What’s the most challenging aspect of any digital transformation initiative? If you know my background in and passion for human-centered design and change management, you may be able to predict my answer. While technology is no doubt critical, it’s people that often prove most challenging – and will always be a critical driver of success.
Navigating the human impacts of a digital transformation requires bold, thoughtful leadership. Given the magnitude of many such transformations, this leadership is about more than adjusting the proverbial sails. It’s about building an entirely new boat – and preparing your crew to steer and operate it effectively.
While each transformation will bring some distinct obstacles and opportunities, I’ve observed some recurring challenges that merit consideration.
- How will you tap into your people to shape the transformation?
A technology transformation should be more than digitizing current processes and workflows. It’s an opportunity to focus on the desired outcome and then design an entirely new way of achieving it. In other words, it doesn’t start with technology; it starts with talking to people and considering their needs and preferences. You need to understand their hearts and minds not just when using a particular IT system, but also as they experience their day-to-day lives. Human-centered design techniques can help uncover moments that matter so you can craft better employee experiences.
- As individuals, will your people trust data (or go with their gut)?
As machines are increasingly working in parallel with people, there’s a clear need for better governance of analytics. In fact, in a KPMG survey, 61 percent of CEOs cited building trust as a top-three priority for their organization. Yet just 35 percent of IT decision makers have a high level of trust in their organization’s analytics. Those findings point to a challenge that extends well beyond the IT team. Following a digital transformation, your organization will produce more data than ever. And it won’t just be historical data for review and analysis; it will also include predictions and recommendations generated through advanced analytics. Sometimes those suggestions may differ from traditional ways of making decisions or delivering services. Without proper training and change management, your people may be inclined to ignore the insights and revert to their own intuition. But when you make them part of the “why” and “how” of your transformation, they’re more likely to trust the new information.
(For a deeper dive on this topic, check out our series, In data we trust. But should we? It explores the power and potential limitations of data. It also provides a framework to help ensure that data assets—and real-time, business-critical decisions based on this data—are trustworthy and reliable.)
- As an organization, how will you translate data into action?
Digitally enabled business processes will indeed generate an unprecedented amount of data. Individuals choosing not to act on these insights is one risk; another is an inability to translate data into action. Data can help you know how you could improve some aspect of your supply chain management or manufacturing operations. But you still need an end-to-end approach to incorporate those insights into on-the-ground change. For the most part, this isn’t a technical challenge. It’s a leadership challenge that can only be solved through deep collaboration and engagement with your workforce and a willingness to forge truly new ways of working.
- What “soft” skills will your people need?
Digital transformation doesn’t eliminate the need for people, but it may reduce the need for certain types of skills. When repetitive tasks like queries and data entry are handled by machines, your people are freed up to focus on higher-value activities. To do so, some may need additional training to build communication, collaboration, and other soft skills. Engage early and often to explain the “why” of these changes so employees feel passionate about improving outcomes for your organization and the people you serve. Use this lens when acquiring new talent, too. Since technologies change rapidly, it’s becoming less important to find people with skills in certain platforms. Instead, recruit people with problem-solving acumen, analytical competence, and excellent learning potential. These are just a few of the questions that can help in guiding and planning a digital transformation. At the end of the day, they all point to this transformation truth:
Success is less about “Does the tech work?” and more about “Do the people work?”
How are you navigating human impacts within your own organization?