The Secret to Digital Transformation is Human Connection –

By Margaret Dawson on

We know digital transformation is no longer an option for today’s organizations-it’s a requirement. End-users have come to expect an easy, digital-native experience, whether they are ordering a pizza or automating an entire network infrastructure, which is why businesses and governments are throwing trillions of dollars at new technologies and related services.

Organizations must build and deliver exciting new software applications, faster than ever before. They must continuously innovate, adapt and stay ahead of the never-ending demands of digital data, experiences and channels. These demands have contributed to the meteoric rise of cloud computing, DevOps methodologies, open source technologies, predictive analytics, AI and many other innovations.

However, even with all these investments, more than half of all new software or IT projects still fail. In fact, according to a study by Forbes Insights, 75% of executives say they’re still waiting to reap tangible benefits from disruptive technology. Here’s why: Technology alone does not solve digital transformation. It doesn’t address some of the most fundamental issues that inhibit or enable transformational success nor the most critical dependency, which is people.

To truly transform, organizations must go beyond just technology to embrace the human elements of this evolution. We’ll look at six factors driven by the human side of the business, and how each of these can help, not hinder, digital transformation when properly addressed.

Organizational Culture

One of the biggest challenges for companies as they embark on digital transformation is the needed cultural change. The technology decisions, while daunting, are easier compared to the cultural shift organizations must undertake to truly become digital leaders. Top down mandates won’t work, because for it to be successful, digital transformation needs buy-in from all involved. People need to connect to the change and feel they can have an impact, or at the very least, know their job is safe amid the change. Also, to achieve the speed of change and innovation, organizations need to empower everyone to make decisions, not just a select few.

Embracing an open culture can help with this. In an open culture, digital leaders look at their organization more like a community of individuals, all contributing to something bigger than themselves. Anyone can participate, lead and suggest a change or improvement. This methodology helps for the best ideas to win out, regardless of where they come from. Employees feel part of the process and ultimately, it empowers them to work toward the shared goal. Let me be clear, this isn’t a democracy or a lack of clear decision making power. However, it is using more open decision frameworks that move everyone toward a common goal, which brings us to the next big human factor.

An Inspiring Vision with Metrics of Success

It is often said to start with the end in mind. With digital transformation, this is absolutely true. For digital transformation to be successful, everyone in the organization needs to understand, and ideally agree with, the destination. Visions are not just words-they are driving the priorities, investments and decisions made by every team and employee. Without a clear vision, organizations can’t create an executable business strategy. The key is to make sure you have a vision that clearly describes what your organization will be like in several years-and then make that vision measurable.

All good visions come with goals attached to them. Yet according to research from Gartner, 50% of organizations have no digital transformation metric or way to measure progress for digital transformation. Set up clear, ambitious targets-stretch goals the entire company can work toward. These metrics allow organizations to clearly check on how they have progressed and where they still need to get to.

Cross-Organizational Teams and Processes

Another cultural barrier to digital transformation is siloed behavior and workstreams. Often, teams refuse, or just don’t know, how to break out of their silos. Digital transformation requires collaboration and breaking down boundaries, as data, insights, applications and processes need to flow seamlessly throughout an organization. It all goes back to having a vision and an open culture. Without a culture of trust and a shared agreement on the end goal from across the organization, you won’t be able to break down these silos.

With the vision and culture in place, adopting DevOps and agile processes is a great way to initiate this. It helps bring together business, technical and other people from across an organization to solve a specific problem or figure out how to better work together. Often, this takes a courageous leader, who doesn’t measure their value by the power or budget they hold, to broker these cross-organizational relationships and new teams.

People Development

In talking to IT and business leaders all over the world, they are faced with a common challenge: skill set gaps. This includes both soft skills, such as communications or management, and hard skills, such as technical capabilities. According to Red Hat’s survey on Global IT Trends & Priorities Research, the biggest blocker to an organization’s digital transformation efforts is people. More specifically, the survey found IT talent or skills gap was preventing organizations’ efforts from being successful. Technology and digital processes are changing so quickly, it’s hard to keep up. This is creating a digital skills gap in organizations across industries and around the world.

Rather than hoping to hire people with the skills and talent you need, I encourage organizations to develop the people you have. Take your loyal employees who already fit your culture and believe in your vision and invest in them. Also reward them for taking risks. Digital disruption does not happen by standing still or encouraging small moves-it takes big bets. Leadership must also be willing to stand up for employees who try new ideas and push the boundaries.

User Experience Focus

According to CareerFoundry, which manages a Web UX design school, the cost of a bad user experience is high. Really high. Its research estimates bad user experience costs e-commerce companies $1.4 trillion in lost revenue.

As we focus on the human connection part of digital transformation, user experience takes the front seat and is a top priority. We need to start with the user. What are they trying to do? What is the pain we are hopefully solving? Too many times organizations start with the cool technology and slap on the user experience as almost an afterthought. By starting with the user, projects are more likely to give users the feeling they are interfacing with a human being rather than a digital thing-and ultimately, will succeed because of it.

Personal Connections

One of the downsides of the digital era is we don’t have enough face time. We believe video conferences provide the same benefits as face-to-face meetings. We put our trust in digital handshakes instead of the real thing. However, to succeed at a company-wide digital transformation, you can’t rely on digital communication alone. Ironic, right?

One key reason for making face time is to build trust. As humans, we need to see someone, look them in the eye, shake their hand, respond to their cues. All of this helps us trust the other person. To put your organization through a major transformation takes trust-across the organization, but especially of the leadership. This means leadership needs to get out there and talk to employees, customers, partners and users. Take the time and the effort to make your transformational efforts relate to the humans doing the work and buying your products or services.

The Bottom Line

The most common mistake organizations make is believing technology alone can solve their problems. Technology is still needed for a successful digital transformation. In fact, I am not in any way advising we all sit around and have a lovely conversation and hold hands to solve these massive technology issues. However, technology must be combined with human connection.

In other words, it’s not just what you use to transform, but the how and the why of your transformation. The human elements require hard work across culture, hiring, people development, leadership and communication.

Human connection is the killer application for digital transformation.


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