For example, if the business identifies the need for more data scientists, you can focus on campaigns that attract these skills. It can also give you insights into how a new generation of talent thinks, behaves, and interacts in the digital space.”
② Do more to attract and develop Millennial talent
This ‘young blood’ is crucial to both the business and HR. The growing number of millennials entering the workforce brings with it new energy, creativity, and opportunity for organisations looking to accelerate their digital business.
“You have to embrace the millennial tide,” she says. “Both those in your organisation and in your search for the brightest young talent, whether that’s through online career portals or graduate programmes, like the ones we run at Dimension Data.”
At the same time, most companies have a wealth of wisdom and experience to share with a younger generation. “Millennials are ambitious and want to move incredibly fast in their careers, but sometimes if you move too fast in life, you trip,” she says. “You need to coach, nurture, and lead them.”
There’s not only a ‘top down’ approach to mentorship, Chaplin points out. Reverse mentoring is a growing trend. “As digital natives, millennials often have technology skills and social media insights older generations don’t have,” she says. “They can give you a fresh point of view, or help you understand markets you might not know about.”
To help achieve their ambitions, she adds, it’s important to equip leaders in an organisation to be able to offer millennials the right support and best career opportunities that support the overall business strategy.
③ Line up strong leaders on the bench
For this reason, Dimension Data has invested in growing leaders for the future. Each year, its Fast Track Forum identifies 70 emerging leaders from across its regions, exposing them to key areas of the business and developing their leadership skills. Its bi-annual global flagship Leadership Forum looks to empower over 1,000 senior leaders with prioritised learning and other initiatives — building the right leaders now and in the future.
“While succession planning is important and a responsibility for key positions,” she says, “our multi-layered approach is more about lining up the best leaders on the bench. We want to create leaders that have the ability to bring in and nurture new talent.”
For this reason, Chaplin goes on to say, HR should invest in middle management. “Managers must be empowered to make strategic decisions and be able to hire the right people,” she says. “They have to be able to hire the best talent into their direct teams and then be able to manage their performance effectively.”
④ Use performance management to empower — not police — employees
While a current trend in HR is to do away with performance management, Chaplin believes this element underpins an overall HR strategy. “At Dimension Data, we’ll continue to invest in and support performance management,” she says. “The reason for this is simple: you need to align your business strategy and vision to the annual goals or performance promises of your people.”
This alignment, she believes, is critical to how an organisation positions and executes its management strategy. “It’s not about policing people but rather encouraging them to take more responsibility for their role in achieving the overall business ambitions,” Chaplin says. “Once they understand how they fit into the overall strategy, they realise they’re part of a bigger team and a greater objective and this can be remarkably empowering.”
Moreover, there must be clear performance measurements for leaders. “It’s important for leaders and managers to know how they’re going to be measured and how this cascades into the key performance indicators of their teams,” she points out.
⑤ Invest in learning
Developing the skills of your people is equally as important as nurturing leadership or performance management. “Making the right investments in people at the right time is vital at Dimension Data,” Chaplin points out.
Whether it is to create consulting capabilities to help clients transform data centres into hybrid cloud models, or evolving employee and customer experiences through workspaces for tomorrow through technical excellence, it invests in continuous upskilling to keep pace with the rate of change in technology.
“You need to think very differently of people as an asset,” she says. “You have to look at the skills they currently have and how they can leverage those skills for our clients as they compete in the digital age.”
To this end, Dimension Data has made investments in its education platforms, to help its people gain the right amount of knowledge in the right amount of time.
“We offer on-the-job experience and access to our cloud-based learning platform,” she explains. “People can complete courses in virtual classrooms or through app-based programmes on a mobile device, delivering content on platforms with which they’re familiar and comfortable with. This approach is attractive to increasingly mobile workers and the millennial employee.”
⑥ Develop a marketing mindset
Another trend, Chaplin points out, is fostering a marketing mindset in HR practitioners. The move away from performing administrative tasks towards engaging with employees in a more experiential way is shaking up the industry. “We’ve always seen our employees as our clients,” she says. “Developing a marketing mindset in HR is vital if you want to draw, engage, and motivate an audience and deliver on your promises as an employer.”
In a digital world, the employee value proposition hasn’t gone away. In fact it’s become even more important. “Channels like social media create a ‘glass fishbowl’ where everyone can see if you’re living your values or merely giving them lip service,” she says. “On the positive side, it’s a great platform to showcase your brand ‘personality’ and what you can offer prospective talent.”
As a business-to-business brand, Dimension Data doesn’t often get to touch the kind of candidates it hopes to attract. However, as the Official Technology Partner of the Tour de France, the brand was brought directly into millions of people’s homes around the world. “It was a great way to tell our story,” she says. “It will certainly help us attract talent who might never have heard of us before. The Tour was a great cultural fit for us and let the world know about the innovative, exciting ways we’re using technology for our clients.”
⑦ Close the diversity and gender gap
A strong part of Dimension Dimension’s culture is diversity. True cultural diversity is one of the most powerful ways to become a better business, Chaplin believes.
“From an HR perspective, you have to start looking at all aspects of diversity, whether it’s racial, cultural, or gender diversity,” she says. “It opens you up to new insights and ways of thinking, and can help you understand your clients better, especially if you’re a global organisation.”
At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, she points out, gender diversity was the topic of a lively panel debate. “As technology changes the workplace, the consensus is that more women will be affected than men,” she says. “If we already have too few women in the workplace — and they’re going to be impacted by technology more than their male counterparts — then as HR leaders we need to start thinking more consciously about attracting more women into an organisation.”
Earn your seat at the table …
As digital business transformation moves up on the enterprise agenda, HR has a vital role to play in helping organisations navigate change. Today HR holds a strategic seat on the executive committee. “At the end of the day, we at Dimension Data compete for talent,” she says. “We create business value through people.”
Next-generation HR leaders must understand the overarching business strategy in order to execute a better people and culture strategy. Often strategic business decisions are based on a value-rich people base. It’s not just about attracting the best talent but also how that talent shapes the overall organisation. “If you don’t understand the business vision, how do you align your people strategy?” Chaplin points out. “Without it, you’ll simply be operating in a vacuum.”
Moreover, HR must embrace digital disruption. How is it changing the social, economic, and talent landscape? And what does it mean for your people? By harnessing the power of data and people analytics, you can make more agile decisions — now and in the future.
“If you can get that right, HR becomes a strategic partner in any organisation,” she concludes, “and you’ll always have a seat at the boardroom table.”
In 2016, Dimension Data was certified Global Top Employer by the Top Employers Institute for the second year running for creating the best possible work environment for its people, according to global benchmarks.
Find out more about this accolade here.
Read our Top IT Trends in 2016 blog here