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Take It From a Futurist: Your Digital Transformation is Only As Good as Your People Transformation

Cornerstone Editors

Editor's Note: We would never dream of trying to predict the future—that's why we left it up to the futurists. In this series, we interview experts in HR, recruiting and the future of work to get their take on what's next.

When organizations talk about digital transformation, they tend to focus on the obvious—the technology. And they think of their workforce as a secondary factor when, in reality, an organization's people are what determine whether a company's digital journey is propelled or stalled.

A recent global survey by MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte found that 69 percent companies haven't yet reached digital maturity, which includes effectively preparing their workforce for a primarily digital future.

"Technology is pretty straightforward—it's the people that are complex and that potentially slow down transformation," says Cheryl Cran, future of work expert, founder of NextMapping and author of the upcoming book NextMapping: Anticipate, Navigate and Create The Future of Work. "We underestimate the psychological part of people wanting to change for the purpose of creating the future of work."

For organizations that haven't yet put people at the center of their digital transformation, it's challenging to change the mindset. We spoke with Cran to understand what it means to prepare a workforce for transformation, and identify how human resources professionals can play a crucial role in helping companies achieve their digital transformation goals.

Adopting A People-First Approach

Cran argues that while the majority of companies are in the midst of digital transformation and are actively preparing for the future of work, most aren't thinking enough about their people in the process.

Digital transformation leaders have been implementing new technology without involving key stakeholders on the front lines of company operations. They aren't asking questions like: How will this make your work better? How can we do this better? How can we roll it out better?

"Underestimating human behavior is going to be the biggest risk to business as we move forward," Cran says.

For example, employees crave technology that enables them to easily perform certain tasks on the go and outside the office, so focusing on introducing new in-office technology is a missed opportunity from a digital transformation perspective.

How HR Can Help Leaders Excel at the Intersection of People and Technology

As organizations buckle down to meet their digital transformation goals, it's the ideal time for HR departments to stop operating in a silo and become more integrated into the overall company.

"Everyone looks to HR people for recruiting, retention and solving all of the people problems in an organization, but in the future, I see HR as a company-side skill set—not a departmental skill set," Cran says.

Employee relations are among the top priorities for HR pros, which makes them hyper-aware of the changing dynamic or attitude of the workforce. Because they're often among the first to notice shifting employee behavior, HR teams have the capability to anticipate changes and equip leaders with the skills they need to guide their workforce through digital transformation. Cran says three of the most important skills to this end are agility, creativity and adaptability,

Adaptability comes into play with remote workers, for example. Some leaders work best when they have their team around them in the office, but when employees are given the technology and flexibility to work remotely, those leaders start to struggle. Remote and on-demand workers will become a larger part of the workforce in the future, so it's imperative that leaders adapt to the trend rather than become withdrawn from these employees.

"Is HR giving their leaders the best tools to help retain and inspire their employees? That's the future of work—it's much more than a singular focus on technology," Cran says. "HR has the opportunity to expand an organization's perspective of what is included in the future of work."

The first step forward for HR departments to extend their reach beyond traditional HR operations and establish themselves as a digital transformation liason between a company and its people is to find an influencer within every department. Each influencer should then be tasked with examining the digital transformation initiatives within their department, and should work closely with HR to ensure that these initiatives are being well-received and effectively implemented.

As HR practices become more ingrained in each department, human resources will be on its way to preparing their organization for the future of work.

Photo: Creative Commons

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Preparing Your Workforce for Digital Transformation


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