Digital Proficiency for HR Professionals: All You Need to Know

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Technology is an indispensable part of today’s world of work and is rapidly advancing each year. Therefore, if HR professionals want to excel in their job going forward, they need strong digital proficiency. 

A report by the OECD (2019) claims that 14% of jobs will no longer exist in 20 years. Another 32% will be drastically different due to automation. In addition, according to a survey by Deloitte, 56% of companies are redesigning their HR programs to integrate digital tools, while 33% are using AI (artificial intelligence) as part of their strategy. So it’s already evident that digital proficiency is vital across organizations, particularly within HR.

But what exactly is digital proficiency in HR, why is it important, and how can you become a digitally proficient HR professional?

Contents
What is digital proficiency in HR?
Why is digital proficiency important for HR professionals and businesses?
Behaviors of HR professionals with strong digital proficiency
How HR professionals can develop digital proficiency

What is digital proficiency in HR?

Digital proficiency, also known as digital integration, refers to the ability to leverage and integrate technology to increase personal and organizational efficiency in HR professionals and ultimately drive business growth and value. Although it may appear solely focused on being tech-savvy, digital proficiency goes well beyond this. It requires an awareness of technology and its role both inside and outside of work. It also includes the ability to integrate it seamlessly into the entire employee journey and build a digital-first culture.  

Digital proficiency is one of the four core HR competencies.   

The four HR core competencies are:

  1. Data literacy
  2. Business acumen
  3. Digital proficiency
  4. People advocacy

Digital proficiency comprises three key components – technological awareness, technological embedding, and digital culture building. Let’s explore these components in more detail. 

Technological awareness

The first component is technological awareness. A digitally proficient HR practitioner has:

  • a deep understanding of technological trends and innovation and how they potentially impact the organization
  • an awareness of current HR systems and technology and how other organizations are leveraging HR technology
  • a solid grasp of digital tools and applications and quickly embrace new tools in the workplace. 

Technological embedding

The second component is technological embedding. This refers to a deep understanding of how technology enables and drives HR activities and business strategy and being part of projects that continue to drive HR’s efficiency, effectiveness, and digital maturity. Actively searching for digital and mobile tools to improve HR processes is also key, along with a deep understanding of digital solution implementation processes and all actions involved. 

Digital culture building

The final component of digital proficiency is digital culture building. This involves actively participating in building a more digital HR culture by setting an example, coaching others, and contributing to digital initiatives. It centers on understanding how digital capabilities drive long-term, sustainable value for the organization. It also includes the changes that digital integration brings to the operating model and service delivery for both HR and the organization. An HR professional who is proficient in digital culture building will be a digital leader in their HR specialization. Moreover, they will support and champion learning and innovation in their team and the wider organization.

Digital Proficiency Dimensions

Why is digital proficiency important for HR professionals and businesses?

HR digital proficiency is essential for multiple reasons.

  • Continuously optimizing HR service deliveryHR service delivery involves a variety of information and services provided to all employees. This includes managing onboarding, payroll, benefits, and much more. If these services are admin-heavy and require large amounts of time, both the HR team and employees can become frustrated. Hence, spotting new opportunities to continually improve and optimize the HR delivery service is critical to increasing employees’ efficiency and happiness. Some laborious, repetitive tasks can be automated, such as interview scheduling or automated PTO approval based on predefined criteria. Employees seeking HR services will also spend less time away from their work if they can get their problems resolved in less time. 
  • Improving organizational effectiveness – Digital efficiency within HR has a positive knock-on effect on the organization’s entire operations, which drives value. For example, digitizing the recruitment process makes it simpler for HR professionals to manage applications and also a much easier and more pleasant experience for applicants. This can lower the number of candidates who give up halfway through their application out of frustration or lack of communication. In turn, it gives HR a greater chance of hiring more high-quality candidates, which means there will be more skilled and efficient employees in the right roles. This leads to improved organizational effectiveness. Ultimately, this is what every organization should strive for. Improvements like this can happen across a lot of HR operations. 
  • Implementing new technology and building a digital-first culture – Digitally proficient HR professionals are champions of building a digital-first culture. This is vital if you hope to attract young, digitally savvy employees to your organization. A seamless, digital employee experience at work is becoming increasingly sought after by new workers entering into employment. Therefore, if you can build a digital-first culture that empowers your employees, you have a strong chance of attracting the best candidates over your competition. For example, the HR departments at the Royal Bank of Canada, Deutsche Telekom, and Ford recognize the importance of digital experience and have all hired digital design teams. 
  • Improving personal effectiveness – Digital proficiency helps HR professionals enhance their personal effectiveness at work in addition to improving organizational effectiveness. Many low-value admin tasks can be automated, which frees up valuable time for more urgent, high-value tasks that create the biggest impact. For example, tasks like data entry, processing payroll, and pre-screening applicants no longer require human interaction. 

Behaviors of HR professionals with strong digital proficiency

Being on top of technological innovations and trends

A digitally proficient HR professional will have a solid understanding of technological trends. They stay up to date on innovations through reading blogs and articles, networking at HR events, and learning through online courses and workshops. 

They are also able to understand how these trends impact the organization and leverage digital opportunities where possible. 

Examples of this include utilizing a variety of tools facilitating remote work, gamification to improve employee engagement, nudge-based technology to improve employee productivity, and other emerging trends.

Creating a digital HR strategy and technology roadmap to increase the digital HR maturity level

Being up to date with technology and innovation is essential, but it’s equally important to understand why specific software or tools should be used.

HR practitioners should understand how technology enables and drives HR activities and strategy and involve themselves in projects accordingly. They need to create a plan of how to increase the organization’s digital HR maturity level and actively contribute to the process. A digitally proficient HR professional creates a solid digital roadmap with a clear goal, such as building an efficient HR shared service center.

