Strategic HR in the Digital Age: Exclusive Insights from Vodafone, Facebook & Schneider Electric- Part 1

HR Leaders are being pushed to take on a larger role in helping to drive the organization “to be digital” not just “do digital” by integrating AI, machine learning, analytics and cutting-edge technologies in the workplace culture. In this three-part series, three experts from blue-chip enterprises share their learning, experiences, and ideas about the digital transformation and people analytics imperative for HR professionals across industries.

In Part 1, we talk with Ross Sparkman, the Head of Strategic Workforce Planning, Facebook, USA, about the role of HR in strategic digital transformation, and how modern HR leaders can best adapt.

HRT: What are the vital qualities of an HR professional in the digital era?

Ross: In addition to more of the traditional ‘softer’ skills, the digital era requires HR professionals to possess an understanding of data & analytics; about the business impact of HR, social media fluency, technology awareness, and a general curiosity and willingness to learn more. Gaining a better understanding of concepts such as statistics & analytics, basic programming, machine learning, virtual reality, and blockchain will help HR professionals address some of this disruption; and better serve and relate to their clients in a world where the acceleration of change and disruption is increasing every day.

HRT: What are some of the big challenges you’ve faced as Head of Strategic Workforce Planning in Facebook?

Ross: I’ve found the biggest challenge with coming into a new role like this, regardless of the company, is the change management component of bringing new ways of doing things. In terms of when I first joined Facebook, I really wanted to introduce the company and the department to alternative and contemporary approaches to the way that we thought about things in the Strategic HR space. Because this introduced a change to the status quo, it was natural for some people to resist the thought of coming out of the ‘comfort zone’, so to speak. I overcame this resistance, by spending a lot of upfront time developing relationships and trying to see the world through my clients and stakeholders’ perspective. In these discussions, I focused a lot of my messaging around how the concepts that I was introducing stood to benefit them.

HRT: What are the biggest changes you observe, from the pre-digital era to today’s age of disruptive technologies?

Ross: I think there are a few themes that differentiate the pre-digital era from the current digital era.

First, the sheer volume of data that is now available to organizations is a stark contrast to what was available to organizations in the past.

This, coupled with a significant increase in computational efficiency, has made this data much more valuable than it used to be. These two factors are key reasons why technologies like AI and Machine learning have become so important – not to mention pervasive – in many of the technological breakthroughs, we’re seeing in modern times.

Another key point is the ease and access to data and technology that the average employee now has. As the cost to develop and rollout technologies has dramatically decreased, employees now have at their fingertips, access to countless tools designed to make them more productive and efficient in their daily tasks. Many of these technologies were unheard of 10 years ago.

The final factor has to do with how small and connected the world has become. Social media and the internet have completely changed the way in which people interact and connect with each other. For better or for worse this connectedness has changed how we think about our work and professional lives.

HRT: What are your plans for Facebook in terms of People Planning over the next 5 years or so?

The vision for Strategic Workforce Planning at Facebook remains largely unchanged, which is to say we will continue to develop data-driven insights and strategies that will help develop and create a workforce that is engaged, happy and productive and one that is optimized to meet the challenges that Facebook as a platform will require as we continue to scale and grow.

Stay tuned for Part 2 with Catalina Schveninger, Global Head of Learning, Vodafone, UK; and Part 3 with Gustavo Canton, VP People Analytics & Metrics, Schneider Electric, USA.

Editor’s note: Hear Ross talk about how HR can become more strategic through different levels of analytics; how to build a high-powered Strategic Workforce Planning function; and practical traps to avoid in the process; at the Digital HR and Analytics conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia this February. Click here for the full list of speakers and conference agenda.


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