by Jeff Lazarto

Digital transformation – don’t leave talent development crumbs on the table

Aug 06, 2019
Digital TransformationIT LeadershipStaff Management

When it comes to digital transformation, if you don’t recognize next generation talent development opportunities at the very beginning, the overall benefits derived from the program will be much less.

blue cross blue shield of nc teams
Credit: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina

Everyone is aware of the common business drivers and benefits of an IT-enabled business transformation or digital transformation.  These programs provide a catalyst event for driving business process change and adopting best practices.  Once implemented, the software prevents erosion of the adopted changes as employees can no longer do things the old way.  Operations will be more efficient using common processes and systems across the enterprise, while the benefits achieved should enable greater visibility into the business resulting in operational cost reductions, increased sales revenue, and improved margins.

But why just be like everyone else? 

There are many other benefits that can be realized from a digital transformation program provided the executive team adds these to the program’s goals and priorities.  But if you don’t recognize the next generation talent development opportunity at the very beginning, then the overall benefits derived from the program will be much less.  

Benefit #1: Leadership development – tomorrow’s business leaders

These types of programs are usually part of a much larger strategic vision designed to enable the business for future growth.  Achieving this vision will require operational execution, which will be primarily driven by mid-level management.  Implementing new business processes provides a tremendous opportunity for mid-level managers to engage in cross functional discussions with other managers, thereby gaining a greater understanding of how the overall business operates.  This enables managers to understand the interrelation between the various business groups and how they must work together to achieve the common goals set by executive management.

It also provides an opportunity for managers to collaborate and establish credibility outside of their own functional group.  When future challenges inevitably arise, you will have a cross functional team that has collaborative working experience and approaches challenges holistically with the ultimate common goal in mind, as opposed to being defensive in protecting their own little fiefdoms.  This is how you get people “on the same page” and working collectively towards a common goal.

But if an organization’s executive management team is only going to dictate the processes to be implemented without discussion or input from mid-level management and functional business leaders, then the cross functional discussions and collaboration will never occur.  Managers miss out on the opportunity to participate and discover collectively why things need to be done a certain way to achieve the common goals outlined by executive management, and therefore are never fully vested in the program or accepting of the new business processes.  This, in turn, leads to finger pointing when challenges arise and discourages collective problem solving, thereby severely impacting operational execution and achievement of the overall strategic vision.

Additionally, if the strategic vision is realized and growth occurs over the next few years, you now have a pool of managers to promote from within that share the company’s values, clearly understand and have adopted the common business processes, and have established credibility across the organization.  This will help combat growing pains by minimizing the number of outside hires required to fill leadership positions resulting from this new growth.  It will also inspire less experienced resources to continue to work hard and learn, as they can see future growth opportunities and promotions for themselves.

Benefit #2: Timely and consistent decision-making

It is impossible to grow a business when only a handful of people are empowered to make decisions.  This leads to long decision-making lifecycles that can become costly in delays and missed business opportunities.  Challenges also arise when managers lack a big picture understanding of the overall business operations, goals, and objectives, since this leads to decisions based solely on their functional role perspective.  

Decision-making from this limited perspective leads to inconsistent decisions across the organization that may even contradict those made by other managers presented with the same facts.  The common plea when this occurs is for everyone to get on the same page.  The trouble is, nobody knows how to do so, and the problem never gets resolved.  Digital transformation programs, if used wisely, provide an excellent opportunity for the CEO to communicate or reinforce the company strategy, goals, and values to ensure managerial alignment.

These programs provide a tremendous opportunity to achieve a level of consistent decision-making far greater than just preaching to get on the same page.  Working through these digital transformation programs can serve as hands-on training.  They provide a deeper level of context and education on the business goals and how the processes impact the entire organization and they also enable achievement of those goals for managers at all levels.  Coming out of the program, managers will share and practice the same cultural business values and understand and appreciate the value that other groups bring to the overall business, thereby increasing the likelihood that individual managers will make similar decisions when presented with the same factual scenario. 

Most every manager wants to make the best decision for the business, but they can only make decisions based on what they know of the business at that time.  Digital transformation programs allow managers to learn about the overall business and provide managers with business-specific context on real scenarios, which is a much more effective learning method that can be drawn upon for future decisions.

Benefit #3: Cement old-guard legacy – pass the baton

Approaching the end of a long career, many leaders want to be able to:

  • Reflect on their successes and accomplishments;
  • Leave the business in a better situation than they inherited;
  • Transfer knowledge to the next generation to take the business to new heights by enhancing their situational awareness; and
  • Enable the next generation to experience the same career and personal satisfaction that they enjoyed.

Digital transformation programs are a great way to pass the baton to the next generation.  To accomplish this, it is important for the old guard not to execute the transformation but to be coaches and advisors, providing the next generation with the opportunity to learn from executing and gaining vital situational awareness experience.  The old guard should be there to offer advice and guidance, and explain not only how things have been done, but why they were done that way and why change is necessary.  This is a very valuable learning experience for the next generation and allows them to develop bonds through this shared experience.

The old guard can now take pride in their career accomplishments, as they have had the opportunity to transfer all of their knowledge to the next generation of leaders and feel confident that they have set them up for continued success.