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HR and people managers’ role in winning the digital future

Organisations consider their internal culture to remain competitive

Research carried out by Microsoft Ireland has found that investment in technology alone is not enough to both transform and prosper in the digital future. Organisations succeed when they have the best blend of culture and technology - creating a new phenomenon; digital culture.

Digital culture is where an organisation encourages and supports technology use to get work done in the most effective way. It is the key, and often missing, ingredient in competitiveness for successfully transforming both individuals and organisations to succeed in an ever competitive and disruptive market.




Nurturing and sustaining a digital culture in the workplace is absolutely critical. But we are seeing a mixed picture in Irish organisations.

Digital culture’s role in productivity and innovation

The research, which was carried out among more than 1,000 employees in Ireland, found that only 11 per cent of Irish employees feel highly productive in their job while just 14 per cent feel highly engaged. Furthermore, 90 per cent of them report low innovation in their organisation.

On the other hand, where there is a strong digital culture in place, 99 per cent of employees experience average to high productivity and 98 per cent experience average to high innovation.

Speaking at a recent event at the company’s new building in Leopardstown, Microsoft Ireland HR director Joanne Morrissey said: “Embracing a digital culture is critical to digital transformation. Digital transformation is about applying technology advancements to the needs of the business, whether that’s looking at how you engage with your customers in a better way, how you can optimise your operations, or empowering your employees. Often these changes can have a disruptive effect and enable the business to leapfrog the competition. In strong digital cultures, leaders champion technology's potential to transform the business, managers lead by example in how they use technology, and employees get the training they need to make the most of digital."

The event featured a panel discussion on “Making digital culture an advantage and HR’s role in unlocking it”. Panellists Maeve McElwee, director employer services with Ibec, Gerard McDonough, director people & organisation strategy with PwC, and Wendy Murphy, snr director of HR for EMEA, LinkedIn, discussed the issue in front of a specially invited audience of Microsoft customers and HR professionals.

Maeve McElwee believes the trend is going in the right direction. “There is quite a good culture of digital adoption in Ireland”, she said. “We are seeing employers increasingly using it in areas like communications as well as in the HR space to attract and engage talent.”

Unsurprisingly, the digital culture is critically important to an organisation like LinkedIn. However, just being a technology company is not enough to sustain it – more needs to be done according to Wendy Murphy.

“For us, culture is pivotal to our success and our leadership sets the tone for that”, she said. “Our leaders actually help to build and develop our culture which is built around certain tenets which go back 13 years and is all around creating an environment based on purpose, innovation, collaboration, and transformation. And underpinning that is leveraging technology.”

The digital culture even extends to future employees. “We start before people join us”, Murphy said. “We ask what technology they want to use; are they an iPhone or an Android user? Would you prefer to use a Mac or a PC? We make sure from a technology perspective that it is as easy as possible and from day one.”

And new employees might be a little surprised by their welcome. “We say to them we know you are going to leave us some day but for however long you are with us, hopefully over many years, we want you to leverage every opportunity to become a better professional. We teach them how to use social media, not just our own but others, we help them to blog, to create an amazing LinkedIn profile, we also spend quite a bit of time teaching them to use collaboration tools including many from Microsoft.”

Gerard McDonough agreed that leadership, training and education are vitally important to fostering a digital culture. “PwC every year for the past 21 years has produced a CEO Global Survey and release it at Davos”, he said. “The survey this year is called ‘the anxious optimist in the corner’. CEOs are very conscious of the digital workplace and of what they need to try and do. And when they look amongst their own leadership teams they think 69 per cent of them are not sufficiently digitally aware.”

This doesn’t mean ability to programme code which is taken almost as a given. It means the ability to take those technologies and leveraging them. “Unless you’ve got the mindset, the creativity and the emotional intelligence, you’re not going to be able to leverage man and machine. It’s not about the robots taking over; it’s how you work in partnership. Creating a positive workplace environment is the number one thing a CEO can do to create a digital culture.”

Some CEOs have gone even further. “Education is critical. It’s not about the job you do it’s the skills you have. If you think you’re going to protect people by protecting jobs you’re going to be at a disadvantage. If you protect them by training them and reskilling you stand a much better chance of success.”

Looking to the future, Maeve McElwee said that a digital culture is required if organisations are to benefit from advances in areas like remote working. “One of the big issues which has arisen in our challenged housing environment is the ability to allow people to work remotely”, she said. “The biggest blocker that companies have found is not staff willingness or the technology, it is managers, because they had no idea how to manage a more remote workforce. So, what we’re seeing is a huge investment in managers and management skills to address this. That’s having a knock-on effect in driving the adoption of more digital methods of working within businesses.”