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Human-centric digital transformation: How to strike the right balance

Digital transformation has been a buzzword for some time now, and it’s not going anywhere. We know it’s key to staying competitive, unlocking new value for customers and increasing profits. 

But that’s not to say we should swap people for robots and creativity for cold hard numbers altogether. Human connection still has a place in 2024.

‘Human centric digital transformation’ might sound like a bit of an oxymoron, but you can’t have one without the other. As Charles Darwin once said, “it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” This shows just how important a role your team has to play in recognising – rather than resisting – the benefits brought around by new technologies and ways of working.

But how can your business strike the right balance between full-blown digital transformation and human input? Here’s how to make sure your people are in control of your transformation efforts, not the other way around.

“Digital transformation is just as much about people and organisational change as it is about the specific technologies being used.” - Garth Andrus, Global Lead of Digital & Emerging Technologies Transformation at Deloitte

Where can people add value?

1. Align digital transformation with a shared vision 

Your staff are best placed to help drive digital transformation in your business. Without them, who will learn how to operate new software and map out slick new processes? As a leader, it’s your job to empower them to do so. Start by understanding their needs and challenges so you can equip them with the tools and knowledge they need in order to make the necessary changes.

If your teams aren’t fueling the fire of digital transformation like you’d hoped, help them understand the ‘why’. People are more likely to go along with something if they understand why they’re doing it and what it will help them to achieve. Maybe for your business, the purpose of digital transformation is to grow your customer base by 100% within two years. Or maybe new technologies will allow you to introduce 3 new features within 6 months, leading to happier customers. Communicate this vision to your employees so that everyone’s on the same page – using numbers gives people a tangible goal to work towards. 

And be sure to address any resistance or hesitation so that the objectives are clear. You could set up a Q&A session, for instance, to give staff the chance to get their burning questions answered by senior leaders or key stakeholders.

Ultimately, the benefit of digital transformation is increased efficiency, and freeing up people’s time so they can be more strategic rather than purely operative. So it’s in your employees’ best interests to drive it forwards. Who doesn’t want easier workflows and more time back each day, after all?

2. Audit your tech and processes 

Once you’ve communicated the purpose of digital transformation to your company, it’s time to audit your existing tools and processes. Here’s where the human element comes in handy. Auditing your current ways of working is the best way to see which tools need upgrading, replacing, or removing altogether. The benefit of this is twofold: scrapping subscriptions to tools you no longer use can save you money, while upgrading useful software can help you get more value from the same product and make smarter decisions.

If you’re not sure where to start, here’s a guide to help you audit your tech stack. This is a perfect example of how combining the power of people and technology can lead to the best outcome for your business.

3. Train teams on new tools

New software in place? Great – now you can get your team up to speed to help them get the most out of their new tools. Most tech comes with snazzy onboarding videos and instant messaging chatbots for answering any questions, but often the best way to learn is by getting stuck in. 

Encourage your teams to familiarise themselves with the new tools they’re using, and it’s worth checking if any of the apps you’re using have a forum or community so they can engage with other users of the product. This is a great way to learn from others and see how different teams are getting maximum value or solving problems in innovative ways.

Plus, digital literacy is a great way to boost your staff’s confidence. So the more they work with and understand different tools and processes, the more comfortable they’ll be with change and adjusting to new ways of working in the future.

Try to encourage your teams to adopt a growth mindset when it comes to tech-led changes. American psychologist Carol Dweck believes that those with a growth mindset are more likely to be successful than those with a fixed mindset. This is particularly true when it comes to a big organisational shift like digital transformation. You can facilitate this type of mindset by empowering your employees to embrace challenges, learn from criticism and find lessons in other people’s work.

“It’s not just about the tech. It’s about ways of working, culture, leadership… it’s about becoming more adaptable as an organisation.” - Ed Walker, Future of Work Director at Deloitte

4. Clearly define the next steps 

When you’re trying to implement change, clarity is everything. A study by Gallup found that only half of employees have a clear understanding of what is expected of them at work, which shows the importance of communication if you want something done.

People are more likely to follow a clear process, so set understandable and attainable goals and make sure that these are communicated throughout the business. Establishing a roadmap and a framework for a digitalisation strategy early on will help to guide your journey and ensure everyone is on the same page. Set up regular catch-ups to check in on progress and make sure your team has everything they need. These are just a few of the ways you can be a strong leader in outlining the path towards digital transformation.

5. Don’t neglect ethical considerations 

Of course, when working with new technologies, it’s important you understand the ethical implications and regulations. As intelligent as software these days might be, it’s not always perfect. ChatGPT in particular offers some interesting legal issues, such as bias, discrimination and international governance. So a little human input can go a long way in making sure your business is compliant and your customers’ data is safe. 

Are you following best practices for responsible use of data? Is privacy protection a priority for your business? (Hint: it should be.) Have you taken into account laws in different countries depending on where you operate? These are all things to consider – it’s a good idea to involve your legal team to make sure you’re using new software properly so it doesn’t hinder your path towards digital transformation.

6. Remember: slow and steady wins the race 

The success – and sustainability – of digital transformation ultimately lies with your people. But remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint. So take small steps and iterate as you go. Take the time to engage your staff and ensure regular progress updates so that everyone knows how close they are to reaching the finish line. While it might be a race, you’ll only win only by keeping employees at the centre of your efforts to become more agile.

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