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Not IT but Human Infrastructure counts for Digital Transformation

Most digital transformation initiatives put hard change factors, such as technology, KPIs, process, objectives and organizational structure, at the heart of their programs. These are all relevant, but if you want to create sustainable digital change and accelerate your digital business, it's people that matter most.

High tech and human touch

Nowadays, people use digital transformation as a synonym for investing in a digital, high-tech infrastructure. One of the most important reasons that organizations initiate digital transformation is to modernize IT infrastructures with increased agility, flexibility and security. But IT should be viewed primarily as an enabler.

Instead of a technology-first approach, I think things get more interesting when we view digital transformations as strategic business initiatives. Initiatives which a) create a better understanding of new generation customers and employees, and b) align technology, operations, and leadership to steer the organization into a more relevant and valuable direction. So yes, high tech, but started with a human touch.

CX remains the top driver of digital transformation

Recent research again confirms that customer experience (CX) remains the biggest catalyst inside boardrooms for starting and investing in digital transformation initiatives. To increase relevancy and offer valuable propositions, you have to understand customer behavior, trends, values, and expectations. Customer journeys are often used to map their experiences and expectations. But it all begins with seeing people differently, and appreciating them for their differences, both customers and employees alike.

Employees are the critical factor of success

Many digital programs often make people (or more specifically, employees) the closing chapter of the implementation plan. I admit having drafted plans in the past with building blocks or instruments that focus less on employees and more on technical infrastructure, processes, governance, strategic objectives or KPIs. Guilty as charged.

Today, however, my professional actions and attention focus more on employee-related elements of digital transformations. For example:

  • Employee engagement. Instead of a top-down approach, you can increase employee engagement and commitment by actively involving team members with defining key program elements that will direct their day-to-day work. Look at the structure of an agile team, for example. Which capabilities do we need in the team? Which colleagues match the necessary hard and soft skill set best? Which key success metrics should we define? What are the baselines and our improvement goals regarding these metrics? At what time and days do we plan our agile ceremonies? And so on. Providing employees with the opportunity to define their guidelines, principles and operational processes will increase ownership. They will take more responsibility. And they will deliver more and better results.
  • Talent acquisition. In most cases, organizations that start digital transformations don’t have the necessary capabilities to do so in-house. Of course, you can start with hiring outside professionals, but you should also think about the type of competencies you ultimately want to have in-house. I would assume that the strategic, directional skills will always end up in-house. Maybe you want to outsource some or all executable skills. And what about the more tactical skill set in between those? Once you’ve made up your mind, immediately start recruiting because talent acquisition will take a lot of (throughput) time and effort. Personally, I always value soft skills and mindset over matching hard skills. In this challenging and transforming digital domain, you want to create and nurture a team with a digital DNA and culture, where problem solving, collaboration and flexibility will deliver more results than mastering a particular tool or content domain.
  • Talent (development) management. Once you’ve acquired talent from outside your organization, support and develop it. But don’t forget your current employees. Digital transformations often require new knowledge and skills compared to the current situation. Provide both audiences with relevant training possibilities. Is an agile way of working relatively new to your organization or involved employees? Organize generic agile training for all people involved. Add specific modules or sessions to the curriculum for specific team members, e.g. a product owner training for the (soon to be) newly appointed product owners. Provide coaching on the job, for teams and specific individuals to ensure learned skills or knowledge is applied effectively in real life situations. It will increase or affirm self-confidence.
  • Talent fulfillment. In the larger corporate and most consultancy organizations, it is quite common to put a lot of energy to match every employee with the right next job. Talent fulfillment can be integrated within your digital transformation program as well. It may be wise to hire an external senior professional to implement a particular program element, fast and well. However, it can be wise to pair him or her with an intermediate employee during this implementation. Yes, it will probably take more time (and so, more money) for the external professional to finish the job. But grooming an internal candidate to the necessary level of experience to successfully take over the job might be novel and fun for the external consultant. Plus, scaling down external resources and scaling up internal capabilities and candidates will be executed in a natural way, de-risking migrations and ensuring more sustainable results.

Celebrate success

A ‘people first’ approach to your digital transformation will increase the chances of its success. But remember to celebrate the little steps of improvement along the way, don’t just wait until the moment you pass the finish line. Small celebrations should be part of your approach because there will never be an absolute finish line. Besides, it’s better to open up the bottle of champagne once too often than not often enough.

Digital transformation - It’s high tech, but still requires the human touch.

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