By Rachel Wilson on April 26, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has become the ultimate driver for change acceleration. Hardly a company has been left untouched, forced to adopt new ways of working internally and  interacting with customers, overnight.

According to Twilo’s Covid-19 Digital Report, the pandemic has accelerated companies’ digital transformation by an average of six years. McKinsey even put it at seven. Whatever the real figure is, the consensus is that there is no going back.

Digital transformation has many facets, referring to anything from IT modernisation (cloud computing) to digital optimisation, using digital to supercharge existing process such as an automated Invoice Processing platform or making sure your websites are fit for purpose to the invention of new products and services, and more.

And digital transformation does not end there. It is not about completing a one-off process, rather entering a continual state of change and adaptation. Mastering the art of ongoing digital transformation, and its acceleration, is no longer an option but a necessity.

Despite the best intention however, only 30% of big companies succeed in their digital transformation initiatives, with programmes frequently failing to deliver the promised value and business benefits. This is a sobering figure, which must act as a warning. Too often, the human element is overshadowed by the technology imperative. Yet even in this Digital Age, people remain a key decisive factor.

The obstacles in implementing robust digital transformation

There are plenty of reasons as to why some digital transformation initiatives fail to deliver. A lack of digital leadership for a start, but also insufficient digital skills in the workforce, as well as little to no goals and a lack of defined steps on how to go about it.  Then there are issues like leaders adopting a technology-centred approach, hierarchical decision making, an overbearing culture, a lack of urgency and a blurred company vision. The list goes on.

One common false view is seeing digital transformation as just another IT initiative, such as the roll out of an ERP platform. Many employees intuitively feel no responsibility, and consequently, no commitment to it.

Another barrier is the lack of buy-in from the leadership. Their behaviours and habits, even behind closed doors, must reflect an authentic desire to embrace change and gradually morph. They have to be true role model and not fake it.

Finally, resistance to change is perhaps the most potent obstacle of all. This so often stems from various negative experiences such as past failed ‘transformation’, a fear of being surplus to requirements and anxiety of the unknown (better the devil you know).

A way forward

The following steps will help towards overcoming the resistance to change.

  1. Focus on the why. Why are we doing this?  The how and the what must come after. The answer to the why will determine whether the company is on track or heading in the wrong direction.
  2. Show people the benefits to them. Generates buy-in by demonstrating and ‘proving’ the benefits of what the transformation can really do. People must connect the dots with their everyday world and see how embracing the solution will add value to what they currently do, such as finding a document within seconds, instead of minutes.
  3. Involve people. They are part of the decision-making journey. A gradual, progressive roll-out by the people will ensure that they will not fail it.
  4. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Because every person in the business needs to understand why the company is doing what they are doing, what it means to their part of the business and what they personally need to do.
  5. Provide a structure and a framework. Much of digital transformation today is around data, integrating different business areas and enabling data-driven decision making. These types of transformations require discipline and rigour.
  6. Digital training and upskilling. With transformation comes the need for all to be digital literate. We could call it skills for a digital world. Experts will continue to be experts, but the majority must learn how to be fluent in the skills of today.

Digital transformation is not a fad; it is here to stay and will only develop and accelerate. The people-side of transformation must be done well, with leaders shifting people’s mindsets, behaviours, attitudes, and abilities. In some instances, a digital transformation and its relentless acceleration, can only be achieved when an army of humans are performing the tasks and not robots. Ultimately, those who succeed in digital transformation understand that it is actually a blend of people and technology. A company can implement all the new technology they can afford, but making it stick and work depends on a robust digital strategy, a strong digital culture and working hand in hand with its workforce. That is why a digital transformation should also be a people transformation. .

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