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People first, always……

In my article, Digital transformation isn’t just about employing a CDO I discussed digital transformation and touched briefly on how your people and customers must be at the heart of any digital transformation. The aim of digital transformation is to drive continual improvements in services, products and experiences that your customers will love and actively promote.  I want to continue the digital transformational theme but delve a lot deeper into the people side of a transformation as this will heavily influence the outcome of any change initiative, digital or otherwise.  Get it wrong and it will be to the detriment of your customers, as Richard Branson states “Learn to look after your employees, the rest will follow“.   You cannot hope to lead any sort of change without fully engaging your teams and people. Before any transformation can really be successful a number of key attributes must be in place, such as a visionary and genuine leader, a willingness to change the way an organisation operates and engaging your people.

Who leads Digital Transformation more important than ever

Lack of vision, clear strategy, leadership and the ability to attract and retain talent will seriously inhibit any organisation’s digital aspirations.  This leadership position is critical in bringing those that are less digitally inclined along for the journey, by being a visionary and story teller who can navigate through what is bound to be periods of uncertainty and fluidity. Their role is to lead the business strategy and vision creation, execution and to give guidance but they must empower their people to deliver on that strategy and vision rather than dictate.

The appropriate culture and empowering of teams is key to attracting and retaining your people, whilst also providing a working environment that supports across team working and collaboration.  Leaders must show true empathy and listen to their people and customers so they are able to identify the root cause of any problem, rather than going straight to a solution. Critical to any transformation is the ability of the leader to get the organisation excited by their vision and strategy for the transformation – this will help bring teams and people along for the ride.  By creating a clear vision it will also help your people decide if they actually want to buy in to the transformation.

The old ways of working are just not going to cut it

The old ways of delivering services, getting products to market and creating customer experiences will have to be changed as part of the worl we now live.  No longer can it take month/years to get products to market that may have to be delivered in hours or a few days.  Customer engagement channels will need to be invested in, such as taking an omni-experience approach to both sales and ongoing support, one size does not fit all and customers want to engage with businesses via their preferred medium, such as via a mobile app or email.   It’s now all about cross team working and collaboration (Holacracy, sprint team or pods), challenging the old ways of doing things and being empowered to just get on and do it, hence people first.

The old ways of delivering services, getting products to market and creating customer experiences will have to be changed as part of the worl we now live Share on X


Collaboration could take a number of guises, such as working in a shared space, attending standups and sprint planning sessions  or even running a Kanban board as a way of capturing work and backlog tasks. This agile way of working could be supported by a shared tool set (e.g. Jira, Trello, Scrum Boards) enabling transparency of workload across teams.  As part of a digital transformation it may pay to look at a corporate messaging/social strategy for your business so you can incorporate an instant message solution (such as Google Hangouts or where a quick message can be easily sent.  You may even look at using Facebook (they are currently trialling a workplace communication offering) or Yammer as a way of communicating to your whole business (rather than email).

Your People, Teams and Talent are critical

Martin Gill states “Executive teams will slowly begin to realise that digital transformation is a cultural shift, not a technology problem. It’s no coincidence that many of the most digitally mature firms are smaller, leaner and employ fewer people than their least mature counterparts” (The race to digital mastery is on in 2016).  Digital is a change in mind-set (e.g. lean, agile, User Experience), supported by engaged people with technology as an enabler.  Hiring and retaining people within your organisation will be absolutely fundamental to your digital transformation. Your people must be able to adapt to the new ways of working, be guided by the leadership and given the tools and time to succeed.

When hiring you may have defined the type of person you are looking for, such as smart creatives i.e. those willing to positively challenge the status quo or who are open minded and willing to accept change, you don’t want more of the same (no clones required).  An avenue for identifying suitable talent could be through intern placements or partnering with organisations that match talent/skill with suitable businesses (e.g. in New Zealand we have Summer of Tech).  Essential to retaining your people is allowing them the freedom and time to innovate, experiment or take intelligent risks as well as setting their team and office culture.  But how do you know it’s working? You should actually listen and talk to your team, and get valuable feedback on how they feel the transformation is going.

Start small

So where do we start with digital transformation? At the beginning, the transformation may be viewed as a hugely complex beast with many moving parts. There could be a temptation to kick off larger projects to address many aspects of the transformation at once. The more efficient approach would be to start with smaller low-risk initiatives that have a positive impact on your people and ultimately the customer journey by putting the foundations in place on which to build a culture that supports your people in delivering on your strategy.  Not showing achievements or benefits from transformation exercises will limit your successes and lessen the impact it has, by trying to go big from the start without taking small steps to get runs on the board will leave your transformation aspirations as an expensive exercise that will fail.

Visionary leadership

Digital transformation must start with your people and leading them on the digital journey where they want to deliver on the organisation’s strategy and buy in to the vision which will ultimately enhance the customer journey through products, services and experiences that they love and actively promote.  A visionary leader is also critical to any digital transformation, especially for their ability to create, execute and embody the transformation vision and business strategy.  With the variety of generations now in the workforce understanding how to/what motivates these people is essential – could it be as simple as just getting to know them as individuals, their wants and needs? Knowing your people will give you an insight into what motivates and ultimately engages them to ensure a successful transformation.

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