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Digital Transformation

‘Take us with you’: you can’t transform if your employees don’t know it’s happening

Amid a year of stress around efficiencies, remoteness, plugging productivity gaps and achieving more with less, businesses have forgotten one vital thing: if you’re going to embark on a transformation journey – no matter how rushed – you need to take your people with you.

More than a year ago, we at Match explored the ever-present cliché that is ‘digital transformation’. Back at the end of 2019, the message was one of holisticness – regardless of the word ‘digital’, transformation requires a conjoined, top-to-bottom, organisation-wide realisation of where the company is, where it’s heading and how best to unitedly move forward.

We used the analogy of a company being an entire body and a sum of its independent parts. Digital is just one element, or a lone organ. But you can’t tamper with, or develop, just one aspect of a body without addressing or impacting the entire being.

Of course, back then we had no idea about the imminent turn of events that would follow. But even in spite of rushed, accelerated or even unplanned transformations over the course of 2020, what enterprises are struggling to realise is that organisational change still needs to be a cultural strategy rather than a quick fix.

HR’s relationship with digital

If anything, this theory is more pertinent now than it was 15 months ago. Out of desperation, fear, pressure or all of the above, businesses will have inadvertently embarked on digital transformation journeys that they hadn’t fully prepared or planned for.

In doing so, they’ve missed out on vital considerations, stepping-stones and introspections that will ultimately dictate the success or failure of such a drastic change agenda. And decision-makers’ first omission, critically, has been an analysis of their people and the relationship between human resourcing and digital transformation.

“Digital transformation’s relation to talent is critical to understanding the former’s importance,” explained James Fowler of Match Performance even before the pandemic. “And it starts from the moment a prospective employee is identified.

“An exciting talent is far more likely to be attracted to the opportunity in the first place if they perceive the organisation as an agile, entrepreneurial, tech-savvy and forward-thinking entity. They’ll also be intrigued to enter a space already aligned to the millennial ethos, meaning they’re more likely to hit the ground running once starting.”

This ‘space’ needs to be seen as united and transparent from the get-go, and is affirmed by consistent messages, clear and open strategy, and strong levels of communication.

Fowler adds: “The ultimate impact of digital transformation on talent is the notion of a more advanced organisation driven by the attraction and retention of the most enthusiastic and enriched talent available.”

Plugging the communications gap

However, while this idealistic framework is the result of a positive cultural transformation and once feet are in the door; where businesses are struggling at present is during the change itself and with existing employees. And again, this derives from inadequate awareness of current capabilities, and then poor communication with those on the ‘shop floor’ who will be impacted by boardroom decisions.

Now more than ever, during a time of business uncertainty and social challenges, people are craving a sense of visibility – a clear path forward that gives them reason, purpose, ambition and optimism. If business leaders are enacting change agendas that impact these people, without clearly laying out the route ahead, a sense of unity, collaboration and – ultimately – buy-in is immediately lost.

Understandably, the workforce will fear that their professional identities are being diluted or even usurped by such an unexplained digital overhaul. Is my job safe? Will my remit change? Am I equipped to leverage incoming technologies? Will I have a new boss? New colleagues? New surroundings?

These are all valid questions that could actually be answered before the agenda initiates. By transparently earmarking the road ahead and pinpointing where autonomy, productivity, security and performance will actually be elevated, companies can tick boxes of reassurance and buy-in, simultaneously.

“Incorporated into this improved communication is a responsibility on stronger and more concise leadership,” Fowler adds. “Investment into leadership coaching is every bit as critical as investments into tech tools, as part of a digital transformation strategy.

“How can you encourage people to do great things if they don’t have a clear and unified sense of direction? How can they drive your desired change if there is that tone, mindset and communication gap between those making the decisions, and those expected to enact them?”

Clear insight into the value of people

By creating an environment that includes all of your workforce from minute one, you’ll also be putting a mirror up to your current capability levels, too. If you’re engaging with different departments, disciplines and individuals, then you’re more likely to recognise where capability gaps exist. And of course, this can inform future personnel and hiring strategies to tie into your wider transformation agenda.

This two-way street results in the formulation of high-performing individuals, teams, relationships and systems that will all be pushing towards the same understood goal. The technologies that enter the fray are really just tools to facilitate this cultural transition.

It’s a switch of emphasis that we at Match promoted back in late 2019 and that we very much continue to champion today. By leveraging our decades of expertise, and access to thousands of scenarios, use cases and change programmes, we have the data and insight to guide you as a united and all-encompassing business. Not just as a C-level exec with a pressurised plan.

Fowler concludes: “At Match, we are seeing first-hand how many organisations are transforming the way they deliver change by adopting new ways of working, or by leveraging new processes such as ‘modern delivery’ or ‘scaled agility’. But they aren't paying enough attention to their people strategy, their capability levels, and the impacts of digital transformation on everyone within that organisation.

“By acknowledging and incorporating the people agenda into every aspect of organisational change, employees will become empowered and will be a positive driving force that all large-scale transformations require to be effective. While leadership can decide upon and instigate a new change agenda, it will be the people who determine its ultimate success.”

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