Transformation Should Start with People, Not Tech

March 8, 2019


Transformation has become the all-consuming priority in business. Across every industry, organisations are pinning their future success on their ability to transform their operations to keep pace with and exploit the rapid technological advancements that are set to change the way we live, work and play over the next decade. Within every boardroom, senior executives are placing innovation and change programmes at the very top of their ‘to do’ lists.
However, despite this focus, very few CEOs would claim to have achieved their transformation objectives. In fact, some might even admit that these initiatives have hit major roadblocks and the transformation journey is proving to be a lot more arduous than they expected.
Over recent years, the word ‘transformation’ has often become synonymous or interchangeable with the term ‘digital transformation’ within many organisations. Whilst at one level this is simply a case of semantics, on another, it is symptomatic of a widely-held attitude that transformation is primarily about digitalisation and technology.
Many organisations and senior leaders regard transformation as being about harnessing new technologies like Artificial Intelligence and automation, and moving their IT infrastructure into the cloud, in order to improve customer experience, drive innovation and streamline operations. As such, transformation is viewed through an IT lens, with the CIO running the show.


However, as more of these initiatives run into trouble, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that transformation and/ or digital transformation is about much more than just technology. A recent Harvard Business Review article described digital transformation as ‘an ongoing process of changing the way you do business. It requires foundational investments in skills, projects, infrastructure, and, often, in cleaning up IT systems. It requires mixing people, machines, and business processes’. So by restricting their view of transformation to a narrow technology-focused definition, organisations are missing a large part of the puzzle.
We recently conducted research to unpick this issue and explore how organisations can take a more holistic approach to transformation, putting wider organisational and workforce considerations at the heart of their transformation strategies.
The research confirmed that many of the barriers organisations are encountering in their transformation programmes relate directly to the workforce and, in particular, the lack of skills required to drive through digital initiatives. 82% of HR leaders claimed that their workforce needs to improve its skills to get the most out of digital transformation but many are struggling to achieve this, in part due to the fact that skills, people and culture are not being prioritised at any stage of the transformation journey.
Organisations across all sectors find themselves desperate to access a range of skills essential to their transformation initiatives, including agile, digital experience and UX design, data visualisation and business process automation. What’s more, they are also having difficulties in predicting the exact skills their organisation will require in the future, such is the speed of technological innovation.
In our new white paper, The Case for Workforce-led Transformation, we argue that organisations must adopt skills as the starting point for all of their transformation plans. In order to do this, HR needs to play a central role within transformation from the outset in order to promote and safeguard the people and cultural elements of transformation. By taking on a leadership role, HR leaders can ensure the business gets the skills it needs, by upskilling existing talent, instilling a positive culture of learnability across the workforce, and providing fast and flexible access to the high quality and specialist talent that transformation demands.
Organisations in the UK can no longer afford to miss their transformation targets. They can no longer risk millions of pounds of investment and jeopardise their ability to compete in the future on transformation initiatives that are doomed to fail due to a lack of consideration for people and skills.
Successful transformation ultimately depends on the skills and engagement of the people within the organisation. It’s time to recognise this and ensure digital transformation and workforce strategies are aligned, with HR working alongside IT to drive results.
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