Workforce transformation continues to dominate the agenda of Human Resources Directors. They have to understand the impact of new technology on existing roles and future ones, while also thinking about implementing changes which are cost effective and on point with strategy.  
It’s complex, risky and a project that never ends. At Criticaleye’s Human Resources Director Retreat 2019, held in association with IBM, it was apparent that leaders within the function are becoming used to operating in a tech-disrupted business landscape.  
Jamie Wilson, Managing Director of Group Services at Criticaleye, said: “Our research shows, yet again, that retaining key talent and developing new skills is the number one priority for HRDs. When it comes to the people agenda, they must balance short and medium-term priorities with a longer-term, strategic view of what success will look like in five years’ time.  
“It’s why they absolutely need to work closely with the CEO and senior leadership team, as well as the Chair and wider Board.” 
Nichole Viviani, HR Director for UK, Marketing & Global eCommerce at Worldpay, has played a key part in the company’s growth and expansion plans, from divestment and IPO, to the recent merger with Vantiv in 2017. She says: “Our starting point was to understand what skills we had versus what we needed to buy in or build.  
“Often in M&A, people get labelled by the job they’re doing, and you don’t think about all their past experience.” 
In order to gain a deeper understanding of the talent across the business, she said that all the senior leaders were asked to complete a profile on themselves. “It worked out well, because it felt collaborative. It also gave the new Executive team a better insight into their leaders,” she added. 
With two different organisational structures to consider, this is a big project and priorities needed to be identified. “We focused our efforts on the lines of business where there was a revenue impact first. We made a conscious decision to wait on the wider talent plan, just because of the amount of change we were pushing through the business. 
“We knew early on that the need for a long-term talent strategy was really important. The challenge was, we had synergy and revenue numbers to hit, so we had to be pragmatic about what we needed to do right away versus what was needed for the future,” she said.
AI & Machine Learning  
Technology was a major discussion point on Day 1 when looking at talent. Nickle LaMoreaux, Global Head of Compensation, Benefits, M&A, and Corporate Functions at IBM, commented that employees are welcoming – and even driving – changes as they need to be able to work in faster and more flexible ways.
She explains: “The employee base is more forgiving of that than it used to be, so you can experiment and trial new ways of working, which is great when it comes to AI. This view of iterating, getting feedback and either making it better or stopping something that’s not working, happens in our everyday life and it’s translating very nicely into the workforce too.”
It’s already having a dramatic impact on the HR function itself. “This is not about cost cutting. It’s about technology enabling HR professionals to do higher-value work. For example, we had our original performance management system for decades, so getting a new system out to all employees and managers needed a massive change-management effort.
“Questions kept coming in, and we did not have the resources to answer them all. We were concerned that the programme would fail if people couldn’t get answers in real time. So, we built a chatbot, which only took a few weeks to do. In the first week it answered thousands of questions.” 
At NATS, an international air traffic and airspace management concern, Julie Elder is responsible for driving through a major technology and organisation transformation in her role as HR & Corporate Services Director.  
She told the audience: “We don’t have a burning platform with lots of flames, but we do have a burning platform. If we don’t successfully implement new technology, plus change the culture of the organisation and the employment proposition, then we’re not going to be able to attract the talent we need for the future.” 
There could be absolutely no compromise in terms of how the organisation delivers its current services, but at the same time they need to engage with employees to explain how future capability requirements will be different. “Creating the desire to change in a workforce where so many people are wedded to the technologies and the ways of working that they have used for the last 25 years is one of the biggest challenges we face,” she said.  
Marc Barber, Managing Editor, Criticaleye 
Next week’s Community Update will pull together learnings on dynamics within the leadership team, from Criticaleye’s HRD Retreat 2019.