Digital Transformation Simplified

It’s been interesting to watch how organizations have changed and shifted during the past 2 months since COVID-19 drastically changed our lives. For the majority of knowledge workers across the globe, we are working remotely from home, 100% of the time. At varying degrees, organizations are being forced to deploy, leverage and rely heavily on technology to maintain business productivity. Many organizations are flourishing, and many are not.

While the term, “digital transformation” has been hacked to death since it became popular, whenever it started becoming popular, the concept is actually really simple. Feel free to google “digital transformation” and you can spend all day trying to figure out an accurate definition. Personally, I like MIT Principal Research Scientist, George Westerman’s, definition. He describes digital transformation as, “a radical rethinking of how organizations use technology, people and processes to fundamentally change business performance”.

Don’t you think COVID-19 has forced every single organization across the globe to engage in some form of digital transformation? I guess you could say that the pandemic had little to no effect on organizations who were already maximizing the positive impact of using cloud software to drive employee productivity, engagement and performance. But, I don’t know about you but I can’t think of 1 organization that hasn’t had to worry about rethinking their business practices.

During the course of my career in HR I have strongly advocated leaders to ensure they integrate technology into their business practices. I think the word “resistance” is one that comes to mind more often than not when engaging in conversations to employ some form of digital transformation. Presenting a clear and bulletproof business case has never been a problem for me. I have formed the opinion that resistance occurs because of a firm belief that the concept of digital transformation is complicated, lengthy, expensive, time consuming and disruptive. While it certainly is disruptive, in a positive sense, the general feeling among leaders that I have worked with, is inaccurate.

HBR published a fantastic article earlier this week titled, “Digital Transformation is About Talent, Not Technology“. The article is spot-on because the truly desired outcomes of transforming business practices through technology are increased productivity and performance. You can use any piece of software that you want but if the people using it are not using it properly, or “adopting it”, what’s the point?

Let’s Look at an Example

Just a couple of weeks after organizations started mandating their employees to work remotely from home I had a call with a VP of HR at a growing tech company in Canada. Within a matter of 1 week, this organization started using Zoom for video conferencing, Confluence for team collaboration, 15Five for agile performance management and a few other tools. The conversation with this VP was specifically about whether or not they were using the right tools. By the way, after she described the new tools she asked me this question. I responded saying, “well, before I answer that question, I have some questions for you first”. They were:

  1. When you selected those new tools, did you evaluate whether or not they supported and enabled your processes? If not, did you change them? If you did, did you communicate these changes to your employees?
  2. Did you involve your employees in selecting these tools?
  3. Did you do any training of the new tools to ensure everyone knew how to use them?

These questions were as basic as you could get. The responses from the VP to each of the 3 questions were, “no, no and no”. Ooopsie…

I wasn’t going to recommend they stop using these tools and start over. Unfortunately, the pandemic was wreaking havoc on every single organization across the world and it was not going to pause and wait until we all figured stuff out. I gave my recommendation on how they could better connect the new tools to their employees and to their work, as quickly as possible. The last thing this organization needed was to lose engagement fast because they screwed up when it came to the basics of digital transformation. What’s more important in this context is the lesson learned. I could care less what tools you use. Sure, I have my favourites but that means nothing to you if my “favourite tool” wouldn’t work for you and how you run your business. At the end of the day, digital transformation is all about your employees and how they use digital tools, optimally supports the work they do and connects them to your business.

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