Digital Transformation: Putting People at the Heart of your Business Outcomes

That title sounds embarrassingly obvious. So why is this not the strategic framing of every digital transformation project? We believe that the impact of your employees’ work innovative new products, satisfying customer experiences, increased sales and profits is intrinsically linked to how they experience work. You don’t get better at what you do if each step along the way is a gruelling struggle. Digital transformation can help you unlock people’s best potential while creating significant value for your company. For this to happen, your transformation must start by focusing on people.

Your people are not only your employees, but also your partners and customers.  In this post I focus on how to make the people inside your company receive real benefit from your efforts.

Understanding employees to unlock their potential

Employees inside your company are a collection of unique individuals, all with their own motivations, goals and preferred ways of thinking and acting. You need to recognise these myriad realities within your walls and embrace them to unlock the potential of creativity, critical thinking, leadership and autonomy — the core human assets companies need to cultivate today. And as executors of the strategy in the day-to-day, employees are the real catalysts for change, hence they should become co-creators in the transformation

Culture, the most challenging obstacle 

As I discussed in my previous article, the most challenging aspect of most digital transformation initiatives is finding alignment or moving the culture to where you need it to be to successfully implement it. Over half of all digital transformation initiatives fail to deliver expected ROI due to cultural issues that include having no clear organisational objectives or understanding of how people think, act and collaborate; not engaging with people throughout the process from needs identification, to getting onboard with the value of these efforts, to piloting early experiments, to evangelising the shift. 

These missteps often result in a paint-by-numbers approach that is not designed for your company’s needs and sadly prioritise the wrong digital tools and processes. All of these cultural obstacles arise due to lack of upfront recognition of who you are designing this transformation for, how new processes and tools need to work to fit their real constraints and routines, and why the company is undertaking this huge effort in the first place. 

Align employees’ needs with organisation’s business objectives

At its core, business culture consists of the values, beliefs and norms that a group of people share to achieve specific goals together. Culture is not only articulated top-down through official processes, policies and rules. It is also expressed through bottom-up sharing of best practices learned within the working environment — the kind of habits and unspoken models of action that spread organically inside a company.

A successful digital transformation plan must recognise and incorporate both the individuals’ needs and the company’s business objectives. The key concerns of individuals will be how prepared they are to perform in this new environment, how they will create value using the proposed tools and processes, and how they will be acknowledged for the value they bring. From the organisation’s perspective, the key concerns will be how to equip employees with tools and knowledge that will enable them to make positive measurable impact for the company.

Failing to embrace all of this is setting yourself up for failure. Digital tools and processes need to be adapted to your people, not the other way around. Don’t think in terms of technologies and compliance standards; think about how you can better enable people to achieve their goals and at the same time unleash their creativity to experiment and create true impact throughout the organisation.

Elevating transformation efforts to being truly people-centred will create more value faster. Here are five aspects to consider when transforming people’s work:

1.  Acknowledge that change is difficult. It’s difficult for organisations, and it’s difficult for individuals. Changing everything at the same time won’t work. Intentional, sequenced change that creates measurable wins for everyone to build upon is necessary.

2. Segment and prioritise the users of new digital tools and processes. How does it benefit them as individuals? How does it benefit the business? How do the two sides of this equation fit together?

3. Understand the human and cultural contexts that these changes must work within. What routines, working conditions, and embedded cultural beliefs will impact whether or not intended benefits will actually be delivered?

4. Collaborate with your workforce throughout the process. What can you learn from employees to scope and sequence your efforts? How can they contribute to creating use cases and testing pilots? Who can be key evangelists to create demand for these new tools across the workforce?

5. Create measures of performance. During design, how can you create hypotheses of the best qualitative and quantitative measures of success? During pilots, can you challenge those measures to make sure they are as specific and meaningful as possible? How will you define and evaluate the cultural change in the short-, mid- and long-term?

Remember, digital transformation is just a means to an end, the enabler for strategic goals that will be activated by real living human beings. Without understanding people’s work styles, their prioritised needs and ways of collaborating, how much impact can mere tools and processes make? In my next post I will discuss using digital transformation to create positive impact outside the walls of the company.

Is your company getting ready to embark on a new phase of digital transformation? Are you not getting the desired results from previous transformation efforts? If you would like to discuss how a rigorous focus on people and culture can create greater value, contact us:

Feb 27, 2019