People Management: How to start your digitalization offensive!

Picture of Ursula Fellberg

Ursula Fellberg

July 19, 2017

The courage to prototype instead of rigid strategic planning and long project durations: digital transformation is a highly complex process and when it comes to people, it gets even more complicated. After all, people are individuals - and their demands, requirements and behaviors vary greatly depending on their age, origin, region and much more. Buzzwords such as New WorkDigital nomads, people at the center and agile leadership are all commonplace. But what is really happening behind the closed doors of companies and public authorities? The bottom line is that the digital transformation is still in its infancy and that companies and public authorities in particular have an even greater responsibility: It must be about taking people's reservations and fears seriously and countering them with concrete and sustainable measures. They are called upon to finally take action in order to face up to digitalization and properly adapt their people management to the new revolutionary era. There is no way around it: you must not miss out on this development, because you could regret it! So: do instead of talk! Find out exactly how to do this below.

People are at the heart of every digitalization offensive

Digitalization offensive, Digital transformation, Cloud, Innovative technologies, Company transformation, Personnel in digitalization
Successful with people management. People must be the focus of attention in any digitalization offensive. (Image: © Melpomene |

For the transformation process to succeed, you must first be aware of three principles at all times: People management @digital is

  • is not just a buzzword, but a necessary change in and with HR work.
  • is not a separate project, but a continuous process of change.
  • A prerequisite and component of every digitization project.

Once you have internalized these principles and implemented them sustainably, you have taken the first important step towards a digitalization offensive.

Globalization, Industry 4.0, demographic developments, virtual reality - the world is constantly on the move and is always producing new trends. We need to constantly change and reinvent ourselves - disruptive change on a grand scale. Managing and observing is a thing of the past; instead, value-adding and, above all, appreciative people management will be in demand in the future: inspiring, forward-looking, agile, organization-independent, digital and controlling.

You must ensure that those responsible for people management - both "HR managers" and leaders - become decisive change agents and shape digitalization for people. In doing so, you should say goodbye to antiquated clichés: in future, "HR managers" will no longer be the administrative bureaucrats, but the drivers and shapers of technological and social change.

As human beings, employees are at the heart of every digitalization offensive: they are challenged, overwhelmed and need to be supported. More and more employees expect a coherent digital strategy from their employer. The Corporate and public authority culture must be one of the most important goals of people management. However, this is not in their hands alone: top management must be behind the cultural change for such initiatives to take place and be successful.

"Digital nomads" are constantly on the move. Do they move anything?

Employees have to change, from being directly affected to being involved, to becoming shapers "on their own behalf" and, above all, multipliers and "visionaries": they recognize greater international transparency of customers, suppliers, products and services and thus increasingly a globalization of business. They feel the flexibilization of working conditions through digitalization. Worldwide networking makes qualified talent and top performers more visible and accessible, but also more sought after. At the same time, the global battle for the best specialists and managers continues to intensify.

The list of changes brought about by digitalization could go on and on. That is one side of the coin. The other side of the coin shows that the weaknesses of companies and public authorities are coming to light more quickly and more openly as part of the digital transformation. Probably the biggest disadvantages of digitalization are the decline in personal communication, constant availability and the deterioration in leadership behavior. You can counteract these developments by applying and implementing digitalization in people management carefully and with foresight ... but it must be applied at all!

Employees need

  • More freedom to make decisions to achieve business goals
  • Less frustrating processes
  • More active control options in people management, especially in personnel development and planning
  • a clearly defined role in the digital transformation process.

This is the only way to enable them to accept and understand the changes positively and implement them sustainably.

Agile leadership and big data - a contradiction?

Self-explanatory, flexible, personalizable, with just a few clicks to the goal and reduced superfluous information: This will be the new digital workplace in the global world. However, successfully putting all of this into practice and facing up to digitalization requires targeted and sustainable communication and joint implementation - at all levels. This means that everyone involved needs to be involved, from the Management Board to employees, from IT managers to process managers. Social interaction, the promotion of mutual support, respect and cooperation are central to this. If all this is not talked about, but discussed, then a start has been made.

Round table, digital transformation, digitalization process, people management, personnel, networking, collaboration
The digitalization offensive affects everyone - and all areas. Targeted people management supports the process. (Image: © adam121 |

An 'agile culture' must be based on curiosity, openness and a willingness to change. Only with this basic attitude is it possible to shape the changes associated with the digital transformation. Employees - or rather: fellow campaigners - are won over through persuasion, without collectivizing responsibility. The leader exercises leadership temporarily and is essentially a coach and mentor, giving feedback; and receiving it too! They are faced with the challenge of acting as a personal coach and identity manager for their employees. They must become a strong person of trust for employees.

