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Successful digital transformation needs the right people before the right tools

Written by Geoffroy de Lestrange on Tuesday, 19 November 2019. Posted in Leadership, People

Digital transformation is a buzzword that has been bandied about for many years now. Yet, so few companies are progressing very far down that journey, seeming to get stuck or still only being at the very beginning.

Successful digital transformation needs the right people before the right tools

Digital transformation is a buzzword that has been bandied about for many years now. Yet, so few companies are progressing very far down that journey, seeming to get stuck or still only being at the very beginning. When it is so essential, almost obligatory, for any business hoping to survive, the question is, why? What’s the hold up?

The answer is simple. Businesses are focusing too much on the wrong things.

It is fair enough for companies to assume that the problem and solution to digital transformation lie in technology – after all that’s what’s pushing through these changes. But who is using that technology? Companies that want to successfully digitally transform their business need to remember who this will ultimately impact – their people. As research from IDC revealed, company culture and employees are the biggest obstacle to this necessary digital change. Without your employees pushing this through you’re never going to get very far.

As the keeper of company culture, HR plays a vital role in helping to overcome this barrier and needs to be working hand-hand with IT and the C-Suite, not overlooked and pushed to the side lines. Afterall, digital transformation needs to be a company-wide initiative and cannot succeed without harnessing different departmental knowledge and expertise.

The right mindset   

People don’t like change; we can be creatures of habit and the disruption associated with digital transformation is not an easy sell. However much your employees may wish for the company to thrive and grow, really, deep down they are concerned about the effects on them. You need to demonstrate and communicate how this will benefit them. This is precisely where HR comes in, acting as the employee ambassador and outlining what these changes will offer them for growth and development, aligning the business with the individual. All helping to ultimately instil a desire and even create a culture of innovation.  

But this does take time. So, start with creating your digital champions, those people who will lead the way and help to encourage others to get on board. Ideally, this will be those people who are already in a position of influence, namely the C-Suite – but they can also be the hardest to convince. What matters to them normally comes down to money. Here, HR needs to be speaking with IT to understand how digitalisation will be cutting costs, increasing productivity and boosting revenue to win them over. Having senior leaders lead by example will help others to more easily and quickly follow suit.

The right skills

Support from employees is just the first step, you are not fully over the hurdle yet. You cannot expect your employees to continue backing this new initiative and for your digital transformation to not be derailed if you don’t also adequately prepare and equip your employees. Again, HR and IT need to work together.

IT is handling the new systems, processes and technologies being implemented, but HR also needs to understand these. Firstly, HR may need to offer immediate training for employees that will need to use new systems in their everyday role but more importantly, digitalisation means that there will be far more new and different skills needed in the business. HR needs to be able to fill those knowledge and expertise gaps, not just now but moving forward as well. This will either be through helping current employees to upskill or even encouraging greater internal mobility within the company to bring skills from different departments that are now relevant and needed in new areas. You never know but there may be someone in marketing who is great at coding. Eventually, if the demand is just too great or urgent, HR may need to also look to bring in the right external talent. Throughout all of this, HR needs to be liaising with IT to truly understand what the needs are. Afterall, the biggest talent requirements will likely stem from the IT department itself.

Finally, the right tools  

As previously mentioned, with digital transformation, technology is still key – but in the same way you need the right people, you also need the right technology.

When it comes to digitising your business, the first point of call is usually looking at automating production or sales processes, implementing a CRM or even a sales enablement platform. But how you manage your employees is just as important as how you manage and deal with your customers – they are your customers internally – and as shown, getting this right is essential for a successful digital transformation project.

You need to be digitising the whole business, so don’t overlook HR. With the clear importance of employees learning new skills, for example, how can you use technology to provide more employees with easily accessible learning and training? You also need to be able to keep track of employees’ development, monitoring where gaps currently lie and more importantly, will likely appear, for effective succession planning. Beforehand, HR was needing to gather information from IT, but this instance shows how the relationship needs to be a truly mutual collaboration, with HR outlining its technology needs to IT to ensure it implements the right technology to ensure employees are able to help drive forward digitalisation.

Change will only really happen for the better if people believe in and are behind it. To do this, they also need to have the support and tools to climb aboard that journey and that responsibility lies with HR and IT working together. Only then can you finally push through that barrier for successful digital transformation.


About the Author

Geoffroy de Lestrange

Geoffroy de Lestrange

Geoffroy de Lestrange is product marketing & communication director EMEA at CornerstoneOnDemand, a global leader in cloud-based learning, talent management and emerging talent experience software.

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