Research Library Article


Mastering Digital - Can HR Compete?

D. Earle

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Two research papers from an ongoing series on digital innovation. The first examines the hurdles that obstruct the full value of digital innovation. The second poses nine key questions that corporate boards and C-level executives need to ask and answer. Valuable intelligence for any CHRO or HR director whose organization is wrestling with effective technology strategy, programs and investments.


  • Growing executive support for digital
  • What CEOS expect from digital programs
  • Who is sponsoring digital initiatives
  • Top digital priorities
  • Ongoing challenges to capturing value
  • Where is change occurring?
  • Mapping customer journeys. Which ones matter?
  • Are your teams collaborating across functions?
  • How often is the digital portfolio reviewed?
  • Who is doing the risk analysis?

The 20th century corporate staffing model only required HR departments to be efficient users of technology. The 21st century model raises the bar, requiring them to become owners of those critical tools. Effective ownership depends on greater fluency in the language of IT as well as greater engagement in planning and executing digital programs.

It also means closer partnerships with business stakeholders outside of HR. Older corporate IT infrastructures were significantly siloed; today’s are much more interlocking and interdependent. HR data, in particular, is most effective when it can be widely shared.

These papers reiterate that top digital performance requires top digital talent, which is often in short supply. (HR recruiters already know this.) But they make the additional point that this talent in particular has strong cultural needs that are incompatible with bureaucracy, internal politics, scattershot planning and haphazard execution—all common shortcomings of medium and large organizations. This talent wants cutting edge work, appropriate funding and authority, rapid deployment coupled with the freedom to experiment and fail, and minimal interference with their work. If the culture doesn’t offer these things, alternate employment, perhaps in a free-wheeling startup, is easily found.  

Over the past decade, the digital arena has become one of the most significant and challenging for HR. This research, while not HR-specific, deals with issues—structure, strategy, design, personnel, commitment, financing and priorities—that are common to digital initiatives in any department.

As the 2016 planning season advances it is worth being reminded of HR’s three digital challenges: developing its own internal technical competency; finding and retaining top talent for others; and making sure its specific interests merge seamlessly with the broader digital programs of the organization.

“Most companies have yet to realize digital’s full value, and leadership and talent are among the biggest hurdles to success. Those making headway are reshaping strategies, devoting their best people to digital, and keeping them engaged.”

Additional Reading
Technology—Global Human Best Practices

HR Tech for 2015, Ten Disruptions

HR Tech Systems Survey

Where Will You Find Analytics Talent? offers progressive CHROS the research they need to make effective staffing decisions in a job market that has changed substantially over the past decade. Our focus is on the new competencies—marketing, risk management, business impact, communication, technology, and data management—that are defining leadership in the 21st century.

Author – McKinsey
Date Published – 2015        
Pages – 15
Sample size – Unknown
Industries – All
Company size – Medium and large
Geography – All
Cost – Free
Staffing library keywords – tools-technology
URL – Cracking the Code
URL – Nine Questions