How to become a transformational leader

Do you have what it takes to get your organisation ‘future-ready’?

How to become a transformational leader

Are you ‘future-ready’? Is your workforce ‘future-ready’? As an HR leader, what is your role in helping everyone transform and prepped for the journey ahead?

Just like all the other buzz terms floating about in the current climate of change, there’s a tendency that things can get a little confusing.

To set things straight, HRD investigated how digital disruption will change leadership and what HR can do right now to prep for the uncertain future.

What is digital transformation?
First things first, what is digital transformation and how will it change the way we work? It’s been asked plenty of times but we sought the expertise of Dan Cullen, partner-in-charge at Heidrick & Struggles to help us gain some clarity. Cullen has a track record of facilitating senior leadership and organisational transformation, and much of his recent work is focused on disruptive innovation.

“Digital transformation is a very broad concept,” he said. “It means many things to many different functions. I think the opportunity of digital transformation is it’s a company-wide change. And the minute you start isolating the change into particular silos, you lose the impact.”

READ MORE: How can HR destroy the ‘silo mentality’?

He explained that rapid technological changes has created a “real complexity” for large organisations that have been doing things in a very traditional way: how do they compete with leaner, more agile firms who are quickly eating into today’s market share?

That sounds like an issue for business leaders to sort out, since it’s about staying competitive and profitable, but Cullen is quick to remind that the quality of your talent directly impacts success — which is why HR has such a crucial role to play in all of it and a chance to become more strategic.

“HR has a significant opportunity but also a burden,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to bring in a new and engaged workforce…to find efficiencies in the organisation and evolve the nature of products but also the customer experience.”

“The complexity from an HR perspective is always: how do you create the digital transformation program? How do you firstly [transform] a workforce that may have been there for a long period of time and needs to be re-energised, changed and more agile?”

Is HR successfully transforming the organisation?
So is HR sufficiently fulfilling their role to help the organisation transform? Research suggests there’s plenty more to do — for both current and potential employees.

Aon found that the top three HR focus areas for companies centre on hiring top talent to gain business advantages:

  1. Attracting quality talent (59%)
  2. Building employer brand (32%)
  3. Enhancing efficiency of the recruitment process (30%)

However, despite being a top priority, only 17% of CHROs are assessing candidates for a digital mindset. This counters ongoing tech transformation efforts as success is dependent on the strength of the workforce’s digital readiness.

As for the current workforce, a worrying study by Skillsoft found that seven in 10 employees believe they’re unprepared for the future of work. About 70% are concerned they’re not receiving ample L&D and training opportunities to remain employable and skilled for the future.

About eight in 10 employees believe their role is changing due to digital transformation. However, they believe their organisations are not keeping pace with the changes, with 82% voicing a desire for more frequent L&D and upskilling opportunities.

HR’s changing role

With HR leadership leaving both the top and bottom of the organisation wanting in terms of transformation, how can HR do better?

Cullen shared that in some parts of the world, HR has long played a delivery role, tasked to execute mandated strategy from the organisation’s headquarters. This is exactly what needs to change for HR to become effective future-ready, digital leaders.

READ MORE: What does the ‘leader of the future’ look like?

“Much of [HR’s role has been] around recruiting capable people [and] operating around a set of processes that will be able to assess how people are performing,” he said.

“But I think HR has moved — and should — into a much more business-centric role, which is aligned around purpose, innovation, transformation and how you’re able to define agility to get the best out of your people.”

Transcending HR’s current role and becoming ‘future-ready’ is not easy by any means. Cullen said that HR has to pivot and double up as both a deliverer as well as strategist.

To win a business seat at the table, he said HR has to prove:

  • That you have a point of view and can contribute at the top table
  • Once you contribute, that HR can execute the mandated strategy

“As a function, I think HR is becoming a much broader, professionalised function,” he said. “Individuals [now] have the agility; an understanding of the region; a global experience as well having worked for different companies across the globe, or at least being posted to different regions — that gives you a strategy and understanding of how to influence change.”

Cullen added that beyond all the typical skills needed to be a future-ready leader, HR has to have a strong EQ to influence change across all levels of the organisation, as well as the resilience to consistently evangelise the change throughout the journey.

“HR has the unique opportunity at this stage to be at the epicentre of the transformation journey and influence and change peoples’ views on how businesses can be run,” he said. “HR is an essential pivot role, perhaps more important than it’s ever been.”

Recent articles & video

MOM: Carefully weigh use of restraint of trade clauses

Which HR teams are moving the industry forward?

Do you use slang at work?

What's the top priority for HR leaders in 2024?

Most Read Articles

Welcome news: Singapore's financial support scheme for retrenched workers

Employers reminded of duty to be fair, responsible on retrenchments

HR, admin roles among most hired, most laid off jobs in 2023