Digitization in People Management & Learning: How Moving Online is Reducing Churn & Improving Performance across Industries

From 12 AM Get-Togethers to the MOOC Revolution, this article takes an insightful look at how digitization is changing the rules of people management and corporate learning

A few months ago I had the pleasure of working with a very senior HR manager.

I loved the courtesy and the slow pace of the interactions.

It was like taking a deep and full breath of garden fresh air after making do with short and hurried gasps of city smog. (Sorry…but that’s what a long winded day of hopping from project to project often feels like).

I mention my experience because the gentleman made me realize that there was a time when Human Capital Management had to limp along without the benefit of ubiquitous tools like social media, real time collaboration, business intelligence and of course online learning.

In particular I remember a joke about his orientation training.

The seniors at his first company would tag bits of cello tape to the chairs at the auditorium where the bulk of the practice material was shared.

The sessions were so dull and off putting that majority of the learners didn’t want to return.

The sentiment was “If they are out that door, they will not come back. So hold them tight!”

Now I haven’t had to consume any employee onboarding material. But I have helped create modules.

And I can guarantee that the self-paced content, the animated edutainment videos and the challenging yet gripping assignments are a far cry from the spoon feeding that the legacy orientations must have been.

Armed with this perspective, here is my take on how digitization has impacted people management and learning.

What is Digitization?

Look up the word digitization online and the Merriam Webster describes it as the conversion of texts, pictures and sound so that computers can process them.

But for the sake of relevance the definition has to be modified just a little.

Digitization is the process of delivering information online so that people can access what they want, at their own pace, irrespective of location and on their own devices.

Digitization is the elimination of boundaries and restrictions for a fluid, communicative workforce.

And it is the bridge that joins the companies of today to the global economy of tomorrow.

12 AM Get-Togethers & SaaS

Think about it. Which sector has digitization affected the most?

The no brainer answer would be IT right?

Ask any self-respecting CTO and you will walk away with an arm load of complaints detailing challenges around digitization.

Yes, the hardware-software issues are ever present.

But digitization drives a fundamental shift in the way people think and behave.

What was once considered impossible is now common place.

And unless the workforce engages only Millennials, this leap in possibilities is rather bemusing for employers and employees.

Digitization has shaken up Human Capital Management like nothing before.

The Best Fit Talent Chase

Companies can now penetrate global markets.

E-stores coupled with drop shipping and modern day order fulfillment centers provide every business with the ability to serve multi-national clients.

Apart from a need to be on the lookout for global political, economic and even weather trends, this expansion also intensifies the competitiveness for best-fit talent.


There is unprecedented demand to take on employees who not only understand but can also master new technologies, channels and paradigms like social media, ad tracking, Big Data and automation.

The lines between sales and marketing are rapidly blurring.

Hand-offs from one team to another are a thing of the past.

Prospects are 57% done with the decision making process by the time they reach out to a brand for product related information.

The hierarchy has crumbled. Chaos is the new order.

This calls for fresh perspective where hiring talent and gauging potential productivity are concerned.

Abilities like intuiting the conversation that takes place in the prospect’s head without body language cues and out of the box thinking are prized more than the capacity to follow instructions and show up for the 9 to 5 grind.

Since the rules of the game have changed, companies are being relying on add-ons like adapted Positional Analysis Questionnaires (PAQs) and inclusion of benchmark data points in resume evaluations to find people who possess innate talent instead of simply going by degrees and certifications.

Is the HR industry embracing this disruption?

There are struggles involved especially in companies that have done things a certain way for decades.

But once the changes are accepted and the new patterns are accepted, churn will be automatically cut down thanks to positions being filled by employees who genuinely care about what they do.

Distributed Teams

There is something strange about 12 AM. Having worked on at least 20 distributed teams over the past four years, I have seen that midnight is a weird convergence point.

The schedules of most employees seem to synch up at 12 AM and the team calls happen in the dead of the night.

I call these conversations the “12 AM Get-Togethers”.

As companies come to terms with how their operations have transformed, they are eager to take advantage of the best of what digitization has to offer.

And it includes the ability to set-up and maintain distributed teams.

Teams that have members spread out over all corners of the world.

Distributed teams bring in diversity and creativity

Distributed teams not only bring in diversity and creativity, they also lead to the development of new codes of ethics for interactions.

Skype call etiquette is now a very real thing.

The finer nuances of how to add a remote team member to a call, what to display as one’s wallpaper in group conversations and how to sign off are guidelines that keep distributed workforces functioning smoothly, without misunderstandings.

HR is generally in charge of these codes and the mandates change according to company values and culture.

SaaS HCM Solutions

This is by far the biggest game changer.

SaaS or cloud based people management systems are slowly weeding out most on-premise legacy alternatives.

The marketplace of digital HR software is estimated at $14 billion and the compounded growth rate is expected to be in double digits.


Because of SaaS HCM solutions, companies have been able to:

  • Bring down total cost of ownership (ToC) of HR tools by up to 43% in some cases by eliminating the large upfront expenditure and adopting the “pay as you go” model.
  • Come up with more innovative ideas through the strong communities that grow around HCM solutions with real time collaboration abilities.
  • Reduce the size of HR teams by making it easier to find information, access it on familiar devices (the trend of BYOD) and ultimately encourage productivity instead of busyness which needlessly occupies the workforce with administrative tasks.
  • Promote self-service and greater satisfaction. Since the face of HR is now a portal (instead of an individual) employees can independently review the bonuses and incentives they receive as a part of their compensation, submit leave notices and answer peer feedback surveys without needing to jump through hoops or navigate endless request forms.


The MOOC Revolution

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) are free to take, offer self-paced learning delivered online and round up the instructions with certification tests.

MOOC is a child of digitization.

And it has taught the workforce to rebel.

The Khan Academy, Alison Online Courses and Udemy have spoilt Millennials (the generation most likely to focus on corporate learning at this point of time) with advantages that make rote company organized workshops seem like hours of torture.

The retention rate dips drastically to 58% after just 1 day.

mooc people management and learning
Studies have shown that 30 minutes after a training session, people retain just 58% of the material covered

In the face of employee resistance to traditional content and for the sake of peak performance, businesses are:

  • Creating custom MOOCs for their employees. The exclusive content may either be available only to the workforce or may even be distributed online. It’s a way of branding the company as a great place to work because of impactful learning and thus numerous growth opportunities. McAfee scrapped its 80 hour long new hire orientation and installed the MOOC system in its place. Sales could attribute $500,000 in increased revenue every year thanks to the better retention of techniques picked up through the self-paced learning.
  • Curating courses from external MOOCs. When options abound, it makes sense to pick the best to create a bouquet of courses that hone diverse skills. A whopping 44% of companies complement private MOOC systems with content from external course libraries at little to no extra cost.
mooc in people management and learning
While MOOCs are marketed as “free” to students enrolled in them, for companies there is a cost to design, develop and implement MOOCs inside the enterprise

Yes, questions like log-in security and the integrity of the study material are valid but increasingly learning and development teams are being assigned the job of ensuring robust, comprehensive and quality instructions for workforces.

Digitization is rendering the HR landscape unrecognizable.

But if we take a 50,000 feet view of the changes, the common themes of convenience, expedited progress and empathy become instantly visible.

Convenience of buyers and the workforce that serves them!

Expedited Progress that excises what is not needed and streamlines what is useful for better and faster results with lesser resources.

And Empathy or a deep understanding of what employees need to excel at their jobs instead of sticking with bureaucracy heavy policies.

All in all that doesn’t sound too bad now, does it?

* * *


Written By

Kaspars Upmanis

SaaS freak, CEO & Co-founder @cakehr