Features, Insight, Opinion

How can digital transformation be improved with a ‘people first’ strategy?

Kunal Purohit, Chief Digital Services Officer, Tech Mahindra

Digital transformation was supposed to be an ongoing journey—not the turn-on-a-dime situation most businesses were thrust into when Covid-19 first took hold around the globe. The best digital transformations target three main benefits: serving customers better, operating more efficiently, and improving the employee experience. With a view to getting the desired digital transformation benefits and succeeding in the long run, organisations must focus on adopting a People First strategy at the start of their digital transformation projects.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to a pivotal moment as organisations scrambled to facilitate new work-from-home policies and digital customer touchpoints. Forward looking IT and business leadership teams’ efforts to modernise their IT infrastructure such as moving to the cloud, investing in data, analytics capabilities, and strengthening security across an evolving technology ecosystem, have started delivering impressive results during the times of crisis. The recent global report by Tech Mahindra and Harvard Business Review Analytic Services in 2022, stated that 79% of respondents witnessed the pandemic has sped up their companies’ digital efforts. With almost three years of dealing with the tumultuous times, the biggest concern for CEOs today is to make sure that they can hold on to the good side of digital while also getting back to the good things we had in the physical world.

Solving The Maze Matrix

While all the developments are fast shaping up, there are many missing links that demand our attention. Digital transformation often fails when companies forget that the critical levers such as developing a vision, designing a suitable organisational strategy, and then executing the same are all supported by people.

In changing business processes, the people angle is often the most underinvested aspect of the transformation program. Right talent with the right skills can drive important aspects of digital transformation. A company’s ability to adapt to an even more digital future depends on developing the next generation of skills, closing the gap between talent supply and demand, and future-proofing your own and others’ potential. If we can leverage human adaptability to reskill and upskill the workforce, then we can simultaneously augment humans and technology. Organisations must realise the fact that the most brilliant innovations are irrelevant if we are not skilled enough to use them, and even the most impressive human minds may prove to be ineffective if they don’t team up with technology. The underlying principle is that when leaders think about investing in technology, they should first think about investing in the people who can make that technology useful. And while upskilling/ Reskilling people, organisations must also focus on the ‘creativity’ aspects too. As more and more ‘within the box’ work gets automated through digital technologies using tools like AI/ML modelling, skills that will be more desired by more and more organisations would include ‘creative thinking’ as a core foundational skill.

It is important for organisations to modernise their people strategy to unlock digital transformation success. To empower change management, executives should focus on getting the core elements of a change effort right: setting a clear vision and goals; identifying key challenges, finding effective solutions to problems; putting the right leadership in place; and being strategic about technology and cybersecurity. Companies that lay the groundwork for success in these areas are well placed to position themselves, and their employees drive sustainable growth. They need to remember that it’s not hard to start working with technology. It’s harder to have the systems, processes, and governance in place, which are defined by the people. The digital transformation survey report by Tech Mahindra in association with Harvard Business Review Analytics Service highlights that organisations are facing a range of challenges in their transformations, with competing priorities within the company (mentioned by 41% of respondents). Other top challenges include difficulty integrating new and existing technology (37%), getting employees on board with change efforts (34%), and lack of digital skills/talent (33%).

For all these to take shape seamlessly, organisations should set up change management teams that supervise and drive the transformation. A dedicated team can encourage everything from developing employee personalities to selling the transformation internally to assisting people learn new skills. While not all executives need to be directly involved in the change management team, it is paramount that the CEO (Chief Executive Officer), CFO (Chief Financial Officer), and Chief People Officer (CPO) together drive this initiative. The CEO and the CPO must make sure that the company has the people it needs, which involves tasks such as upskilling and rethinking ways to incentivise them and making efforts to collaborate with them.

Enterprises should look at this as being more ‘compassionate’ to the employees. Over the years, enterprises have moved from looking at employees with sympathy in tough situations (looking at the situation but not really relating to it) to be more empathetic (relating to employee motivation and behaviour levels). With compassion, the two take the right steps forward ‘together’. Thereby enabling better productivity and business outcomes. One such example is during DevOps-led agile transformation, where the Dev and the ops teams work together to understand each other’s challenges and opportunity areas, delivering work that requires less support and creating a better user experience.

Striking the Right Balance

Digital transformation serves as an opportunity for companies to reshape the way their employees work in the future. Digital transformations have the potential to take a company’s outdated playbook and rewrite it for the technology-enabled future. However, agile, nimble, and digitally savvy businesses require employees who are encouraged to be on the lookout for new digital opportunities for the company. Indeed, executives would do well to let go of top-down leadership and create cultures that support proactive action instead.

Doing so can keep a company oriented towards the possibilities and challenges that lie ahead. Leadership teams need to understand that it is no longer limited to executives to decide how to lead. It is something that all members of a firm need to think about. The executives need to embrace the fact that we are agile as a global community. This agility has been people-led and technology-supported. Human beings are the common denominator in the concept of future proofing. It is up to us to drive change and accept technology as a complementing factor in driving change. Ultimately, the change starts with each one of us, and the key is to nurture curiosity so that we have incredible opportunities, even outside of a crisis.

Rewarding the right behaviour will help employees feel motivated to change rather than resist it due to insecurity in the job. For example, at Tech Mahindra, all infrastructure foundation and application support teams are becoming more and more cloud and devsecops centric in their thinking and doing. This helps the company deliver digital transformation to its customers faster while also making the company more efficient and improving the experience of its employees.

The Way Forward

Without a people-first strategy, the massive and multiple changes the digital transformation can bring to an organisation would not be possible. The human strengths, such as decision making, adaptability, constantly cultivating human resilience and flexibility are extremely crucial to navigate a turbulent reality.  Besides, creativity is a hallmark of being human – and it is essential to survive a crisis, reinvent the organisation and plan for its future.

For organisations to successfully transform their business and react to change, their people need to be aligned, engaged, and properly skilled.

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