Digital Transformation Is Upending Talent Expectations
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The year 2020 shocked many organizations into taking on faster, more iterative and more aggressive approaches to digital transformations. They have been forced to do this to both accommodate new market rules, and also to take advantage of new opportunities.
Across these efforts, leaders are also realizing that bringing along their talent, and addressing talent challenges, has never been more critical to the success of their transformation efforts.
According to HCL’s Digital Acceleration for Business Resilience report, that surveyed 400-plus business and IT decision-makers across the globe, lack of skills within the organization continues to be one of the top three challenges to digital transformation, and one that leaders are increasingly paying more attention to.
Digital Transformation Initiatives Reveal Growing Talent Gaps
Organization-wide digital transformations typically try to address challenges related to one of four key areas:
Disconnected parts: Siloed divisions and multiple instances of software systems and inconsistent data that prevent financial visibility and transparency and delay business decisions.
Lack of end-to-end execution: Fragmented and cumbersome business processes that prevent efficiencies and collaboration.
Lack of agility: Making it difficult to integrate new acquisitions and pivot quickly towards new sources of revenue.
Need/desire to reinvent customer experiences: And provide a more unique, faster and engaging experience for customers across their products and services.
These operational challenges are also typically reflected in the workforce and how employees perform. Over time, companies may have attracted and rewarded employees that know how to adapt to the inefficiencies, develop workarounds and optimize how to function in complex environments. As a result, employees may be less likely to want to reinvent, or challenge the current model, because they’ve learned to succeed and survive in it.
In addition, companies may not have invested over time in evolving skillsets and behaviors, blending in new approaches/perspectives through new hires, or recognized the growing gaps in their workforce. These different forces compound the workforce gaps and make digital transformation harder to plan, initiate, and execute successfully.
Finding and Engaging the Existing Talent Potential
But in these gaps, leaders can also recognize the talent promise and potential that lie in their organization. The same adaptability and flexibility that employees have demonstrated in adjusting to complex, convoluted processes and interactions in their organization, demonstrate their potential for reimagining, reinventing, simplifying or automating the work.
To engage the workforce in the transformation process, leaders can focus on three key actions:
- Show early commitment and authenticity:
- Leaders must be willing to demonstrate early support and commitment to the upcoming digital transformation.
- Being inclusive, inviting people to early planning discussions, encouraging them to re-imagine what the future could look like, with visible support, are techniques that can be used.
- Leaders must do so with authenticity and candor, including in outlining the boundaries of the exercise, and sharing with selected employees how long and arduous the journey may be.
- Often, early workshops to discuss current challenges and how to address them provide a great opportunity for employees to “lean in” and demonstrate their interest and potential. They are also a great chance for leaders to find the employees with the courage and mindset to create the future, and not protect existing turfs, power or status quo.
- Give an opportunity:
- When assembling their core team for the transformation, leaders have a crucial responsibility to provide both a “shot and a challenge” to selected employees.
- The role must be both a real chance to design the solution and a personal challenge to learn new skills or levels of responsibility.
- We’ve learned that it’s often when people are positively challenged (not threatened) that they can stretch and contribute in the most compelling way.
- Surround the team with expertise and encouragement:
- Employees want to be successful and want to be empowered. They also want support and access to expertise when they need it.
- To complement the knowledge about the company’s ways of working, leaders must recognize where external expertise is needed and find ways to provide it in a way that makes the core team more powerful (not inadequate).
- Choosing the right consulting partner, providing the right training, connecting with others who can share past transformation experiences are all ways to empower the core team.
- Finally, leaders must remain engaged, present and supportive to help their core teams hit their stride.
Understanding and managing talent expectations
Throughout the lifecycle of a digital transformation, the entire company landscape may evolve, including talent and its expectations. Most organizations will experience attrition at key roles during the transformation.
Leaders need to actively manage their team’s evolving expectations by:
- Letting them experiment:
- Experimenting is an essential part f learning and also aligning as a team. Successful core teams learn to trust each other and constantly evaluate how to get the work done.
- Creating situations where it’s ok to say “I need help”:
- If emplyees are challenged in their transformation roles, they’re bound to experience situations where they don’t have the answer.
- Allwing them to partner with others, sharing where they are struggling, and getting them the help, greatly maximizes their chances of success (and for the core team too).
- Using the core team’s motivation for a better solution to drive the change:
- Cre team members can imagine the new world/solution together and keep each other accountable on their commitments.
- It’s ften the sum of the individual “drives” of wanting to build something better that generates the organizational momentum at scale.
- Rewarding and recognizing through bonuses, promotions or role expansion:
- Digital transfrmations are long, arduous journeys, and careers don’t take a break through them.
- Leaders can wrk with their HR counterparts to reward, recognize and help advance the careers of those who are contributing and demonstrating strong value.
- Mid-transfrmation promotions or expansion of roles are often great motivators and opportunities to celebrate accomplishments.
- Staying connected to the mission, purpose and ambition of the transformation:
- One essential rle of a leader is to continuously reconnect the core team and stakeholders to what the transformation is really about: Improving the business and customer experience.
- It is als a chance for each employee to reconnect their own expectations with the broader purpose of the transformation, and a way to re-energize for upcoming milestones.
- Finally, how you run the Digital Transformation program is a reflection of what you’ll achieve in the actual transformation:
- If the bjective is to drive towards a more simplified, connected, and agile way of working, start practicing those behaviors during the transformation itself.
- It’s a great way t experiment/pilot and learn as you go
- It’s als a powerful testimonial to a leader’s commitment to actual, sustainable change.
Conclusion: The no going back rule
Recognizing talent gaps, engaging and unleashing talent potential, and managing talent expectations are all key factors in successfully executing digital transformation.
There is one more really important lesson: Once employees have tasted empowerment, independence, experimentation, this is how they will want to continue to work going forward. The challenges, trials and hardships that they’ve gone through also make them tremendous, credible champions for future change. As leaders, you may have created a new generation of contributors, and they need to stay engaged to continue to help the company evolve.
Going forward, the digital transformation will also likely have completely changed expectations and norms on managing talent, sometimes forcing other groups to look at their own talent in more proactive, engaging ways. That’s a great outcome, and a great opportunity to engage your talent to stay ahead in the digital transformation game.