Need a people plan for digital success?

Women in a meeting room discussing and writing a strategy on a whiteboard

Written by Kevin Oubridge, Accelerated Success

Everybody’s talking about digital transformation.

It’s kind of scary.

Googling what it means can ease your anxiety, although there’s also the risk you’ll realise you’re in some way responsible for digitally transforming your organisation, meaning you’ll now have to Google ‘digital transformation strategy’ to find out what to do.

And, wouldn’t you know it, every organisation is different and every digital transformation is unique, as well as being difficult, if not impossible, to nail down in advance of it happening. Not forgetting, of course, that digital transformation should not be considered in isolation, meaning you’ll need to align your organisational change and people strategies with your digital transformation strategy to make it all work. Oh, and if you get it wrong, your company will plunge into the abyss or be swallowed up by a competitor that got it right.

By this stage ‘kind of scary’ has morphed into ‘absolutely terrifying’, and you’re probably wishing you’d Googled something else.

Don’t panic!!

No, really, don’t panic. It’s not as bad as you think. If you trust your people and focus on building talented teams you can thrive in the digital world.

The age of individual leaders taking all the responsibility and coming up with all the answers is behind us. Your success now depends on getting all your people to think critically, manage their own learning and collaborate effectively within teams or networks. It’s more about defining the vision and leaving your people to decide how to get there. Granted, this has its own challenges, but you can take some comfort in knowing you are not alone, and that your people can contribute hugely to the future of your business.

Don’t believe me? Back in the early 1990’s I got a job as a training and development adviser for the community care transformation in the UK. A government white paper had given an overview of how it would all happen and every tier in each of the agencies involved produced related policies, strategies and plans. Of course, nobody knew how such a huge transformation of care services would pan out in practice so, rather than making stuff up, a repeated phrase used in this multitude of papers was ‘to be determined locally’, which meant people delivering the services would have to develop solutions.

My job was to run workshops to support them. I quickly found they were pretty angry about it all, given they were already stretched beyond what was reasonable delivering services and they now additionally had to redesign those services working with people and organisations they’d previously had little or no contact with. I tended to agree with them but, when running events, asked them to think how much angrier they’d feel if they’d been told what to do, with no room for doing things in a way that worked best for service users.

I can’t say this got everyone fired up and raring to go but at least it distracted them from how unfair and uncertain it all seemed and got them to focus on what we were doing. This led to the sessions we ran coming up with genuinely creative and practical solutions, which got people fired up and raring to go where I had previously failed. Big relief all round.

The point is the changes we were making were daunting for everyone. And we succeeded, not because of charismatic leadership, individual heroics or injections of money, resources or technology but because everyone was involved, including users of services and their carers which, it turns out, is exactly the right way to go.

In going this route the people defined the transformation rather being dragged kicking and screaming along with it, and we found they had enormous drive, courage and hidden talents that they used to reshape the care landscape.

Who knew?

Not the authors of the ‘to be determined locally’ documents I suspect.

Anyway, determining things locally worked for community care implementation and the same approach is purpose built for digital transformation in organisations with flatter structures, reduced hierarchies and distributed leadership some 25 years or so later. You’ll find that, rather than your people being a problem area, they will have enormous drive, courage and hidden talents that will develop the solutions and make your digital transformation succeed. What you have to do is trust them and ensure they have the critical thinking, self-directed learning and collaboration skills that will enable them to do the job effectively.


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