This requires assessing current HR functions and determining what can and cannot be automated. What requires a lot of human interaction, and what doesn’t? What kinds of technology can the HR department utilize to become more effective in their work? Applying digital competence helps answer these questions.

Leading the process of HR tech implementation

Besides creating an HR technology roadmap, HR professionals must pave the path for HR tech implementation through the entire process: planning, designing, testing, training, communicating, deploying, and sustaining. 

IBM’s HR team conducted various experiments to drive new digital HR solutions forward within the organization. They piloted the use of a cognitive assistant known as CHIP (Cognitive Human Interface Personality), which is an AI chatbot. It can recognize 200 of the most frequently asked questions by employees, increase intelligence over time, and significantly reduce call center time—hence why it has become popular with employees.

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Applying design thinking to find customer-centric solutions

Design thinking in HR centers on gathering information from customers and employees across the organization to figure out what they need and want from HR services. 

A recent example is at Ford Motor Co, where the HR team conducted a company-wide poll of their 200,000 employees. They found that looking at issues through the eyes of the employee helped them create more effective solutions. Many employees were unsatisfied by the admin-heavy and complex nature of HR processes, while people leaders shared similar views. This led to them developing a new people strategy utilizing more intelligent and simplified systems. 

Digitally proficient HR practitioners apply design thinking to collecting data, interpreting findings, spotting opportunities, and implementing new digital solutions. 

Enabling digital upskilling of the HR team and the whole workforce

It’s not enough to be on the pulse of trends in technology and innovation as an individual. Digital proficiency is about digitally empowering the entire HR team and the wider organization. Building a digital culture requires setting an example, coaching others, and leading digital initiatives strategically. 

Organizations are becoming increasingly like networks, and younger, tech-minded employees expect to see digital technology utilized in the workplace. Digitally upskilling the entire workforce is vital to ensure your organization stays ahead by using the most intuitive and effective solutions.

For example, Henkel, a multinational chemical and consumer goods company, partnered with Accenture to digitally upskill over 10,000 managers. They identified where the skills gaps were through a digital capabilities assessment and designed learning programs to bridge these gaps.

Digital proficiency comprises many other behaviors which you can read more about in our HR competency framework

How HR professionals can develop digital proficiency

If you as an HR professional want to be digitally proficient, you need to continuously work on updating your knowledge and skills. Here is what you can do:

1. Familiarize yourself with different types of technology

HR professionals are not required to become experts in AI or machine learning. Still, it’s imperative that you have a solid understanding of the basics and how technology contributes to your organization’s operations.

Get familiar with online tools already being utilized by HR teams, and stay alert for emerging technology trends. This includes social media, HRIS, talent acquisition software, cloud technology, gamification techniques, and talent management software. Become a technological teenager—someone who is at ease with technology as a teenager is. Ask your tech-savvy colleagues to show you how certain platforms work and what’s possible with them.

How HR Professionals Can Develop Digital Proficiency

2. Collaborate with other departments on innovation

There will likely be digital and mobile tools already deployed within other departments in your organization, which can inspire how you can implement and use technology within HR. What’s more, collaborating with other departments can help you roll out more effective digital initiatives faster.

An example of this is when the Royal Bank of Canada set up a digital HR development team and partnered with IT to help with infrastructure and security. This enabled them to create a new “preboarding” app called Embark, which allows employees to learn more about their role, company culture and be introduced to their teams online. 

3. Work on your change management skills

Technology continues to evolve, which means that tools and processes in the workplace will change too. HR professionals must learn to adapt quickly to new trends and implement new tools and technologies. HR leaders must also set an example for the rest of their team. 

Many people feel resistant to change. In fact, 82% of HR departments struggle with adoption challenges when implementing new digital technologies. That’s why it will be crucial to manage organizational transformation strategically to minimize disruption to employees.

If you want to be successful in managing change, work on developing your change management skills such as:

  • persuasive communication,
  • active listening,
  • research,
  • and strategic analysis and planning.

The employee experience report found that consulting with employees about implementing new technology prior to doing so had a positive impact on perceived job quality. However, they found that only 35% of employees are consulted about such plans. This shows the importance of change management skills and ensuring your employees feel included in decisions that affect their day-to-day roles. 

4. Dare to experiment

Experimenting is a big part of the culture of innovation, and all departments should feel comfortable doing it. 

Try real-time video conferencing in your recruitment process, host virtual career fairs, use e-sign applications to complete job offers, or experiment with gamification within your training and development plans. 

New technologies and applications launch every day. If you read about something that sounds like it could improve HR operations, think about trialing it. If you’re a manager, be open to new suggestions like this from your team.

CVS, a US-based healthcare company and a retail pharmacy chain, designed a virtual hiring process to fill 50,000 job openings amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the process, they implemented role-specific virtual job tryouts to assess candidates. This resulted in over 1.3 million applications and close to 60,000 hires, making the company’s recruiting function six times more efficient than under normal circumstances.

5. Get certified in Digital HR

A Digital HR certification is a great way to upskill and become a driver of HR’s digital transformation at your organization. It will help you leverage technology to make HR more effective. You’ll be able to create a digital strategy and provide employees with the tools that help them be happy and successful at their job. What’s more, you can ensure that your organization will not be left behind.

Digital proficiency is essential for HR professionals

Technology has begun to penetrate almost every aspect of work and will only become more prevalent in the future. This is why digital proficiency is vital in ensuring all HR professionals are up to date, alert to spot new trends, and willing to adopt new tools and technologies accordingly. Learning should never stop—continue to develop your digital competencies and be instrumental in building a digital culture.

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