How CHROs Can Lead HR Digitalization While Managing C-Suite Expectations

HR Digitalization: How to win over the C-Suite and IT

To forge ahead, HR leaders need to partner with IT to strengthen digital platforms while garnering support from the C-suite. There are challenges to both.

In a recent Gartner Corporate Leadership Council study, HR digitalization is featured as one of the most pressing concerns for both CEOs and CHROs. That shouldn't be a surprise. For the past few years, digital transformation has been a continual challenged for many organizations as new technology and tools become available and the interest in automation, metrics, data, and what you can do with them continues to rapidly evolve.

As Gartner defines it, digitalization refers to "the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities." Such a transformation requires organizational practices, processes and culture to revolve around the new business model.

In practice, this transition has been a challenge for most organizations. Gartner's research shows that while 94 percent of CHROs are pursuing digital initiatives, 61 percent say they don't feel prepared to manage those efforts. To navigate these muddy waters, HR leaders should look to partner with IT to strengthen digital platforms, while also garnering support from the C-suite to ensure top-down buy-in.

Partnering With IT

The mission to update existing technology is often an existential one for businesses. A recent Dell and Intel Future Workforce study found that 42 percent of millennials are willing to quit a job if the company's technology isn't up to standard. It's easy to see how this perception can cascade throughout a business with negative effects.

To do their job effectively, HR leadership needs to be as tech savvy as possible. When that's not the case, it's often because the technology is a new component of HR's role and experience. As a result, HR often speaks a different language than CIOs. CIO's roles have also changed with technology. Keeping things running used to be CIOs predominant job function. Now they are becoming more proactive about reaching business goals because tehnology is becoming so integral to how organizations run. Some CIOs might even have a secondary title, like head of business transformation.

With both roles evolving around and because of tech, HR and CIO's have an opportunity to become effective strategic partners. To do that, regular communication is essential. CHROs should be regularly attending IT team meetings and vise versa. Experts say it's also important to involve IT in all purchasing decisions from the start rather than waiting to talk to them about data integration and implementation after a selection is made. Finally, designate someone to oversee all HR tech projects, rather than divide such management by function (head of compensation or head of staffing). This will simplify the execution of IT projects.

C-Suite Support Is Key

Another integral component to HR digitalization is getting buy-in from the C-suite. Typically, about a half-dozen people need to sign off on large, B2B purchases. Convincing them to endorse a solution that you have identified as the best course of action will more than likely require some sales finesse.

Like a seasoned sales exec, identify pain points within the organization and make a strong business case that your solution is beneficial over the long term. That means offering execs data, linking the solution to company-wide objectives and setting realistic goals for the project and it's completion timeline.

It's also important to speak in their language. CEOs see things in terms of revenues, growth and expenses, so it's best to frame the discussion along those lines. For example, translate headcount into dollars and demonstrate the effects of headcount reductions on the bottom line.

Digitized HR

CHROs find themselves straddling two worlds. On the one hand, there's pressure for organizations to modernize their internal operations and ensure the interfaces employees use are in line with their consumer experiences. On the other hand, the C-suite can view HR as a cost center and aim to limit its budget.

Resolving this tension requires more tools than HR execs have used in the past. The upside for successfully digitizing your business, however, can be dramatic. For CHROs to be successful, they need to become adept at reconciling these tensions.