Putting people at the heart of digital transformation

Most digital transformations fail because companies neglect the crucial people element. Getting that right requires a unique, embedded and agile approach to talent acquisition

Digital transformation has shot up the corporate boardroom agenda, with organisations racing to keep up with rapidly evolving customer expectations in the digital age. This is particularly visible in the retail sector where, before the coronavirus pandemic, 87 per cent of customer experience journeys were already starting online, according to Salesforce research.

But the need to transform transcends all sector, as agile “born-tech” startups disrupt traditional industry incumbents weighed down by bloat and legacy.

If the pace of change wasn’t fast enough already, coronavirus has dialled it up further. By forcing even the most vehemently analogue consumers, and indeed businesses, to interact and carry out tasks online, it has left organisations with no choice but to meet their customers where they are on digital channels. The pandemic has subsequently accelerated digital transformations by six years, according to research from Twilio.

However, simply taking the step to embark on a digital transformation by no means guarantees success. The cold hard truth is 73 per cent of digital transformations fail, an Everest Group study shows. And one of the most common reasons for this is companies prioritising technology over the importance of people.

“Digital transformations fail when people are not brought along with it and they don’t understand the ‘why’,” says Daniel Goldstein, group chief executive of Elements, which provides strategic consultancy and in-house talent acquisition to some of the biggest born-tech and “going-tech” businesses in the world.

“If people don’t understand the ‘why’ of transformation, they’re not going to get on board with the ‘how’ and actually delivering it. You can buy the best technology, but unless your people are absolutely brought into it, and are really driving it, it’s just not going to do what you want it to.

“Transformations also fail when they’re forced onto people. A fixed approach to solving problems doesn’t work. If the people at the end of processes, who are actually doing the work, don’t feel it’s working from them, they’re not going to adapt the way they work.

“What might work for your people in digital might not work for your people in finance or sales. Approaching it as a one size fits all is a mistake. There are so many nuances and it’s important to have the agility to get them right because if people don’t understand that agility is local, rather than macro, a digital transformation is unlikely to succeed.”

For born-tech, digitally native companies, agility is often intrinsic. For legacy companies in traditional industries, however, it’s very difficult to achieve. Agile is more than a methodology, it’s a mindset that focuses on failing fast and learning fast. Allowing failure to be part of a company’s psyche requires a major cultural shift in the way businesses have worked previously.

Born-tech organisations have brought this to the market and their reward is the flexibility and adaptability that allows them to thrive.

To keep up, going-tech companies need to first understand how many people in their current workforce can be redeployed or retrained to work in a new digital environment and how much talent needs to be acquired. This requires effective workforce planning and support in the thought process.

Once they’ve done that, organisations then need to decide how to supplement existing talent with new talent, bringing in the necessary skills to support transformation. This might mean recruiting hundreds of new people because there is no relevant talent in house or cherry-picking talent in certain areas.

“You need to learn as a company where you are, in terms of the tech you have and what you’re looking to do, and make sure you hire people who have undertaken those types of projects before,” says Mike Scullion, managing partner at Elements. “If you’re a going-tech company going through a digital transformation, you probably don’t want to bring people in who have only worked at born-tech companies because they haven’t seen the transformation from a traditional business to a more digitally focused one.”

The opportunity to digitally transform is now and people should be embracing this moment to adapt their environments and cultures for the future

Elements’ embedded partnership model is designed to build and accelerate the success of digital transformation agendas through people, connecting big strategic vision to the talent capable of bringing it to life. For each partner Elements works with, it builds a bespoke team of embedded consultants and, by advising from the inside, its people can go deeper and inspire more meaningful change. They truly understand each company’s mission, values and culture, and then convey all of that to the wider talent marketplace.

Having pioneered and built this unique model around its first embedded partners, themselves among the biggest global brands, Elements has since rolled it out across both born-tech and going-tech organisations around the world.

Its experience with leading born-tech businesses, in particular, is hugely appealing to large corporations embarking on digital transformations. Being involved from an early stage in the growth of these digital natives, and building the systems and processes that allowed them to attract, hire and deliver talent in hugely competitive areas, provides a blueprint. However, adapting to the bespoke needs of a going-tech company is the key to success.

“If people didn’t understand digital was the future before, they certainly will now,” says Goldstein. “Companies that hadn’t already started digitalising have suffered the most during the pandemic and will continue to. We partner with organisations to understand their mission and enable them to successfully execute them. We’re there to supplement and support them internally, working with talent acquisition and human resources teams to provide the firepower and knowledge to drive power-centric digital transformation.

“Our passion for outstanding candidate experience and our unrivalled stakeholder management, treating our clients as partners and being treated as equals by them, is what drives our success. The opportunity to digitally transform is now and people should be embracing this moment to adapt their environments and cultures for the future.”

For more information please visit weareelements.io

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