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The people behind your digital transformation

  • Digital transformations often fail, because technology implementations are put ahead of considering how employees will use it and the processes behind it.

  • Workplace technology should be goal-oriented to help employees complete a task, rather than master steps.

  • Many employees find bite-sized learning, where they navigate problems when they occur, more effective than one-and-done training sessions.

A lot of airtime has been given to technology such as AI, robotics, IoT and cloud. Yet despite the hype, there are still untapped benefits, unrealised productivity gains, better societal and environmental outcomes that are yet to be delivered. 

In part, this is because these gains will only be realised through making better use of human assets alongside this technology — redeploying them in a more effective way.

As companies build more sophisticated and complex technology solutions to realise their digital transformation goals, it’s important to consider: Are employees being asked to become technology experts? Or are they being guided to the right outcomes? 

Putting people first

Where once upon a time people would need to remember a route or use a street directory to navigate to a location, there are now apps that will tell them where to take a right or a left until they reach their destination. They don’t teach navigation itself, but instead, guide a user to an outcome. And if they take a wrong turn? No problem, they simply recalculate the route and quickly get the commuter back on track.

In a similar example of guiding, not teaching, social media platforms evolve their features without having to send out a manual. Instead, these platforms adapt to user needs, rather than the other way around. The good ones continually make themselves simpler and easier to use with every update, allowing people of all ages and abilities to keep using them.

There is a lesson in this for business: often the best way to ensure a seamless digital transformation for employees is not traditional classroom training. Instead, it’s through offering bite-sized, on-demand learning that meets users on their terms and at their level of ability, driving curiosity to explore and learn in real time. When an employee struggles, tools could guide them through any challenges. 

This is a stark contrast to sitting in a formal learning session, often without access to the application itself, and then having to apply it later. For many employees, this new way of learning would be a breath of fresh air.

Many organisations are already flipping the script in this regard, realising that upskilling does not necessarily mean ‘formal training’. Instead, technology — apps, tools, platforms etc — can be designed to be human-centred and intuitive to use. Incentives can be built in, such as gamification challenges, and micro-learnings, coping tools or pop-ups embedded that enable users to learn as they go.

Not only will this be more productive, it also gives organisations data about where their people need help and where they are using digital coaching or enablement help — allowing them to fine tune the training itself. 

Proof is in the process

While human-centred learning is key to fostering the adoption of new technology, the reality of many digital transformations is that they fail to return a profit. A shocking 70 percent of front office transformations that fail to deliver their expected returns are due to lack of user adoption and behaviour change. In many cases, transformations fail because processes haven’t been put in place to help people transition to a new system.1 Employees either haven’t been given the right incentives to use the new technology, don’t understand how to use it effectively, or don’t have leaders who have set the right example for cultural change. 

While the pandemic accelerated adoption of some elements of technology to allow people to continue to communicate and collaborate remotely, the inadequacies in many legacy tech systems haven’t gone away. They are also likely being exacerbated by the fact that employees aren’t sure how to get help remotely, or don’t have the time to do so between back-to-back video conferences. 

Simplifying and standardising processes as a business digitises is crucial; taking away the manual activity and removing steps to make people more efficient. 

Any successful digital transformation requires people to do things differently. And if staff aren’t given the tools or support to do that, then the technology is not going to deliver the expected outcomes. How one person learns a new solution, and how technology needs to support the way they do their job will likely be completely different to another person. 

When planning the cultural change that needs to go alongside a transformation, there are several key elements to consider:

  • An organisation’s leaders need to be champions of change. They must take a step up and be prepared to say positive things about the transformation journey. If they are telling staff: ‘just do it how you’ve always done it’, the business will not get anywhere.

  • Make sure the technology is designed to make people’s lives easier. Tech should complement the way work gets done. Put something in that complicates what employees do, and they just won’t use it.

  • Offer incentives to adopt new systems. But remember that incentives look different for everyone.

  • People learn in different ways, some might prefer bite-sized learning options, while others will prefer deeper-dive sessions. Offering options that work around people’s learning styles will help get the most out of the technology.

  • Only looking at the process or delivering one training session at the start of a transformation won’t cut it unless they are followed up further in the journey, allowing for longer term outcomes to be realised. It’s important to consider what the right interventions will be along that journey to simply process and bring people up to speed, at different rates, will get each of them to where you want to be.

Putting the pieces together

Digital transformations fail when they haven’t been thought about holistically. Trading in a treadmill for an internet-enabled stationary bicycle without altering eating habits or frequency of use won’t result in an athlete. Likewise, there’s no point spending millions on a technology solution without thinking about the people using it or the processes behind its implementation. 

Businesses have been undergoing digital transformations for at least two decades, yet, many are still making the mistake of thinking that technology in and of itself will deliver desired results. People, and the way work gets done, won’t change overnight, but with people-focused technology, champions of change, incentives and interventions, organisations can reap the rewards of a successful transformation.