Digital Transformation & Maturity

HR professionals as agents for a digital culture change

If you stop and look around, it won’t take you long to see that digital disruption is a central, inescapable fact of our lives. It used to be that only a few industries – like media and entertainment – were being overhauled by successive waves of digital innovations, leaving the rest of us relatively unscathed. Well, those days are gone. Today, virtually every business is being turned upside. And increasingly, digital disruption is changing the way governments work, and how communities, households and individuals go about their daily lives.

The question is: What roles do HR professionals play in this massive transformation process? As individuals and as parts of organizations? This question is best answered in the light of the transformation strategy adopted by organizations.

I’ve seen this process play out in the lives of the different companies I’ve had to opportunity to serve. I see this happening in PLDT as well. We are in an industry that is at the crossroads of digital disruption. We are ourselves in the midst of a digital transformation process initiated by our chairman, Manuel V. Pangilinan, in 2016. The challenge that we face in pursuing this program is highlighted by the anniversaries that PLDT and Smart are celebrating this year: 2018 is PLDT’s 90th  and Smart’s 25th.

These are two organizations with very different histories, traditions and ways of doing things. PLDT has been largely in the fixed line business, while Smart has been mainly in mobile. They used to be fierce competitors until the acquisition by their key shareholders placed them under one roof.

For over a decade since the early 2000s, the mobile business powered the PLDT group’s growth. But this was a bittersweet process because – like in the rest of the world – the massive growth of mobile came at the expense of the landline business. But in recent years, with the Philippine mobile market saturated, PLDT’s growth is being driven by its fixed line and enterprise businesses.  Today, PLDT’s digital transformation program is premised on the fact that these businesses – fixed and mobile – are becoming more closely intertwined than ever before.

As Mr. Pangilinan said in a recent memo to our staff, “Powered by new digital platforms and capabilities, our commercial strategy is to provide our customers with a seamless experience of converged fixed and wireless offerings, enabling them to embrace the digital life in their homes and businesses, and while on the go.”

As you can see, the customer is the focus of this strategy. The task is to develop converged fixed and mobile services and solutions that meet the growing digital needs of customers. And pushing the discussion further, what organization, structure and process will enable PLDT and Smart to do that?

Indeed, over the past two years, organizational changes have been made to enable PLDT and Smart to work better together in serving the needs of customers for fixed and mobile services. This is now more and more evident in the way PLDT and Smart are organized into business units that serve enterprise customers, and more recently, home and individual customers in a converged way.

Here you see the ‘outside in’ model of organizational culture at work, as the focus on customers reshapes business strategy and redefines the way people work within the organization. HR plays a critical role in this process. We help create and piece together the new structures, policies and processes that make up the new culture and keep it running.

The other side of this process is the ‘inside out” model of organizational culture. If the task of the company is to deliver the best possible customer experience, the key question is how can we create the best possible employee experience so that our people can be effective advocates for delighting our customers? In this model, the role of HR is central as well.

Here, the focus is on employees at various levels. The first level refers to the personal development of employees. This is critical in an increasingly digital environment. Our employees must themselves become active users of our various services and platforms – plus some more – in order to become effective in their customer service. This requires employees not only to acquire new skills but also to embrace new attitudes and behaviors such as being quick and agile and taking more responsibility.

Such shifts in thinking are even more needed at the second, more challenging level of developing teams within the organization. Teams are important because convergence requires creating more cross-functional groups to deal with a wide range of concerns. But teams are usually plagued by various dysfunctions: the fear of conflict creates an artificial harmony, or, keeps the team members from holding each other accountable for their share of the work.

The key to team building is putting a strong foundation of trust in place. Strangely, in my experience, trust is built when team members share their weaknesses and deficiencies and voice their requests for help and cooperation. For this to happen, the leader must be the first to demonstrate vulnerability. That breaks down the otherwise insurmountable barrier of fear and distrust.

The role of senior leaders is of course critical to success. They must be seen adopting the new behaviors. Employees will believe that real change is happening when people at the top lead the way.

HR professionals help push this process forward by assisting the line managers who must take the lead in acting out the desired changes of behavior. Neuroscience research says “people act their way into believing rather than thinking their way into acting.” This is just a digital way of saying: Actions speak louder than words.



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    About The Author

    Chief People and Culture Officer, Group Head Human Resources - PLDT

    Having lived and worked in three different continents, Liza has over 25 years of global HR experience in healthcare, financial services and high-tech industries. Liza has a graduate degree in Organizational Psychology from Teacher’s College, Columbia University, New York and a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of the Philippines. Liza and her husband Danny have moved 18 times, most recently back to their home country. She is currently the SVP, Chief People and Culture Officer of the PLDT Group based in Manila, Philippines.

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