For meaningful digital transformation or change management initiatives to bear fruit within organisations, human resources (HR) experts need to anchor these programmes. With the major shifts that companies are going through because of fourth industrial revolution (4IR) technologies, it has become imperative for organisations to implement change management strategies to move their businesses forward.

The advent of the Covid-19 pandemic has also caused seismic shifts in the working environment, with companies adopting remote or hybrid working models. Organisations that do not respond to the changes brought forward by these emerging technologies risk being left behind, as they may not be able to compete in the evolving markets, says Hope Lukoto, chief human resource officer at BCX.

“Change management is a strategic imperative in the digital era, enabling organisations to navigate the complexities of technological evolution while fostering a culture of innovation, collaboration, and sustainable growth. Change management stands out among the pivotal tactics for achieving prosperous digital transformation endeavours within a business.”

BCX believes that digital transformation is an inevitable journey that all organisations need to embark on, fundamentally changing how business is managed, and customers are serviced. Lukoto points out that it is a journey that begins by evaluating the way your organisation works, communicates, connects, and collaborates. Firstly, digital transformation often affects HR processes themselves. HR may need to implement digital tools for recruitment, onboarding, performance management, and employee engagement to streamline and enhance these processes.

According to the Society of Human Resources Management, HR can play a dual role in change management by initiating and leading the change and by serving as a facilitator for changes that other leaders and departments initiated. It adds that the HR department performs a variety of functions associated with the communication, implementation, and tracking of major changes.

For Lukoto, HR is responsible for facilitating effective change management strategies during digital transformation. She explains that this includes preparing employees for the changes, addressing their concerns, and ensuring their engagement and buy-in throughout the process. Market analyst firm Forrester recently pointed out that the biggest barrier to digital transformation within firms is its people. Hence, the organisation must rely on its people to transition from being adaptable to adaptive.

“HR helps manage resistance to change and fosters a cheerful outlook towards new technologies,” Lukoto adds.

Digital transformation often requires new skill sets and expertise. Amid the demand for these new skill sets, HR is tasked with identifying the skills gaps within the organisation and developing strategies to acquire, train, and retain talent with the necessary digital competencies. This includes recruiting individuals who are familiar with emerging technologies and upskilling existing employees.

Another critical role that HR plays is the alignment of the organisation’s culture with the goals of digital transformation. Among these is the fostering of a culture of innovation, collaboration, and adaptability, which are critical for successful technology adoption and implementation.

HR also helps identify and develop digital leaders within the organisation who can drive and guide the transformation process. These leaders are essential in influencing teams, making strategic decisions, and advocating for digital initiatives. Without proper communication, a digital transformation can take longer than anticipated, which results in higher costs. Lack of adequate communication often also leaves employees feeling frustrated and confused about the changes and causes a break between IT and other departments, which impacts corporate culture. HR ensures that employees are well-informed about the changes, the reasons behind them, and the benefits they bring. “Open and transparent communication helps alleviate concerns and fosters a sense of trust,” Lukoto comments.

Throughout these changes, HR may need to re-evaluate the organisational structure to ensure that it supports the digital transformation goals. This could involve restructuring teams, creating cross-functional groups, or introducing new roles and responsibilities related to technology and innovation. Also of critical importance is the fact that with increased reliance on technology, HR also focuses on ensuring employees’ well-being, addressing potential challenges such as digital overload, work-life balance, and mental health considerations arising from the changes.

“HR serves as a bridge between technology and the workforce, ensuring employees are equipped, motivated, and empowered to embrace digital transformation. HR’s strategic involvement is integral to the success of the organisation’s journey toward a digitally empowered future,” Lukoto concludes.