At the same time, everyone involved should agree that leadership still requires time and presence in the workplace. Management and leadership need to talk to each other and to the "HR people". Everyone is required to know the business and the mission and to demonstrate sales skills as well as business, analytical, social and digital skills.

Not to forget: The big topic of big data. In times of the daily accumulation of mountains of data that are generated and need to be analyzed by innovative HCM systems and social media, it is to be feared that big data puts human dignity at risk. Big data does not perceive people as subjects, but as objects. To some extent, people are depriving themselves of the right to privacy and self-determination. This is why the topic of big data with analyses of various data is a top priority. This is fundamental:

  • Internal data, for example on further training or workplace
  • External data, for example on the labor market or via social networks
  • A balanced implementation of the findings.

However, these skills are unfortunately still lacking.

In addition, we increasingly need experience-oriented learning instead of pure knowledge transfer, and more experience in the use of modern media and technologies as well as in the targeted handling of the increasing flood of information. When it comes to big data in particular, analyzing data, implementing the results precisely and communicating the effects must be a top priority. This means that agile leadership is required!

People Management: Doing instead of talking!

To a certain extent, these skills should have always played a role. However, due to the developments of the last few decades, they are becoming increasingly urgent and more diverse, global and agile today. Digitalization is challenging people - both professionally and privately. When we look at companies and public authorities, however, it seems to be mainly the IT departments that are dealing with digitalization. But where are the people managers?
The transition to a flexible, agile and dynamic working environment with more open interaction between everyone involved is one way to implement successful digitalization offensives. The introduction of new IT solutions, on the other hand, often involves a great deal of effort and is not an easy undertaking. Nevertheless, innovative HCM systems in and from the cloud are an unavoidable step. Only then will you be successful with your digitalization offensive.

But we should always keep one thing in mind: To remain human - with all our senses. Digitalization does not replace people! We must not just look at the generation that is (unfortunately) growing up with a smartphone instead of a pacifier. Rather, we should also be concerned with the generation that is now in professional life, is at the mercy of constant change and has to adapt old habits, some of which are dear to them.

The prerequisites for a targeted digitalization offensive are:

  • Formulating a specific strategy for people management @digital
  • Creating acceptance among all those involved
  • Conceptualizing the transformation process as a long-term process
  • Initiating and transporting the transformation process within the company
  • Supporting, promoting and exemplifying the process by the management.

    Woman, challenge, networking, global, digitalized world, digitalization offensive, digital transformation, people management
    With a mature strategy, the right people management and clear leadership, no digitization offensive is a problem anymore. (Image: © 4774344sean |

Whether you are dealing with companies or other organizations, this procedure applies equally to the public sector in administrations and authorities at all federal levels. However, you first need to find out:

  • Where does your company or authority stand?
  • Are you fit for the digital transformation?
  • What opportunities are there?
  • What risks arise?
  • What needs to be done specifically and sustainably for a digitalization offensive?
  • What new questions do you need to ask yourself?
  • How do you take your management and employees into the digital future?
  • Do you have "drivers" for these changes?
  • Are you a creative manager?

The answers to these questions provide you with the essential basis for your digitalization offensive. If all relevant factors are known, the chances of success in implementing this complex process increase enormously.

Conclusion: Digitalization in people management requires courage

The key to success in any digitalization offensive is not to lose sight of people. Therefore, have the courage to prototype instead of clinging to rigid strategic planning and being put off by a long project duration. Instead, get started, Reduce complexity. This creates more transparency in the current situation and provides clarity for implementation.

A large number of questions arise in the context of people management @digital. My recommendation is therefore to start the digitalization offensive with a thorough and structured status assessment and to quickly identify the fields of action. In this way, you can assess right at the start whether the prerequisites for People Management @digital are in place or what is still necessary in advance on the way there.

People management @digital is so simple... and yet so difficult.

(Cover image: © Sergey Nivens |

About the author

Picture of Ursula Fellberg

Ursula Fellberg

Dr. Ursula Christina Fellberg is an expert for fact-based, meaningful expert opinions / analyses and for implementation-ready decision templates for the path to digital HR work. She is also a speaker on digitalization topics and the author of specialist articles and books.

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