Tech Transformation Is Human (Not Digital)

Companies must avoid a fascination with digital tools and instead focus on people and their needs, balancing digital adoption with an in-depth understanding of human reality, writes Pablo Foncillas.

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Despite what many business executives seem to think, technology is not a magic wand that can, with a wave and an “abracadabra,” initiate transformation within a company. Digital tools are important, yes, but it is people who must make innovation and progress happen. It is not enough to have access to technology. One needs to know how to use it and adopt it – and how to avoid the conflict and issues that arise on the road to digital transformation. 

Although it may not seem like it, technology is full of pitfalls, especially in the business world. The quintessential technology trap is when companies are so mesmerized by technology that they forget the power and role of human resources in digital transformation, when in fact the approach to digital transformation should be the other way around. Successful companies start their transformation with a new vision, focusing on employee skills, team reorganization, and new processes, and only then do they begin to factor in the right technology. The point is that transformation is not something to be shown off in a parade, it needs to center on catering for human needs.

In addition to the technology trap (as if that were not enough), there is another conflict in the business world: the “double culture clash.” This battle unfolds between digital natives and digital immigrants, i.e., those who grew up with technology and those who have had to learn it later in life. The battle is often between different generations within the workplace and includes, for example, internal clashes can occur between digital natives and digital immigrants who think and behave differently. In the past, experience came with age and rank, but today, a young millennial can manage older staff, and this can cause tension. Then there are the external clashes that come from friction with the market. Here, companies must decide whether to embrace digitally savvy customers or stick with their more traditional clients. Either decision has the potential to sideline some market segments.

Technology provides the tools, but it is people who must use them.

In order to overcome these culture clashes when going through a digital transformation, executives must be fully clear on why the digital transformation is needed and whom it serves.

To be a generalist or not to be? That is the question for CEOs during their company’s digital transformation, particularly as various technologies and the teams behind them are fighting for importance. What is better: a versatile CEO or one with in-depth knowledge? Regardless of the specific choice and circumstance, the CEO must understand how to interact with customers, and take the following into account:

  • Managers do not need to be obsessed with technology, but they must see the opportunities it presents.
  • Steady progress is more common and necessary than disruptive change for most companies.
  • The trigger for using new technology is often dissatisfied customers.

Technology is the easy part; the real challenge lies in how people and organizations adapt to it. Organizations are full of emotional, change-resistant people so the trick is to find a way to shift mindsets and culture and make the most of technological opportunities. In short, technology provides the tools, but it is people who must use them. Thus, leaders play a key role in empowering employees by fostering a culture that is open to change and by leading with a clear vision. For leaders, there are some basic conditions for building digital transformation. For example:

  • Digital transformation should not be viewed as the stepping stone to technological maturity, let’s consider it a period of adolescence.
  • Senior executives must serve as role models for the rest of the company and champion digital uptake, while providing clear guidance.
  • It is essential to provide consistent and ongoing skills and training is essential for employees throughout the company – like going to a technology gym to stay in shape.
  • The company culture must reflect a love of change and innovation. If the office doesn’t look like a technology fairground, is the company really doing digital technology?

In fact, the term “digital transformation” has haunted boardrooms for quite some time now – to such an extent that mentioning it might now generate more ridicule than reflection. That said, there are still many leaders who, even though they talk endlessly about DT, are still wondering, “What exactly is it?” This is because many of these leaders are lost in the maze of tools and technologies and don’t know where to actually start with the transformation.

This is where “digital maturity” emerges out of digital transformation, the next level in the (never-ending) journey towards adaptation and reinvention in our digitally advanced world. Who needs clear-cut goals when you can enjoy ongoing change? In the midst of the digital revolution, however, it is still the people who are the protagonists. The key is to create a good working environment where innovation and teamwork are the lifeblood of the company.

This is why culture is key to digital transformation. It is often an underestimated factor and companies sometimes opt for authoritarian strategies in the belief that implementing technology will change business culture. But, the truth is that it is much more effective to encourage employees to explore and adopt new technologies during working hours, even if this requires patience and time. A culture-based digital transformation strategy should focus on inclusiveness, creating an environment where everyone, from senior executives to rank-and-file employees, feels that they are an integral part of the process.

Beyond the traps and clashes, successful digital transformation lies in changing not only processes, but also mindsets and organizational cultures. In the end, it is culture, leadership, and adaptability that are the real stars of this exciting digital landscape and success often comes down to whether and how organizations empower their people to be the ones who lead the way on the continuous journey of transformation.


© IE Insights.


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