Mar 1, 2017

How to Drive the People Part of Digital Transformation

The people part of digital transformation is just as important as the technologies, processes and infrastructure involved. A huge part of that is the culture of a business and what it offers in terms of learning and development, not only to drive an organization’s digital maturity but also to demonstrate investment in the future of their employees.

As the pressure to improve learning and development opportunities continues to intensify, those charged with skills progression need to develop new ways to empower employees and offer opportunities to grow within the business.

A recent survey confirmed this need with 72% of HR and L&D professionals believing employee development is important for their organizations with 46% of training budgets projected to increase in 2017.

So, how do businesses drive the 'people' part of digital transformation? To answer that we need to explore the three elements of the process: mindset, skillset and toolset.


When it comes to digital, the stage of mindset in the transformation process is about leadership, strategy and culture with the end goal of the business adopting a culture with digital threaded into its DNA.

While the lack of buy-in from senior executives was once cited as the reason for the slow progression of digital transformation, it now seems to be the involvement of frontline staff that is causing obstacles.

New research by McKinsey found that 84% of CEOs are involved in and committed to transformational change while only 45% of frontline employees are engaged with larger companies finding it more challenging.

The key to resolving this is two-fold; communication and empowerment.

Communication – Companies with senior executives that communicate with employees across all levels of the organization are 8 times more likely to achieve transformation success compared to those who don’t employ it. In enterprise-wide transformation, this goes up to 12.4 times where senior manager communicate continually with staff. What is seen to work in terms of communication is:

  • Clear communication on transformation objectives
  • CEO’s visible engagement with transformation
  • Regular access to information
  • Senior leader visible engagement
  • Ability of frontline employees to see visible changes in day-to-day work

Digital technologies can be very helpful in the communication and these channels should be leveraged to engage staff such as social media channels, change management apps or games and live feedback tools.

Empowerment – While senior members of an organization may know their role in the transformation process, many frontline staff can find it difficult to see where they fit in. Empowering employees to see how their involvement can help progress the transformation not only engages them in the process, but also enables them to see how it impacts on the success of the business.

Involving HR can help lead this process as they are best placed to understand the capabilities of individuals within the organization and understand where the skill gaps are. Employees can benefit from the perspective of the HR department through talent development while recruitment can be utilized in the instances that those in-house do not have the necessary skills required.

Investing in employees is empowerment, as those who feel valued by their employer are more likely to be satisfied with their job (92% versus 29% who do not) and motivated to do their best (91% versus 37%).

Companies that fail to engage line managers and frontline employees in transformation report only 3% success, compared to success rates of 26% and 28% when both groups are engaged - McKinsey & Company


Skillset | How to Drive the People Part of Digital Transformation

The fact is there aren’t enough people in the workforce with the right digital skills. In the UK alone, 12 million people and a million small businesses do not have the skills to prosper in the digital era. And this bleak picture is spread the globe over.

Despite digital natives and millennials entering the workforce there is still a substantial gap to be filled in the skillsets of organizations. A recent report by Barclays found that while 40% of businesses rely on younger employees and graduates for digital skills, 32% of millennials fear being shown up in the workplace because of their lack of digital skills.

As digital technologies continue to evolve, the skills that are needed to harness these evolutions needed to be boosted on a continuous basis to filter the platforms or initiatives that may not work with those that will.

For corporates, this shortage presents a huge problem as those with the skills have the freedom to choose where they work and are in huge demand across industries and sectors. As a result, many of the highly skilled professionals are in control and will go for those companies that can provide them with the best salary package but also the benefits a company provides including learning and development opportunities.

Those organizations tackling this issue are looking at other ways, over and above hiring, to address the lack of digital capabilities in-house - namely developing talent internally.

“Upskilling the staff you have makes the most sense. The key to digital transformation is agility and the ability to constantly renew yourself.” - L’Oreal’s HR director Isabelle Minneci.

While some corporations have learning and development initiatives in place, scale and standardization is often an issue particularly for those with large and global workforces. In addition digital skills are no longer confined to particular departments such as marketing, such is digital’s pervasiveness it is embedded across a business and therefore capabilities need to be instilled across the entire spectrum.

The key to achieving this is to provide a certification or accreditation that employees are held to. In other words, their skills need to reach a certain level to attain accreditation through a certification program. This ensures the entire workforce gains a certification to ensure the same standard of capabilities and by applying these skills they can drive the digital transformation of your business.

Such is the value of accreditation that 56% of HR department heads believe that having professionally certified employees has a positive impact on the profitability of their organization. With certification also offering benefits to employees both in their day-to-day roles and future careers, future hires look for this as part of a learning and development package to demonstrate that a company is investing in them and their future.


People learn in different ways. Some still hold value in classroom settings or workshops while others learn better at their own pace in their own environment through online learning. For some, a combination of the two works well as a classroom or workshop setting incorporates online learning in a blended model.

In recent years and with the development of digital technologies, professionals keen to upskill have turned to online learning. As lives get busier and time is precious, individuals want to be able to learn at their own pace and have access to content as and when they need it. Learning online typically requires 40-60% less employee time than learning the same material in a traditional classroom setting making it easy to see why many organizations and professionals prefer this method.

Retention is also improved through online learning by up to 60% over face-to-face training. This is due to individuals learning at their own pace but also being able to revert back to materials again and again when required. Using videos and also offering webinars with a live Q&A at the end can bring huge value to the program along with support networks that allow learners to engage with one another.

Toolset | How to Drive the People Part of Digital Transformation

With digital tools evolving so rapidly there are a wealth of opportunities for learning. For Tesco, they turned to gamification to engage with employees. Using its Compliance Board Game, staff were trained in compliance through an online board game developed to help individuals develop the knowledge and skills for handling fire safety issues at work. Broken up into 10 mini games it is scenario driven and uses bonus cards, beat the clock and points board leading to a medal on completion. Once a game has been completed, learners will be delivered with end of game feedback.

For many organizations, the added benefit of using digital tools is that they can track what and how people are learning. The popularity of resources can be gauged to see what is most effective while an individual’s progress an be tracked and for any lagging behind or struggling, interventions can occur through something as simple as an email to motivate them to re-engage. For those progressing well, a similar method can be used to congratulate them on their progress and urge them to continue to learn.

Employees are essential to the digital transformation process and are key to its success. By creating and cultivating a culture that encourages a digital mindset, a workforce will be better placed to drive an organization's digital maturity and elevate it to the ranks of a digital leader.

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