Why digital transformation is all about people

Digital transformation, innovation and disruption have been the talk of the nation thanks to our PM’s innovation agenda. The buzz in government is all about digital transformation to deliver better services and adapt to the needs of digital citizens.

I’m a big believer in the ability of technology to connect people and create a positive impact on the world. In my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work on meaningful digital products in my first company, Oxide Interactive.

We’ve well and truly already experienced technology’s ability to transform our lives. Online shopping, for example, has changed our behaviour because we no longer need to physically go to the shop. We can order almost anything from anywhere on our mobile phone. This serves as a reminder that digital transformation at an organisational level has an impact beyond technology alone.

The conversation around government digital transformation recognises the importance of people in the digital transformation mix. After all, it’s real-life people who need to change the way they think, behave and work, to adapt to continual change. 

Why people need support 

Managing and supporting people through change are the difference between success and failure. In my experience, the best results come from taking the time to educate and support new users to a product before, during and after its roll-out.

Digital transformation goes beyond training people to use a new software product. It often means completely changing business processes and the way people work.

People are hardwired at a neurological level to react fearfully to change – that’s why resistance is so common. Anticipating how people will react and worst-case scenarios, however, means you can be prepared to make sure they are supported.

A 2015 research report from Deloitte found that only 27 per cent of Australian public sector agencies feel confident about their organisation's readiness to respond to digital trends. This means that they have a lot of catching up to do.

And people are the critical piece of the puzzle. As noted in Accenture’s 2016 report People First: The Primacy of People in the Digital Age:

“... it’s increasingly clear that technology, on its own, will not be enough to propel organisations toward their new strategic objectives. Winners will create corporate cultures where technology empowers people to evolve, adapt, and drive change. In other words, the mantra for success is: ‘People First.’”

A CSIRO report predicted recently that the pace of change is only set to accelerate due to the convergence of technology, digital connectivity and other factors. We all need to become able and willing to embrace change.

How you can help people adapt

How can you get ahead of the game? Organisational change is a discipline in itself, but here are a few key principals that can help when introducing new technology.

Tell people early - people are hard-wired to react negatively to rapid change. If you tell them early and in small bites, they have more opportunity to get used to the idea.

Keep communicating - any news is better than no news, even if you don’t think there’s much to tell. Remind people what’s in it for them. If a new system is going to save them time, reinforcing benefits reminds them that it’s worth some short-term pain.

Create a two-way feedback loop - one of the best ways to get buy-in on a new initiative is to give people real (not token) opportunities to influence the eventual shape of it. If you’re gathering feedback but don’t action or respond to concerns, there’s no point.

Involve every layer - support from leaders is critical as they lead by example and set the tone for the project. Make sure your users and managers are also involved in the implementation stage.

Have a plan to roll-out your system - make sure you prepare for every scenario. Creating a plan for roll-out allows you to map what needs to happen at each stage of the process, and will help you hit all of the notes mentioned above.

Of course, it’s never quite as easy as that, but it’s a good place to start, if you can. 

The takeaway message is that it’s people who make digital transformation happen. As the pace of change accelerates, organisations need to equip people to continually adapt and innovate.

Keeping with the theme of people, in the next blog post we’ll be looking at the ingredients for a culture of collaboration.