When I talk to my clients and to executives about digital transformation their focus is on technology: we need to get the new iCloud system, we have to develop the new platform, we have to get the new toy on the block.
It is not surprising as there is a lot of confusion as to what digital transformation actually is: well, it is not about technology. You may wonder “Are you nuts?!“. No, I am not. Let me give you an example to explain what I mean:
Let’s pretend that you work in the headquarter of multi-national company and that you have to introduce a state of the art platform to deal with internal communication (instant messaging, emails, social media, etc).
When making the decision about a “new techie tool” the focus is usually on the benefits for the organisation – e.g. quicker decisions as people can easily communicate with each other, everyone is in the loop, being perceived as “on trend” because of the latest technology, attract new talent and retaining existing one, savings of €X millions and so on.
Then there is the budget where the pros are usually “pumped up” in an attempt to secure the sizeable financing and a sprinkle of cons to counterbalance, a list of the amazing features. No one is talking about whether the workforce is going to adopt the new platform.
If you are lucky there his a line in the presentation/report that states “internal training on how to use the new platform”.
That should cover it, right? Well, wrong!
What usually happens next is that if you get the money the project team starts to go through all the technical side, the IT department is involved as it is “techie stuff” and the HR department is usually involved (if ever) at the very end, just before the launch to deliver the internal training “a couple of weeks should be enough as we go live in two weeks time“.
The HR department has to patch something up – with very little knowledge of the platform as the IT and project team talk only in jargon and everyone else is expected to know what they are talking about – communicate the training with an email or at best via the line manager, try to implement it worldwide without taking into consideration the geographical differences and tick the box “internal training: done”.
After 6 months the super amazing results linked to the implementation of the very expensive state of the art communication platform do not materialise.
What’s the problem?
Usually the “justifications” are factors as the employees are uncooperative, they don’t understand the company strategy, they are sabotaging the company, we trained them and they still cannot do the job, and so on. Is it really the case? No.
The employees have not been prepared to experience the change and have not been supported. They are required to switch the way they work from one day to the next, they are unaware of the company strategy and why the new platform was implemented and they have not had any input.
Result: you have what executives and senior managers call digital transformation on paper (the new platform implemented) but no ROI.
What should you do instead? Change mindset. Digital transformation is not about technology. It is about a change in company culture and in people’s behaviour.
- Involve the HR and/or the change function from the very outset, when the plan to implement a new platform is being devised;
- Consider whether the company is ready for the change: carry out an assessment of the current culture and if there is the right mindset to adopt this technology
- Analyse the gaps (if any) between the current culture and where you want to be and start to devise solutions to bridge the gap
- In the plan relating to the implementation of the new platform consider its impact on the employees and how to overcome resistance. Take into consideration the local differences due to different geographies across the world
- Devise a proper communication plan aimed at making the employees understand why the platform is being introduced and what’s the impact for them and for the organisation. Look for their involvement and create focus groups to see whether the platform is actually the best way to go (very often the employees on the trenches are the ones that know better than anyone else what is required to make things improve)
- Train executives, line managers and employees on how to use the platform and give them enough time to be proficient at it. Don’t expect people to become proficient in a week: plan for a transition timefom the old to the new system. Executives don’t need to be aware of the minutiae but need to be aware of the difficulties of the new way of working to set reasonable expectations.
As you can see if the company culture is not receptive to a change of technology and if the employees are not correctly informed, involved and trained your multi million euro platform will very likely fall flat on its face.
Therefore, is digital transformation about technology? Not entirely. It is about company culture (it has to be receptive and ready to embrace the new way of working) and people behaviour (employees have to change the way they work and become proficient with the new tool). All it goes down to change management, but talking about digital transformation sounds way cooler! Let’s leave the trendy words aside and let’s go back to basic: the most important asset in your organisations are your people. Tools, processes, technology clearly matters, but if the company culture is not receptive and employees are not ready to change the way they do things your technology is not going to give the ROI that was claimed on the original plan/presentation.
It is about company culture and a shift in the mindset. Having the latest platform without implementig the required change to get employees to use it and be proficient when using it is throwing money out of the window. Therefore, when dealing with digital transformation the focus must be on company culture and people behaviour. Basically on change management.