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Digital transformation: Perspectives from HR

Some IT projects are so large and fundamental to an organization that they may essentially reprogram its DNA. Assess cultural readiness for change with HR.


Harvard Business Review has identified five essential components of digital transformation:
1. People
2. Data
3. Insights
4. Action
5. Results

What is the first essential component on the list? People.

Employees’ resistance to change, miscommunication, lack of coordination, lack of commitment, and dearth of skills are numbers 4, 6, 7, 10, and 13 on a Forbes list of 13 reasons why companies fail at digital transformation.

There’s no doubt that employee adoption can dramatically affect IT project execution and success. Gartner has estimated that digital transformation takes twice as long and costs two times more than anticipated.

How do you ensure your employees get on board?

How do you avoid doubling timelines and cost?

Giridhar G V, HGS’s global executive vice president of human resources with over 30 years of HR, talent management, coaching, and digital transformation experience, answers a few questions to shed light on digital transformation preparedness from the people perspective.

From a people standpoint, is there ever a bad time to initiate a digital transformation project?

Generally, no. Given that digital transformation is now a business imperative to keep an enterprise competitive and to ensure people remain employed, any time is a good time. Now is a great time, tomorrow is good time, and yesterday was the best time to go digital!

Divestiture, merger, and acquisition activities offer incredible digital transformation opportunities. Employees usually expect significant change at these junctures, so layering on a digital project that redefines how to operate and how to meet customer expectations makes a ton of sense – but only if the leadership team isn’t already too busy to actively manage the transformation.

Restructuring and resizing exercises (e.g., layoffs) may pose a bit more of a challenge to a successful digital overhaul, depending on the employee sentiment and scope of the change. In these situations, the projects need to be managed much more carefully to ensure they don’t become counterproductive to supporting customers and sustaining operations. It is highly advisable to consult with your HR leadership team before embarking on a major project when staff are already grappling with loss.

“Now is a great time, tomorrow is good time, and yesterday was the best time to go digital!”

Do you have any tips for executives working to ensure cultural readiness for digital transformation?

Yes! Here are my pointers and lessons learned.

  • Articulate a clear vision, create and communicate a roadmap, and define expected outcomes. When the vision and reasons for change are not clear, people won’t value them or understand them. When they don’t understand at a high level the steps involved, they can’t adjust their tactics. Avoid gaps in intent and results by communicating with consistency and context. The transformation will affect people differently depending on the department they’re in, the role they play, the hours they work, and the customers they serve. The changes will mean different things to different people, so be ready to provide copious examples to bring the vision to life, set expectations, and get people on board. Hint: The vision is not just about the technology – it’s how people will use the technology to reach personal and corporate goals. It’s about “what’s in it for me.”
  • Actively create awareness and enthusiasm for the “art of the possible.” Employees may recognize the importance to the business but still be nervous about their future with the organization, the impacts to their roles and careers, or their actual skills and abilities to deliver. It’s very natural to be apprehensive of change but, rather than just focusing on the details of the technology, be sure to assuage concerns about how changes could impact employees, customers, and partners. And make a conscious effort to convey passion and excitement for the project – your energy and enthusiasm are infectious.
  • Create a culture and an ecosystem to attract the type of talent you will need from the external market going forward. Not everyone will embrace the changes. Some may leave, some may transfer, and completely new skillsets may be required. Digital transformation is not usually successful without the right type of talent to support it. You may need a talent infusion from the outside to think differently and be innovative. Start the overhaul of your organization charts, job descriptions, employer brand, recruiting processes, applicant tracking systems, etc. early to prepare to support the refreshed, future-forward organization.
  • Create training and reskilling programs for existing talent. Factor ongoing training as part of your project plan and budget — and try to make it fun. Digital transformation does not always have to be intense and serious. Most folks likely can be reskilled through creative, interactive bootcamps that relay the essential details on how to use the new systems, explain again how they’re important, and allow employees to express their feelings and ideas on how to move forward and create benefits for the business. These sessions can be used to train (or retrain) — and boost employee engagement.

“You may need a talent infusion from the outside to think differently and be innovative. Start the overhaul of your organization charts, job descriptions, employer brand, recruiting processes, applicant tracking systems, etc. early.”

Do you recommend engaging a change management professional for major digital transformation projects?

Yes, someone definitely and officially needs to wear the hat of a change manager — but it doesn’t always need to be a permanent, dedicated role.

The best change managers have a birds-eye view and influence within the organization to lend and generate support for the project in a systematic way. They work closely with project managers to look for blockages and find mitigations, nudge teams forward in a logical manner, monitor impacts to finances and people, and provide executive sponsorship.

Change managers specialize in helping all leaders and teams involved in the change to remain focused on the end goals, as it is very easy to get distracted during long-term projects. Someone who excels in communications, project management, and delivery is critical for the role. They ideally have specialized techniques and methodologies for executing change, they understand organizational psychology, and they have a pulse on sentiment.

People are not machines, and there are emotions and behavioral adjustments involved in big projects. Change managers ensure the softer, emotional elements of a transformation are being addressed. They ensure strategies for coaching, training, and mentoring are being developed and executed. Transformation projects are often delayed because folks have underestimated people’s passive resistance or lack of alignment on the vision.

“People are not machines, and there are emotions and behavioral adjustments involved in big projects. Change managers ensure the softer, emotional elements of a transformation are being addressed.”

Interested in additional digital transformation trends and insights? Check out our 26-page 2022 Outlook Report, which identifies 12 business megatrends to transform and infuse new energy into your organization.

Giridhar

Giridhar G V, Global Executive Vice President of Human Resources, HGS

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