Digital Transformation: A VIP Roundtable

For many large organisations, Covid-19 has thrown into sharp relief the urgent need for Digital Transformation. Plans that were originally scheduled for the next 10 years are now being pushed through with dramatically accelerated focus and intent.

To provide support and guidance to our membership on this topic, the BTN recently collaborated with Elements Talent Consultancy for an invite-only VIP roundtable. Elements spent their formative years partnering with technology giants like Spotify, Apple and Booking.com, and have more recently been helping more traditional organisations like IKEA, H&M and BP with their transformation journeys. They shared their learnings with senior People leaders from a variety of multinational organisations in what was a fascinating discussion. The key takeaways appear below.

If you're not thinking about digital transformation now, you never will

If it has traditionally been challenging to persuade leadership to invest in transformation, the events of the last few months have provided all the evidence required for why this topic should be front of mind. Even once Covid-19 becomes a distant memory, the changes precipitated by this episode will live long. Many of these changes were already underway, but a global pandemic has given us an invaluable window into the consumer and working behaviours of the future. Businesses that don't adapt to these macro developments will be left behind by those who do.

Be clear about the objective

The urgent need for transformation must not preclude clear thinking about the matter. Leadership need to be crystal clear about the objective(s) of the journey they're embarking on. Will this process result in greater customer satisfaction and/or employee wellbeing? Precisely what metrics should be used to define the investment required and understand the return on that investment? It is entirely acceptable (and even advised) to start with modest ambitions, but the ambitions must be clear and agreed by all stakeholders.

Give your people the "why"

Countless transformation processes have become expensive failures where leadership have pushed forward with grand plans without getting buy-in from their people. It is your people who will be impacted by this transformation; it is they who will be learning new skills, implementing new processes and working with new technologies. Take the time to paint a picture for your people of what your organisation will look like in 10 years. If you provide them with the objectives and the rationale behind the transformation, your people will be more willing to adapt their skillset as required, and commonly end up the driving force behind the change. When a transformation is adopted and driven forward by the people, it saves leadership significant amounts of time and energy in the implementation.

Remain receptive to feedback

It is leadership's role to define clear objectives and a clear framework for the transformation, but they neglect the feedback loop at their peril. Things will always shift and change in the implementation. Even the best laid plans can never take into account every little knock-on effect and inadvertent by-product once the plans start to be rolled out. By giving your people the "why" behind the transformation, you are entrusting them with your vision. If you deprive them of the chance to feedback on the plans, you are undermining this trust and cutting off a vital source of data. Not all feedback will be useful, of course. But your people will find great comfort in knowing that their opinion has been taken into account. One CEO referenced in the discussion described their role as "30% listening". That feels like the minimum it should be.

Transformation might just be the new normal

According to the World Economic Forum, the world created around 250 exabytes of data in 2007. By 2018, we were creating that same volume every single day. Well over 90% of the data the world has ever created was created in just the last 2 years. Those figures make clear the electrifying rate of change that we've witnessed in just the last 20 years - and with the growth of Al and the Internet of Things (loT), this rate shows little sign of slowing any time soon. Against this backdrop, conventional thinking about transformation programmes taking a fixed period of time and delivering a fixed benefit might well be outmoded. As the change becomes the only constant, the organisations that survive and thrive will be those who can incorporate transformation and agility into their very DNA. 

Beware the "Agile" silver bullet

Few things have better articulated this need for agility than the chaos wrought by Covid-19. But agility of thinking should not be conflated with Agile business processes. While the tech giants have provided clear evidence of how potent Agile can be when implemented correctly, this does not mean that it is suitable for every company and every occasion. Where organisations have deeply embedded processes that depend on certain flows of information and decision-making hierarchies, a shift to Agile requires careful consideration of what will change and who needs to be on board to ensure it happens. As referenced earlier in the conversation, clearly defining the objectives of the transformation should be the starting point. If leaders have deeply understood the implications of Agile processes and still believe them a necessary means to their defined end, Agile remains a powerful solution. But where Agile is pursued as an end in itself, the process can easily end in disaster.

Be ready to invest in hiring and reskilling

In a world that's constantly shifting, the skills that you require in your organisation in 10 years are likely to be different to those required today. And those required in 20 years are likely to be different again. By painting a picture of how your future organisation will look, you will help your people to understand what skills they will need to thrive. But this reskilling will require proper investment, and will need to be complemented by a carefully-planned hiring programme. Too often companies leave it late to think about this and end up with a significant skills shortage that can only be filled through a costly influx of new hires, the absorption of whom into the company culture can create issues for both the new arrivals and those who are there to greet them. There is value in engaging a partner to assist with this. Companies who have helped others to articulate their skills shortage and build a workforce plan to address this can easily save significant time and mis-spent energy, as well as vast sums of money.

Covid makes all of this more difficult

Transformations are challenging at the best of times, but Covid not only makes them more urgent, it also makes them much tougher. When your people aren't all working from the same physical location, it becomes tougher to communicate with them, tougher to gauge their response to ideas and tougher to implement new processes. We are living through very unusual times. Covid-19 won't be with us forever, but while it is, we need to adapt to the realities it has imposed. That means over-indexing on communication with your people, over-indexing on requesting feedback and over-indexing on defining really clear plans, with really clear objectives and a really clear rationale for everyone to buy into.

If your People function isn't already deemed an enabler, it should be

Every element of the discussion made clear precisely why the People function must be deemed a vital enabler of transformation. People are the lifeblood of every organisation and, however much attention is placed on the technology and process elements of transformations, it is ultimately your people who will determine whether these transformations - and the organisations relying on them -will be successful. 
If it has traditionally been challenging to persuade leadership to invest in transformation, the events of the last few months have provided all the evidence required for why this topic should be front of mind. Even once Covid-19 becomes a distant memory, the changes precipitated by this episode will live long. Many of these changes were already underway, but a global pandemic has given us an invaluable window into the consumer and working behaviours of the future. Businesses that don't adapt to these macro developments will be left behind by those who do. 

 

Meet Elements 

Elements are the pioneers and leaders of Embedded Talent Consultancy. They embed their Consultants within some of the world's best-known organisations to help them solve their toughest and most complex hiring challenges. Their first partnerships were with companies that were "born digital" and, in the last five years, they've become a key strategic partner for technology giants Iike Spotify, Booking.com, King.com, Deliveroo, iZettle, Just Eat and Tik Tok. More recently, they have applied their experience and expertise of technology to help major corporates that are "going digital", building key partnerships with organisations like IKEA, Discovery, BP, Petronas, H&M and Royal Bank of Canada.