Digital Transformation Isn’t A Strategy. : Inside Talent

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Just what the world needs – another post about digital transformation and recruiting. Or about digital transformation, period. After all, it’s one of those buzzwords, like “big data” or “artificial intelligence,” that’s become so commoditized that it’s become more or less meaningless.

Unlike those perpetual trending topics, however, digital transformation is actually a thing.

Trust me. Even if it sounds a little, well, anachronistic. It’s hard to even say the phrase “digital transformation” without sounding like you’re like, old enough to be a Jitterbug user, Life Alert subscriber or CBS viewer. I mean, c’mon, if you haven’t made the transformation to digital, then you’re already as much of an anachronism as that HCM you’re using.

Digital is ubiquitous in business, and in life. Get over it, gramps.

Digital Transformation: It’s Not Old News, It’s ‘Overqualified.’

I know this raises a few obvious questions. Let’s get those out of the way.

First, isn’t digital transformation just some BS term consultants invented to sell stuff? Well, yes.

And hasn’t digital transformation, if it were a thing, already something that happened around the same time as cassette tapes were abandoned for CDs and broadcast TV stopped being appointment viewing?

Well, that too; the analog world has largely disappeared over the past two decades, as you probably know, since you’re reading this in a format other than print.

So, yeah, I’ll give it to you; digital transformation probably isn’t actually a trend or a hot talent topic. It’s an integral component of almost everything we do, from finding our significant others to finding our next job. And even dating sites and job boards (or, worst of all, dating sites with job boards – ahem) have become pretty passe, at least by the standards of today.

This hasn’t stopped a veritable cottage industry of consultants, software and services providers from transforming “digital transformation” from a foregone anachronism to an organizational imperative – and from vacuous buzzword into a big business.

According to the Harvard Business Review, in 2018, organizations spent a whopping $1.7 trillion dollars (that’s trillion, with a “t”) on digital transformation initiatives; this number is projected to double over the next five years. This number, mind you, doesn’t include the ancillary spend on the actual technology and tools required to achieve digital transformation.

Nope. That nearly $2 trillion is spent on consulting services, tech evaluation, systems selection, operational support, change and process management and everything required for digital transformation success except, you know, the actual “digital” part of the equation.

Furthermore, a recent survey of executive managers and business leaders found the operational challenges inherent in “digital transformation” (or lack thereof) to be the single most significant risk factor facing their 2019 business outlooks, ahead of such stalwarts as “attracting the right talent,” “data privacy and information security” and “the global economic outlook.”

What scares senior executives into spending so much money on “digital transformation” is the belief that established businesses lack the capability and agility to keep pace with the proliferation of potentially disruptive emerging competitors best classified as “digital natives.”

It’s always the Millennials’ fault, you know.

Let’s Get Digital.

Anyone who’s overseen an HCM or ATS migration from a legacy or on-premise system into a multi-tenant, cloud-based solution understands that adopting best in class tech is a whole lot more complicated than starting a tech stack from scratch.

It’s rare that incumbents face a significant disadvantage when it comes to market share or business outcomes, but the rise of digital transformation, it seems, is the tacit admission that the status quo at many enterprise organizations just isn’t working anymore.

Unless, of course, you’re talking about talent acquisition and HR Technology – which seems to be making the exact same mistakes as most enterprise digital transformation initiatives are designed to correct.

What’s more, the term “digital transformation” sounds, superficially at least, like one of those vacuous business buzzwords (like AI or big data) invented by content marketers and consultants in order to sell services or push products.

Let’s take a step back for a second and define what the heck people mean when they say “digital transformation.” And by people, I mean those handful of antiquarians who think and Business Insider constitute legitimate thought leadership, or anyone pitching this purported problem as something capable of being solved through management consulting or professional services (spoiler alert: digital transformation isn’t the answer, it’s the question).

OK. Digital transformation is defined the process of using digital technologies to create new – or modify existing – business processes, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing business and market requirements.

This reimagining of business in the digital age, simply, is digital transformation.


The Right Time for Digital Transformation is Right Now.

Digital transformation transcends traditional talent roles like sourcing, recruitment marketing or process management.

