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Why Digital Transformation is More About People Than Technology To make digital strategies to truly succeed, employ a human-centric approach.

By Priya Merchant Edited by Michael Dolan

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

VioletaStoimenova | Getty Images

As a business professional, it's pretty easy to rationalize putting your digital transformation into play today. Not only does it allow better productivity and cost-saving, but it's also an essential strategy in the face of the current COVID-19 crisis and the resulting forced work/buy-from-home setups. However, making this shift is more than just setting up network security or ditching your printer. Your entire organization has to support the change, help everybody develop the new capabilities they'll need, and understand the impact on the business's culture or structure. And in this sense, successful digital transformation is 100 percent about people.

Related: So, the Pandemic Sent Your Digital Transformation into Hyperdrive. What Now?

A catalyst for digital adoption

Before the pandemic, leaders understood that digital transformation is inevitable, and they made definite plans for the shift. But those plans weren't one-size-fits-all. Each business set its budget and pace based on industry and company specifics, and in a lot of cases, the strategy was a gradual progression to new tools and ways of operating.

Then came COVID-19. Things had to shift. With lockdowns and general social distancing measures from local and state governments, the physical office wasn't doable for thousands of businesses anymore. Many companies had to pivot to a remote environment in just a matter of days.

Related: How COVID-19 is Accelerating Digital Transformation for Small and Medium Businesses

There's no doubt this was stressful for everybody involved. But out of necessity, people responded. They figured out what would work, at least temporarily, and they started to realize that their digital shifts didn't have to be so gradual or wait. In this way, although companies worked with employees, partners, and stakeholders to increase digital adoption long before the virus hit, the pandemic served as a positive catalyst that helped make the shift to remote work much more rapid. With no other choice but to serve clients through a near 100 percent digital experience, they had to adapt quickly -- and they did.

Strategies to sustain the momentum

COVID-19 gave companies a massive push toward digital transformation. But now that we have had this initial push, it's critical to keep moving forward. We must understand the gap between our companies' current performance and capabilities and where they need to be in the market to stay competitive.

Related: Does Your Business Need a Digital Transformation?

Perhaps the biggest secret to avoiding a backslide is the development of talent agility. Nick Gidwani defines talent agility in an article for Pathgather as "A company's ability to change the composition of talent inside the organization quickly and cost-effectively. It takes into account all the levers that are needed to build and develop talent: Learning & Development, acquiring and retaining talent, and engaging them." The more agile your talent pool, the better your business can constantly reshape itself to address new market challenges, offer new products and services, and fend off competition.

There are six key aspects of talent agility you must embed in your organization to sustain momentum with your digital transformation in the months and years ahead:

  1. Your people are embracing change. Although workers in some industries are more worried than others, Pew Research found that 65 percent of Americans expect robots and computers to probably perform jobs people do. A CNBC/Survey Monkey survey also indicated that over a quarter of workers (27 percent) say they're worried that their job will be eliminated by technology in the next five years. Feeling threatened in this way is hardly good for morale or productivity. By providing assistance for digital adoption and helping them understand and take ownership of the change, you'll control fear in your workforce and encourage collaboration instead of consternation.

  2. Your workload might have changed. Many companies are rethinking responsibilities and even adjusting the size of their workforces as they look to the post-COVID-19 future. So it's important to help people recognize the part they're playing and how they contribute to value creation and make sure that workloads stay truly balanced despite any reassigning that's happening.

  3. You might need to upskill to address talent scarcity and skill gaps. Remote strategies and tools often require different skill sets than those employees might demonstrate in the traditional office or infrastructure. You might need to acknowledge that some or even all of your employees just aren't equipped to drive recovery or accelerate growth. Ensure they have the training and opportunities they need to thrive in the new environment -- rather than assuming they can no longer do the work.

  4. Your work culture might have shifted. Remote work presents new benefits and challenges that can influence your entire company atmosphere. As part of your ongoing retention strategy, work purposely to ensure that people aren't afraid to ask questions or challenge existing ideas and that they all stay committed to similar values and priorities.

  5. You need to reinforce employee engagement. The link between learning, engagement, and retention is clear: Deloitte found that engaged employees are 87 percent less likely to leave their organizations. You will need to find new ways to ensure that people are interested and happy even when not in the office and subsequently want to participate in work activities.

  6. Your workforce is diverse and cross-functional. Leaders used to think that homogenous teams were easier to manage. But similarities among members created biased patterns of problem-solving. Developing talent agility requires cross-functional, collaborative teams to be the norm and abandoning the silo mentality.

Related: 5 Digital Solutions to Help Your Business Take Off

Some degree of employee pushback during a significant change like the current digital transformation shift is normal, if only because there's some comfort in what's familiar. But there's no going back. The world is changing and evolving, and it's up to us to change with it. To come out ahead, rather than letting the pushback overwhelm or control you, intentionally build a customer and employee-centric culture that allows you to pivot based on needs.

Priya Merchant

Digital Transformation Leader at Genpact

Priya Merchant is a digital transformation and innovation expert with nearly two decades of experience in financial services and insurance with top global organizations across the U.S., U.K., Canada, India and Latam.

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