Some companies proactively take the lead as digital disruptors, while others react to events. Human Resources increasingly steers companies towards becoming proactive through empowerment of people from the CEO to the frontline worker

Digital disruption is a business change caused by new technologies which are necessarily accompanied by new business models. When digital disruption takes place, the first thing a company does is reevaluate their stage of technology, and also the business model, operations, products and services, and customer services. Everything involves the people of the organization, from the CEO to leadership to staff positions. With the speed of technological change and the emergence of what seem like radical business models to leverage the new technology, there are two questions a company needs to ask itself. Does the company react to digital technology, or has it proactively pursued it as a proactive innovator? Are all employees prepared to sustain a proactive approach through the right mindset and skills? Being proactive is important to remaining competitive, and through its people, Human Resources (HR) can empower the organization to transform from reactive to proactive, a process that begins at the executive level.

Reimagining Talent Management

Sudden disruptions can have a profound impact on employees, and anything to do with the workforce means there will be organizational culture, operational, employee, and leadership considerations. For multinational companies, add cultural considerations to this list. Digital disruption can initiate from anywhere in the world too, taking companies by surprise triggering and causing turmoil and uncertainty leading to talent management problems. Moving from a reactor to a disruptor is only possible when the CEO and executives are willing to first accept the fundamental changes this transformation brings to the organization. They must think differently in order to begin the organizational culture change and to empower managers, supervisors, and employees down to the frontline of work.

Ultimately, the goal is to leverage emerging technologies to cultivate a culture of innovation, so the company can remain competitive going forward. Human Resources becomes the empowerment function, beginning with the CEO. The CEO and top executives need a willingness to actively pursue digital disruption in their industry. One of the first myths to overcome, according to Deloitte research, is to encourage the C-suite to own the digital vision through the right mindset. They must be able to articulate the vision of digital disruption as having economic value, and align teams and metrics to achieve that vision. Proactively becoming a digital disruptor requires looking beyond current business models to consider the new technologies that can bring value creation over the long-term. HR can begin the discussion with the CEO and offer a strategy for empowering all employees. As the CEO reimagines the business model, HR becomes the empowerment function for reimagining the workforce needed for the organization to become proactive digitally.

New Business Model Built on Human Resources

McKinsey & Co has done extensive research on the new role of HR in the age of disruption. The new business model places people at the center of innovation and promotes creativity and adaptability. Hierarchies are greatly flattened, and growth is fueled by the ability to learn and innovate. HR drives strategic workforce planning, leadership skills development, and culture acceptance by the workforce, mapping talent to value and becoming a global employer of choice,. There is a need to reskill and upskill talent and make the workforce more flexible. For multinational companies, the cultural barriers are assessed and minimized to develop an organization where talent is not restricted by lack of cultural intelligence. Disruption knows no arbitrary geographic boundaries, a fact that global companies can leverage to proactively embrace innovation.

Assurant chose to become a disruptor in the global risk management industry, and they are now focused on lifestyle and housing protection markets. The Fortune 500 company discussed what digital disruption means to the brand, and decided it is employees who make the brand a leading disruptor. Customers need access to company experts when wanting support. Since customer interactions are mostly digital, the digital experience connects to other support in every process, from digitally filing and tracking a claim to interacting with customer support personnel. Data is rigorously collected from clients and employees to promote innovation, but it is the company’s self-infusion of disruption into all it does that has made the company a leader in using digital disruption to remain an industry leader.

In 2022, Assurant earned a Great Place to Work Certification. The company gives credit to its culture of values aligned to purpose, that attracts and retains talent that in turn drives growth. The company fosters a culture of diverse experiences and perspectives to fuel innovation.

The pharmaceutical company Allergan decided to self-disrupt. Employing more than 17,000 people in 100 countries, the company decided to transform into a customer-focused business that provides unique customer experiences. The company began by taking its executives out of the office and sending them to Cambridge, MA where they met with leaders in emerging technologies. Hearing the new perspective inspired the executives to take bold steps to reimagine the business, and HR helped with the creation of a cross-functional team of “rock-stars” from sales, technology, and digital marketing. The team shook things up, changing the narrative and the focus to becoming a company of immersive customer experiences. HR plays an important role in ensuring the right talent is attracted, hired, and retained in order to sustain digital disruption.

Becoming a Digital Disruptor Depends on Human Resources

It is tempting for organizations to think of digital disruption as being all about technology, but it is really all about Human Resources. The Human Resources function can take a leadership role in helping organizations become proactive disruptors, rather than waiting for disruption to trigger a reaction. The first step is helping the C-suite members develop the right mindset and organizational culture. From there flows the strategy development for aligning the talent management process, including leadership and employee training. Like most things involving a major business shift, it is a journey - but it is a necessary one for remaining relevant in today’s global marketplace.