Last week I was honoured to be invited to speak at the East African Convention in Kigali, to share my thoughts on embracing a digital culture in people management for the long term. This post highlights some of the key points from my presentation.

The world is an exciting place but it’s also becoming increasingly more uncertain in many ways, as technology continues to advance and generation shifts in the workplace are causing ripples in the way things have traditionally been done. For those who have been in their HR careers for some time and have become accustomed to certain ways of working, it can be somewhat overwhelming hearing many new buzz words, concepts and innovations.

The fact is, the world is changing around us everyday and if we stop to think about some of the significant advances in technology that have happened in the past ten years alone, it’s not hard to imagine that things will continue to be ‘shaken up’ in the next decade or so. Therefore, as HR and business professionals, it is crucially important that we do not take anything for granted, keep an open mind, embrace the change and most importantly of all, are prepared.

Here are the 5 key steps that I shared with delegates in Rwanda on how to start embracing the change and be prepared.

1. Act now

The digital revolution is here and there is no escaping it – and there is definitely nowhere to hide!

Therefore, the focus is no longer planning for what is to come, it’s about how to jump on board a moving train, which has already left the station and is gaining momentum. How quickly will business and HR leaders respond? Many will undoubtedly be left behind because they either fail to see the need to adapt or firmly dig their heels in and refuse to change the old ways of doing things. Others will of course, embrace the change and not only view it as a necessity but appreciate it as a positive move towards a better, more productive, happier and conducive workplace. Which ones will become the leading companies of the future? Perhaps not the ones who stand firmly in front of the train and refuse to move – unfortunately, change will continue with or without you onboard.

The wave of change happening right now also presents greater opportunity for HR to elevate themselves from just the technical and transactional side of HR. This is no longer enough to satisfy ambitious business leaders. HR must step up and become a leading function in the business by being proactive and showcasing the strategic value that HR can bring to the table. For this, HR professionals need to demonstrate commercial awareness and become familiar with concepts such as people analytics, which can be an excellent way to link HR activities to strategic planning and decision making; as an example, metrics that will clearly articulate how to drive down retention and enhance productivity will be a positive step in the right direction when it comes to conversations with senior leaders, as it shows HR are able to think beyond the transactional, ‘personnel’ aspects of people management that they are traditionally known for.


2. Build capabilities

PwC’s 22nd annual CEO Survey highlighted that globally, CEOs see ‘significant retraining and upskilling’ as the best answer to building capabilities above changing to a contingent workforce or hiring externally. The talent already exists within most organisations, it just needs a re-focus, to develop the right skills and ignite the spark. However, this isn’t as easy as it sounds – it can be challenging to know where to begin, which skills and capabilities to focus on and the process of refocusing and reskilling and entire business can seem incredibly daunting.

Capabilities for the future workplace will include a blend of digital and soft skills and we can think about building capabilities in two ways:

  • Capability within HR
  • Capability within the wider organisation for both current staff and new hires

HR can no longer just play an ‘enabler’ role in supporting the business goals – they must become an integral part of the strategy design and take a much more proactive role to help drive the business forward. To prepare for the future, HR must develop a strategic outlook, embrace change and be proactive about ‘rethinking the way they work.’

In a more general business context, key skills that will become more relevant in the future workplace are outlined below.

It should go not without saying that for new hires, you will be looking for candidates who possess these skills and will allow you to build them further. In a previous post, I looked these skills in more detail, in the context of hiring the right skills for the future Kenyan workplace.



3. Foster a digital culture

Actually, digital is only part of the story. A winning strategy must include building an inclusive culture that will inspire and motivate employees. To be successful with implementing digital tools and an optimised future workplace, it’s important to ensure that the culture of the organisation is inspiring, conducive to change and willing to embrace technology. This really means showing that you care for and value your employees. To quote Mr. Joseph V. Onyango, National Chairman of the Institute of Human Resource Management (Kenya), “we need to see employees as humans rather than simply a resource.”

Changing a culture is not something that can be done overnight, it takes time. The following list is not fully conclusive but it gives some ideas about some of the areas that you can focus on. If we think about what really lies beneath these for a second, it’s clear to see that the key to success is about making employees feel valued, trusted, inspired, empowered and treating them simply as humans. Many of these concepts cost very little to implement, yet a surprising number of companies are still not doing them.



4. Streamline and centralise data

The shift towards data-driven decision-making using real time insights and predictive analytics is becoming a hot topic. In my recent article, I highlighted 6 steps to getting started with HR analytics for African businesses. In this article, I emphasised the importance of putting in place solid foundations in terms of both data and technology and this is a fundamental step in preparing for the future digital workplace – if you have data all over the place, in various systems or even worse, in spreadsheets or manual files, then this needs to first be organised in a sensible fashion. Also, you must ensure that the data is accurate and there are suitable processes to ensure it remains up-to-date. This can be done in conjunction with an upgrade of digital solutions but it must be done. Failing to take this crucial step, would be similar to building a house without first laying a concrete foundation to support it.


5. Embrace & invest in digital

According to PwC’s Preparing for Tomorrow’s Workforce, Today report, HR’s ability to navigate the technology landscape is a top ‘at risk’ capability for organisations – but HR and business leaders don’t see it the same way: 41% of HR leaders are confident that their HR departments are up to speed in this area, but only a quarter of business leaders agree.

The Global Leadership Forecast 2018 also highlighted HR has failed to develop its digital skills in pace with advances in technology!

With the changes happening at significant speed, it is imperative that HR does more to understand technology and how to apply it successfully within their organisations. Building HR’s understanding of technological change and its implications will be a vital step in successfully preparing for the future.

Business leaders also need to be prepared to make investment into both technology and the upskilling of the workforce. HR must take steps to educate and own the conversation within their organisation, bringing business leaders with them from the start of the journey and demonstrating that they have the capability to continue leading HR into the next generation workplace.


Key takeaways & final thoughts

There were three key takeaways I highlighted to delegates. These were:

  • Act now – the change is happening, so get on board and be prepared!
  • Develop capabilities and nature a culture that is ‘digital to the core’
  • Seize the opportunity to elevate the perception of HR and showcase your strategic value.

It is important to remember that embracing digital and the change it brings is a critical step in preparing for the future of work for the long term.

Found this useful? Have something to add? Let me know your thoughts below.

You can also reach out to me with any questions you may have. If you would like more information on how you can prepare for the future and build the right digital culture for your African business, please reach out to me here.


Leave a Reply