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Wiebke Apitzsch

Why Your Company Needs a Digital First People Strategy


It has now arrived in almost every company: Human resources in 2020 is no longer limited to performing compulsory administrative tasks. Instead, HR departments are increasingly expanding their range of tasks to include the concept of a forward-looking People Strategy, which differs significantly from the way in which conventional HR management understands their roles.

Already established a People Strategy? Great, then you have recognized that HR should be at the core of the growth strategy for your entire company.

However, that’s only the beginning. The next step is to view your People Strategy as a key task for ushering in digital transformation. In this blog post, we explain why a Digital First People Strategy is so crucial for survival in the modern working world.

What Does Digital First Mean?

Digital First can be placed in front of almost any business term. There is Digital First Marketing, Digital First Branding, Digital First Controlling and much more. The question remains: What is behind the buzzword?

The term Digital by Default, a synonym for Digital First, puts it in a nutshell: It is about a fundamental change in our mental default attitude. In other words, the one we no longer think about or question. It’s a matter of switching from outdated, old patterns of thinking to new, digital ones.

In all of this, the aim is not to replace all traditional media, channels and approaches with corresponding digital ones. Digital First refers to a shift in the focus of your corporate culture – moving away from traditional channels to prioritizing digital channels.

Digital First, then, does not refer to a new strategy, but rather to the fundamental framework within which we think and work. The challenge is to change this setting from analog to digital throughout the company. Our thesis: This is virtually impossible without a Digital First People Strategy.

What Makes a Digital First People Strategy Indispensable for Your Organization?

The answer: A digital transformation process is only possible if you have it.

Yes, you read that correctly. We are certain that a Digital First People Strategy does not merely support, simplify or even accelerate digital change. It is what makes it possible.

It acts as a starting point for any digital development in your company. It goes without saying that technologies, infrastructure and processes are important. However, the mindset of your HR department is what ultimately determines whether your company can actually exploit the potential of digital innovations.

Why is this the case? Technology is still dependent on people, not the other way around. In short, people are crucial because they drive your business forward. However, this is exactly where the problem lies. According to a survey conducted by Capgemini, the mental framework of employees i.e. the corporate culture, is the biggest hurdle on the path to becoming a digitally viable company.

The Challenge: Employees Still Have Outdated Thinking Patterns and Work Practices

This probably sounds a little confusing. After all, we have been living in a digitally connected world for quite some time now. Shouldn’t we have already adapted our way of thinking? Why are we not implementing the Digital First approach in lots of areas?

Let’s not kid ourselves! Initially, many people, whether consciously or subconsciously, shy away from the topic of digitalization. Very few of us have DNA that is already completely digital.

People are living beings that do not welcome every change per se. Once you have found an effective approach to your work, you usually stick with it – even if circumstances change. And we all know that circumstances have changed dramatically in recent years thanks to digitalization!

The biggest challenge facing entrepreneurs today is the instilling of “digital” as a foundational mindset for both themselves and their employees.

So if you want to make your company ready for the digital future, you should start with your employees.

However, how do you go about altering the mindset, skillset and toolset of an entire organization? Put simply, you have to implement a Digital First People Strategy. After all, the People Strategy is a key factor in shaping your corporate culture.

If you lay the foundations for the digitalization of your company at this point, you will benefit across the board and in all business areas in the long term. Let’s take a look at how this works in practice. 

How a Digital First People Strategy Works

A Digital First People Strategy is effective because it connects with and influences all areas of the company – from the boardroom to the field office. We can distinguish between three levels of impact:

1. HR impact level

  • A People Strategy with a Digital First approach also deals with classic HR tasks. The decisive difference, however, is that digital is a key component of the People Strategist’s DNA
  • This is reflected in every measure that is planned and implemented. A Digital First People Strategy always operates in full awareness of current technological developments. This enables it to implement innovative new developments, such as the concept of a digital workplace, at an early stage in order to stay ahead in the war for talent
  • The Digital First People Strategist masters the entire range of digital and analog measures

Practical example: Filling an open position is a task usually undertaken by the traditional HR department. Without a Digital First approach, however, the HR manager (with analog thinking in the background) would place a job ad in their text program, which would then be placed online later on. However, the original analog form means that it always lags behind its digital counterpart. The Digital First approach opens up a wide range of possibilities for inspiring applicants: Instagram stories, videos, tweets, gamification, etc. Even in this case, the selected digital medium can be transferred to an analog one if required, though only in the second step.

2. Company-wide impact level

  • The Digital First People Strategy operates from a digital mindset and thus influences the corporate culture and all business areas
  • Its job is to keep an eye on the entire company, anticipate problems and be the point of contact for all departments
  • It plans, develops and communicates a digital mindset, skillset and toolset throughout the organization that goes beyond the classic HR areas

Practical example: If the People Strategist recognizes the need for digitally-driven project management, they will guide the implementation process from start to finish. In doing so, they select a suitable tool, gather employees, explain the benefits, answer questions, run an internal communication campaign, organize training and remain present for employees in their daily work.

3. Strategic impact level

Practical example: The senior management team has a meeting. Digital First principles are applied when making strategic decisions because the team has been trained and can determine the digital direction in the best possible way.

The Path to Your Digital First People Strategy

Modern organizations must keep up with rapid technological change. However, these changes are not driven and experienced by robots, but by real human beings. How quickly and comprehensively your employees adapt to the digital approach will have a significant impact on how successful your company is in this new decade and beyond. By implementing a Digital First People Strategy, you are starting in exactly the right place.

As an entrepreneur, it is crucial for you to take the right steps now in order to implement your People Strategy using the Digital by Default attribute. However, you don’t have to face this challenge alone. We would be delighted to come alongside you as a competent partner. We look forward to hearing from you!



The Team


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