How to keep people central to digital transformation

a year ago   •   3 min read

By Cian Prendergast

Cian Prendergast  on why organisations need to keep people front and centre to achieve a successful digital transformation 


Digital transformation has been in the mainstream consciousness for years. However, it was Covid-19 and the lockdowns implemented across the world in March 2020 that really brought home just what fully digitised workplaces look like.

While not all businesses have been able to move online (and I’m missing the hospitality and entertainment worlds big time), many have thanks to technology.

There’s no doubt that the technology available has helped companies adapt throughout the last incredibly difficult 12 months.

However, there is a danger in thinking that digital transformation equals technology exclusively. And forget about the aspect that truly makes for successful online businesses.


1. People

It’s people who will drive and use the technology being implemented. It’s people who will create an integrated experience for your customers who are now using your online offerings.

Get the people bit wrong, and your digital transformation strategy stands a strong chance of failing.

Get the people bit right, and your business is strongly placed to experience growth and make a lot of time and money savings.

Here’s how to keep people front and centre as you digitise.


2. Be a visible leader

The changes wrought by Covid-19 have been huge and unsettling. Any change is.

Your team members will feel unsure as your company embarks on a digital transformation process.

Take a visible and consistent stand as your company implements new technology and ways of working. You’ll need to carefully map out and manage the process. Ensure you take your team along with you as you do this.

Your CIO will be leading the digital transformation strategy, but their focus will be largely taken up with operational matters. You, as the leader of the business, are the one tasked with keeping the people in your company aware of where you are in the digital transformation journey. Communicate often.


3. Ensure teams get a chance to buy-in: 

There is no shortage of examples to look at of great ideas in theory that didn’t pan out as expected in practice. Often this is because buy-in from the very people the great ideas concerned wasn’t prioritised.

The technology solutions you’re implementing could be used in different ways by the different teams in your business.

Make sure you have an engagement plan for each of the teams you need to bring on board with your digital transformation. Your Customer Success team could require the technology to do something different for them compared to your Sales team. 

Know who the champions for change will be in each team and secure their buy-in. Include their team members in regular updates too and be clear about the vision. Help people understand how they can work with the technology to deliver their job better.


4. Stay aware of your culture

Peter Drucker’s famous quote of how “culture eats strategy for breakfast” has never been more apt. 

There is an enormous amount of stress in the air right now and could be for some time to come. We’re all looking forward to rolling up our sleeves and getting on with the recovery, but that will make adaptations and adjustments too.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and so do employees being kept in the dark. Or being overworked. Or be expected to keep up with changes that aren’t taking into account their needs to do their jobs.

Make sure you are mapping the technology solutions you want to implement to business priorities these solutions need to deliver. This way people will see how the digital transformation strategy can enhance their roles. Too many strategies prioritise technology over business priorities. This can lead to feelings of not being listened to among your staff. 

It’s not easy to replicate experiences that you’d have in real life in an online environment.

We all remember the online quiz shows and Zoom singalongs that characterised the first lockdown. No doubt well-intentioned, but not overly successful and it’s not by accident that these have fallen away in subsequent lockdowns.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t keep company culture alive while everyone works remotely.

Ways of doing this include regular email updates calling out team members who have gone above and beyond in their roles, offering 1-2-1 meetings with senior members of the team so everyone feels heard, and a Slack channel for banter. These are just three ideas; find what works for you.

The technology behind your digital transformation is, in turn, driven by people. Keep your culture strong by making sure you create an environment where people and technology can work together towards one common goal.

Finding ways of showing your people they matter will pay off in the short, medium and long term. And your digital transformation strategy will be so much more successful for doing so.

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