Instead, digital transformation starts, simply, with how you think about candidates, and how you can deliver the best experience possible to each and every applicant, each and every time.

We’ve been talking about candidate experience for a while now, but the silver bullet seemingly lies in creating a sustainable, scalable digital transformation that can automate the painful, time consuming and highly repetitive parts of the process (think candidate scheduling, resume screening, that sort of thing) and allows recruiters to spend their time building relationships rather than simply filling requisitions.

The simpler and more streamlined we can make hiring, the better it is for everyone – quicker time to fill, better cost and quality of hire, and better candidate matching are all outcomes that digital transformation should help drive relatively quickly.

As we move from paper applications to PaaS solutions, and from systems of record to systems of engagement, it’s important to realize that digital transformation gives us the chance not only to better manage the way our businesses find and acquire talent, but also, how we engage our candidates, our coworkers and our customers.

The black hole never really existed, but digital transformation in recruiting can be seen as akin to the Big Bang; that is, once you have the right tools and technology in place, the impact and implications of digital transformation will continue to perpetually expand throughout not only your talent organization, but throughout the entire business, too.

The key isn’t knowing where to start; too many companies spend too long on strategy and software selection, or putting too much effort into creating really specific pilots, programs and plans before fully committing to a roadmap to digital transformation.

The thing about roadmaps and digital transformation, of course, is it’s almost impossible to plan for everything (or really, anything) that could happen long term. Recruiting and HR, professionally, tends to be risk averse, but when it comes to digital transformation, really the only risk recruiters run is choosing to do nothing.

There’s no right place to start, in short. You’ve just got to jump in head first. Forget AI or machine learning. The only way to know what works and what doesn’t in digital transformation and talent acquisition is entirely experiential.

Trial and error might sound like a scary way to build a strategy, but then again, that’s the foundation for most of recruiting. From post and pray to passive sourcing, recruiting is all about what happens when the right candidate finds the right opportunity at the right time. Of course, the intersection of opportunity and timing is really just luck, and while most recruiters won’t admit it, filling really any req takes at least a little luck to happen.

So too does digital transformation. Sometimes, screwups happen, as anyone who’s ever used an on premise ATS or received an InMail can tell you. The key isn’t worrying about what can go wrong; instead, you’ve got to focus on what you can leverage tools and tech to start doing right, right now. There’s no single answer or silver bullet for doing digital transformation right.

The way to get it wrong in the business of talent, however, is simply to stick to business as usual. Because when it comes to recruiting, sticking to the status quo of today means missing out on the talent your organization needs to survive – and thrive – in tomorrow’s world of work.

If you’re not at least making plans for digital transformation, you’re planning for your own obsolescence. Better start now than fall behind later – and chances are, if you’re still just thinking about digital transformation, you’re already behind the curve (and the competition).

For talent organizations just getting started on the road to digital transformation, there’s no need to create a bunch of contingency plans or undertake complex scenario analysis to anticipate potential business changes and challenges. You can essentially future proof your recruiting function simply by creating a scalable, sustainable and successful talent organization that doesn’t necessarily have to do anything differently – at least in action.

But by simply leveraging a digital first mindset to your recruiting related processes, policies and planning, you’ll have the agility, flexibility and ultimately, the capability, to drive digital transformation and overcome whatever changes or challenges the future might hold.

Change is going to come. And if you can’t transform, then we all know you will get replaced by robots, lose your job and die in penury. Or at least that’s what the “futurists” seem to think will happen, and we know they’re never wrong.

In the second part of this series, we’ll look at some of the things real recruiters can really do to make a real difference with digital transformation – and what red flags and warning signs every recruiter should really know. For reals.

Matt Charney is the lead analyst at Allegis Global Solutions, where he is responsible for overseeing AGS’ global thought leadership programs. He is also a partner in RecruitingDaily, and serves on the boards of such HR Technology companies as Textio, Clinch, HiringSolved, Uncommon, HumanPredictions, Drafted, Jobiak and Rolepoint. Matt previously served in marketing leadership roles for HR Technology companies such as Cornerstone OnDemand, Talemetry and Monster Worldwide.


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