HR and digital transformation at Vodafone

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​At the Unleash World Conference and Expo in Amsterdam, Vodafone's global organisation and people development director shared how the company underwent a rapid digital transformation

The most important aspect of digital transformation for HR is to get senior leaders behind you, according to global organisation and people development director for Vodafone Sharon Doherty.

She said: “If you want to do digital transformation it’s really important that the senior team want to do it. It can be quite tough to get senior people to go on this journey, so that’s absolutely critical. If they are not with you, you are really starting from the wrong place."

Looking for inspiration outside of your organisation and being willing to experiment are also vital, she added.

“The second thing is that with a lot of the digital transformation you’re doing from inside your company you need to have an external perspective. That can be from learning from other organisations, or it can be in a commercial sense; a lot of the things we’re doing for Vodafone internally we’re also doing for our customers.”

“There’s so much to do, and it can be a bit daunting. You’ve got to get going, you’ve got to experiment, you’ve got to learn fast, fail fast, and kill things that really don’t work.”

Doherty went on to share how the company introduced agile working on a global scale. “In 2017 we scaled across 12 months into 16 different countries, 200 squads, 2,000 people working in agile, and it’s probably one of the fastest global implementations in our jobs," she said.

"And if I reflect on the things that we’ve learnt, it’s because our senior people personally went out and saw what agile working looked like on the ground, and the positive customer outcomes it was creating that meant we could achieve this."

Doherty said that this had fundamentally changed the kind of questions HR are asking: “Don’t underestimate how much this will change HR. We’re now thinking about issues like ‘do we need grades in a world where skills are increasingly important? And how can we manage performance if people no longer have a boss?’”

She said that while talent had not always been a key issue in HR, this had ramped up significantly in recent years. “Most of us are old enough to remember the McKinsey article at the end of the 1990s on the war for talent. I’ve worked in pretty big organisations since then, and I’ve never felt that there’s been a bid for talent. If you’ve worked in a good organisation and you treat your people well you can typically hire who you want to,” she said.

“The reality is, we really are now in a war for talent. And who are these people we want to hire? We want Gen Z workers, we want coders, we want digital marketeers. And even if you’re in Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon you’re likely to keep them for two years. So if those companies are finding it hard to hire, when we come to this room it really is a war.”

She said that social media and the use of video has changed the way Vodafone recruits young talent. “We started thinking about this in terms of data, we used social media, we used LinkedIn, we used social listening [social media monitoring], we looked at millions of pieces of data to find out job by job, country by country, what their preferences are and how we might attract them.

“We also found that how we attract this talent needs to look different. Sure thought leadership is still important. But increasingly we’ve moved from corporate videos to something much more edgy and current.”

Brian Humphries, CEO, group enterprise at Vodafone, added that HR is shifting to the forefront of business. “A few years ago we just saw IT as a small part of an organisation; now it’s at the forefront. Similarly HR is moving more towards the core of the business, which is why the relationships between HR and business leaders are more important than ever.”

Humphries said that employers must also recognise we are at a turning point in history where employees' needs have changed.

“We’re in a moment in history when large businesses are generally not trusted by society… and at the same time we’ve got a rapidly-changing workforce, where we’ve got several different generations working alongside each other with different needs, and we need to become comfortable with the co-existence of humans and machines,” he said.

“Employees want authenticity more than ever before, and don’t want to work for businesses solely focused on profit. They want to work for companies with purpose; for the planet, for society, for employees themselves, and for the underprivileged,” he said.

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