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ATD Blog

Cultural Transformation of HR in the Digital and Cognitive Era

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

We live in a challenging business environment. New and disruptive technologies arise at an incredibly fast pace. Workforce generations have very different expectations. Leaders’ development cycles have been shortened to meet business needs, which seem to change almost every three months! And social media, the Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence are reshaping the way we interact with one another and the connected world.

HR professionals are in the middle of all these changes, with an important role as curators of an organization’s culture, and seeking answers to challenging questions, such as how to innovate and use these technologies without losing the human touch. How do we give leaders more autonomy without creating chaos? How do we mitigate the risks of talent leaving the company? How can the HR function be more relevant? The role of HR in this dynamic environment is changing rapidly, and these emerging technologies are our ally in this process. In this blog post, we’ll explore some trends that are culturally transforming HR itself.

A More Sensitive, Data-Powered HR

HR has long relied on its intuition and advanced knowledge of human behavior as the main competitive advantage over other positions in the organization. New technologies allow HR to be even more sensitive through use of data. Pulse-taking tools constantly measure employee engagement, performance, learning, and well-being, generating valuable causality information and insights for more assertive actions. People analytics is here to stay, and it is rapidly evolving from a trend to a core competence of the HR function. Instead of "Trust me," HR is beginning to say, "I'll show you the data that confirm our suspicions and reveal something else as well." Through data, you can go beyond the obvious to see what is happening behind the curtains; numbers can reveal subtle changes before they occur on a large scale. Additionally, data are the business language of the C-level. This is not to say that the intuition of HR is being disregarded; on the contrary, HR now has the tools to confirm its intuition and find out even more about human relations in the organization using technology. The role of HR as a guardian of the culture has in technology a powerful ally.

HR as a Productivity Consultant

In many organizations, it is common for HR professionals to shoulder the huge operational burden of generating reports for managers and still be responsible for managing people. In practice, HR often becomes a babysitter of leaders, in charge of deadlines and operational tasks of low strategic relevance. If we think of HR as a productivity consultant, we will come up with new questions: What prevents the employee from being productive? What prevents the leader from being productive?


The first step to being more relevant is to examine the problem where it occurs—on the shop floor, on the customer site, in the field, wherever work actually takes place. The role of the leader is often underestimated by HR itself, who in a genuine attempt to help ends up creating more systems, logins, and passwords, competing with leaders’ extremely busy schedules. Being digital means solving the problems where they are, removing the barriers so that the leaders of your organization can play their role. We have to make better use of technology to put the data for decision making in the hands of the leaders, in real time and with autonomy, and not to create dependencies and therefore the need to generate infinite reports to support leaders.

The Agile and Experimental HR

The speed of business does not allow longer cycles of enterprise program creation. If it takes eight to 12 months to create, validate, and launch a corporate program, at the time of launch it could likely be outdated, though flawless. Instead, HR professionals are becoming more agile, taking more risks, and being more experimental. That requires a change of mindset in HR itself—to embrace error as part of the process and focus on high-impact results. Small experiments are part of the innovation process, and new technologies help, for example, decentralize the responsibility for generating new ideas and suggestions to the employees. It allows for collecting ideas and solutions in a few hours, and evaluating them for suitability and benefits. The best ideas become pilot projects of innovation, and the collaborators are invited to participate and experiment. If it is well evaluated by the majority, it will become a corporate program; if not, it will have generated great insights and learning for the next project. If HR is not experiencing anything new right now, it is probably lagging behind and not being competitive. It's not about reinventing yourself all the time, but about maintaining what is working while continuously deploying small, new experiments.


HR professionals around the world are undergoing a major change, redefining the meaning of their position in their organizations. So accustomed to dealing with issues of organizational culture, HR is now facing a cultural shift in its own role in this digital and cognitive age. Because every change brings risks, it is natural that you might be thinking about how to handle all this. Be bold: Try, fail, learn fast, and adjust the course. Use data to guide your decisions and confirm your intuition. Embrace technology, but stick to your beliefs in people. Be the guardian of organizational culture—and a living example of it.

About the Author

Cesar Nanci is an expert in data science with experience in consulting services and talent development programs. He is CEO at Pulses, co-founder of Ágora Entertraining, and chairman at Trieda Analytics. Cesar holds a doctoral degree in production engineering and is a certified Six Sigma black belt professional; he’s written more than 20 articles and book chapters in the supply chain planning and optimization field. Cesar has 14 years in consulting services involving process improvement, Six Sigma, Lean manufacturing, project management, innovation management, organizational redesign, supply chain planning, and optimization, among several companies and industries. He has managed more than 100 consulting and improvement projects as both manager and consultant. Cesar has been a professor for both graduate and post-graduate studies at top Brazilian universities. He is also a frequent speaker at HR events, an instructor for talent development programs, and an entrepreneur in the digital HR market involving decision support tools and people analytics.

Cesar Nanci é especialista em Data Science, com larga experiência em consultoria de gestão e desenvolvimento de talentos. É CEO da Pulses e co-fundador da Ágora Entertraining, além de presidente do conselho da Trieda Analytics. É doutor em Engenharia de Produção e certificado como Six Sigma Black Belt, com mais de 20 artigos e capítulos de livro publicados no segmento de Supply Chain Planning & Optimization. Cesar tem 14 anos de experiência no ramo de consultoria envolvendo o temas Melhoria de Processos, Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing, Gestão de Projetos, Gestão da Inovação, Redesenho Organizacional, Supply Chain Planning & Optimization, em diversas empresas e indústrias. Já gerenciou mais de 100 projetos de consultoria e melhoria de processos, como gestor e como consultor. Foi professor de graduação e pós-graduação em grandes universidades do país, é palestrante em congressos e eventos de Recursos Humanos, instrutor em programas de desenvolvimento in-company e empreendedor no mercado de RH Techs, com foco em ferramentas para tomada de decisão e People Analytics.

About the Author

Renato Navas is co-founder and chief learning officer (CLO) of Ágora Entertraining, a consulting firm focused on coaching, training, and development programs for leaders, teams, and culture; organizational diagnosis and design; and mentoring for HR professionals. Renato has a post-graduation degree in business administration from SOCIESC/FGV, group dynamics from SBDG, and group coordination from Fenô e Grupos. He also has a certification in executive coaching and mentoring leadership from Institutho dy Crescere Personas, associated with the Institute of Leadership and Management (Oxford). With 12 years of professional experience, Renato’s main expertise is in creating learning cultures in organizations and leadership development programs with a behavioral approach.

Renato Navas é co-fundador e CLO na Ágora Entertraining, uma consultoria focada em Coaching, Programas de Treinamento e Desenvolvimento para líderes e Equipes, Cultura Organizacional e Diagnostico e Design Organizacionais e Mentoria para profissionais de RH. Renato tem pós-graduação em Administração de Empresa pela SOCIESC/FGV, Dinâmica dos Grupos pela SBDG, Coordenação de Grupos pela Fenô e Grupos e é graduado em Psicologia. É certificado em Executive Coaching & Mentoring Leadership pelo Institutho dy Crescere Personas em associação com o ILM - Institute of Leadership and Management (Oxford). Com 12 anos de experiência profissional, sua principal experiência está focada em criar culturas de aprendizado em organizações e programas de desenvolvimento de liderança com enfoque comportamental.

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