by Steve Weston

The real challenge for digital transformation is not your technology

Jul 31, 2017
CareersCIODigital Transformation

Many IT leaders are comfortable with technical deliverables, but understanding the human element of real change across the workforce is often out of our comfort zones.

Technological change is sweeping pretty much every organisation on the planet. And whilst the impact of this change on our legacy systems and the mammoth task of introducing new technologies and processes is, and should be, a huge consideration for CIOs, it shouldn’t be the only thing keeping us up at night.

People play a massive part too, and it’s hugely important that IT leaders take charge in empowering employees to drive this change forward. This is easier said than done. While many IT leaders may feel comfortable with the tangible technical deliverables of facilitating digital transformation, understanding the human element of real change across the workforce is a complicated task, and is often, admittedly, out of our comfort zones.

But it’s a highly necessary one. After all, if a modern technology is truly embraced by the people it enables, then the resulting digital transformation project’s future is assured. Without the support of the leaders and employees who will develop and adopt these innovations, you may as well not implement any change in the first place.

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So, how do IT leaders drive the people part of a digital transformation? In my opinion, there are three key areas we must consider:

 1. Get your staff in the right mindset

Company culture affects both the effectiveness and speed of digital transformation across an organisation. So, when you approach a digitisation project, your shift in thinking needs to be away from digital transformation and more towards transformation that is enabled through digital technology.

While a lack of support from senior staff was once cited as a barrier for digital change, it is now also the frontline staff who must be encouraged. Recent research found 84 percent of CEOs are committed to transformational change, but less than half of frontline staff are engaged with such projects. This needs to change.

Clear communication and empowerment are two solutions to this problem. Interestingly, IT leaders that communicate with staff across every level of the organisation are eight times more likely to run successful transformation projects compared with those that do not. Therefore, we as IT leaders must clearly communicate the objectives of any digitisation project to staff and ensure that the senior management level is visibly engaged with the project. Staff also need regular access to project-based information, and any resulting changes to their day-to-day work must be clearly explained.

IT leaders must also empower staff so they feel valued by their employer – we all know that empowerment motivates staff to do their best. Staff must understand where they fit in within a digitisation project and have some ownership over such projects to truly empower them. This can be achieved by building trust with staff, again, through clear communication.

2. Assess the skill set of your employees – and not just their technical skills

We all know that the right skills are required to harness the digital technologies required for such transformational change. Therefore, any skills gaps in the organisation must be identified, and quickly. While training your staff will bolster your employees existing skill sets, you will most likely need to recruit external talent, perhaps on a contract basis.

As I explained in my last blog, IT contractors are a valuable resource to help you quickly fill any technical skills gaps. They will upskill your existing teams, provide flexibility, manage resistance to change and drive forward your digital agenda. So I strongly urge you to consider this route if you are facing a skills gap challenge within your business.

Also, do not forget that soft skills play a very important role during digital transformation. Try to hire staff with the right attitude and emotional intelligence for change to build a positive, adaptable, open-minded and curious workforce, who importantly, will bring with them business and commercial acumen. Such soft skills are, ultimately, much more difficult to teach than the technical skills required, but will be key in enabling you to drive change forward within your organisation.

3. Develop your digitisation strategy tool set

You must offer staff adequate training to keep pace with the changes digitisation brings to your organisation. Worryingly, I read recently that 42 percent of UK CEOs said they had no plans to invest in new workforce training over the next three years, except to maintain current business needs. This could jeopardise future business opportunities, according to the KPMG UK CEO Outlook 2017 report. And I whole-heartedly agree.

Remember, different people learn in different ways. While some staff may prefer a traditional classroom environment, others may prefer to learn at their own pace through online learning. What’s more, online learning typically requires 40 to 60 percent less employee time and improves staff retention by up to 60 percent compared to classroom learning. Online learning allows staff to learn at their own pace and reread any training materials when required. You can also further reinforce your communication with staff through live Q&A sessions and webinars and offering online support networks to allow staff to actively engage with one another. Never before has it been more important to invest in your employee’s lifelong learning in order to keep your business agile and competitive.

To sum up, a successful digital transformation strategy isn’t just reliant on technology. People play a huge part too. In reality, an empowered, appropriately skilled and engaged workforce sits at the very heart of any successful digitisation project, and will be the key to driving change forward in your organisation now and in the future.