Best Practice

The Future of HR in the Digital Age

By Neil Perkin,

About this report 

The critical part that the Human Resources and Learning and Development (HR and L&D) functions play in digital transformation has always been clear.

As digital impacts ever more broadly across sectors and corporate divisions, both areas have over time become only more essential to the transformation of business functions to become truly ‘fit-for-purpose’ for a digital-empowered world.

While HR and L&D professionals have always been part of the Econsultancy community we have not (until now) focused specifically on how the functions themselves are changing in response to challenges and opportunities brought by digital. A number of our previous Digital Transformation reports have touched on this area, most notably the Digital Marketing: Organisational Structures and Resourcing Best Practice Guide and our Skills of the Modern Marketer Guide, but this is an opportunity to consider how the practice of HR is shifting.

This research drew both from our existing knowledge and data, derived from multiple studies and reports, and from a series of in-depth interviews conducted with HR professionals across a broad range of sectors incorporating an equally broad set of challenges.

Key findings

  • Redefining human resources (HR) – an increasingly greater role for technology and particularly data has the potential to radically shift HR practice and processes. This brings new challenges in the need for HR professionals to improve digital literacy and skills in order to maximise the possibilities created by new technologies and adapt to the rapidly shifting organisational context that surrounds them.
  • Customer experience (CX) and digital transformation are both acting as key drivers for shifting HR practice as many organisations reorient resourcing, focus and culture around customer-centric strategies. As businesses transform to become ‘fit-for-purpose’ for a rapidly changing digital world, the HR function is playing a critical role in supporting change through a heightened focus on culture, learning and employee engagement.
  • Talent – shifting organisational priorities are creating high demand for talent in particular fields and creating challenges for HR to recruit scarce but high-demand talent. As a result, recruitment processes and relationships are being reinvented.
  • Performance management – rapidly changing contexts are impacting performance management processes, as organisations seek to be more adaptive and rely on more regular, informal feedback rather than rigid annual performance reviews and ratings.
  • Empowerment – as businesses seek to move faster, employee and team autonomy and empowerment have taken on a new level of importance. The HR function is playing a key role in encouraging employee ownership and empowerment.
  • Leadership and culture – our research shows that in the context of the increasingly agile, digitally-empowered operating environment, the qualities that define great leadership are changing. HR and learning professionals are refocusing leadership development programmes on enhancing not only traditional leadership skills, but ‘softer’ skills that can enable greater collaboration, entrepreneurialism and the ability for the business to move fast. A key part of this is focusing not only on knowledge, but on the behaviours that can establish organisational norms and support the right culture for agility.

Contributing Authors


Neil Perkin

More reports from Neil Perkin

Neil Perkin is a renowned blogger, writer and the founder of Only Dead Fish, a digital and media consultancy that specialises in applying strategic understanding of social and emerging media technologies to help businesses innovate and optimise their effectiveness within the new, networked communications environment.

Neil is a consultant with Econsultancy, a regular keynote speaker across Europe on content strategy, emerging media, digital marketing innovation and social technologies, and writes regularly for BrandRepublic, FutureLab, Marketing Week and The Marketing Society among others. He has been named by BIMA as one of the most influential people in the UK digital sector for two years in a row.

Neil curates the quarterly series of Firestarters thought leadership events on behalf of Google, and has worked with market-leading global businesses including Warner Bros, HBOS, YouTube, Marks & Spencer, Leo Burnett and Disney, and is an associate of The Futures Agency, a collaboration of some of the world’s leading media thinkers and futurists.

He has over 20 years media owner experience and was latterly the Director of Marketing, Strategy and Digital for IPC Media, the largest consumer publisher in the UK and publisher of multimedia brands including Wallpaper, Marie Claire and the NME. In this capacity he ran award-winning strategy, planning and consumer insight functions and was at the centre of defining and implementing the digital strategy for one of the largest media owners in the UK.

Table of contents

1. Executive Summary

  • About Econsultancy
  • About the author

2. Executive Summary

3. Introduction

4. The New Context for HR

5. HR and Digital Transformation

6. Shifting HR Practice

7. HR and Digital Leadership

8. Appendix


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