Four lessons in driving digital transformation

Jessica Twentyman Profile picture for user jtwentyman October 7, 2015
Digital leaders from UK organisations describe strategies they’ve used to help employees cope with the upheaval of new ways of working

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Andrew Proctor, Dave Cook, Jacqueline du Rojas, Jeff Moriarty

Internal politics, a reluctance to experiment, a stubborn insistence that ‘this is just the way we’ve always done things around here.’ When it comes to digital transformation, one of the biggest hurdles for businesses isn’t persuading customers to interact with them over new, digital channels. It’s convincing employees to adopt new ways of working.

It’s a point made in a recent report co­authored by management consultancy firm Deloitte and business journal the MIT Sloan Management Review: ‘Strategy, not Technology, Drives Digital Transformation’.

Organisations identified by the report’s co-­authors as ‘digitally mature’ are more comfortable taking risks than less digitally mature ones ­ no surprises there. But the hallmark of successful digital leaders, they continue, is their understanding of the fact “that employees may be just as risk ­averse as their managers and will need support to become bolder.”

So it was good to see this issue broached at this week’s CDO Summit in London, by a panel of experts all with experience of driving the cultural change that underpins a successful digital transformation ­ or in more straightforward terms, of meeting with resistance and tackling it head-­on. What were the key lessons they had to offer?

1. Show employees clearly that digital transformation will make their working lives better, not worse

At West Midlands Police, for example, cutbacks during the years of austerity mean that head of IT & Digital Andrew Proctor is dealing with:

an ageing workforce, that can be fairly cynical when it comes to the latest digital technology and can push back on not wanting to learn and engage with new skills.

He advocates an approach based on very clear demonstrations and explanations to staff of how new technologies can make working lives easier and more productive, not harder, he says.

Take smartphones and tablets, for example: in the next few years, I expect these to be as ubiquitous as an officer’s pocketbook is today. And one of the things I like about my smartphone is that it allows me to make better, more informed decisions ­ and it’s going to be exactly the same for police officers.

So when an incident is reported, an officer will be automatically notified, one who is closest to the incident or has the right skills to deal with it. They’ll be dispatched, but while en route, they’ll be provided with information that enables them to deal with the incident: are there vulnerable people involved; is there anybody involved who has a history of violence or a history of drugs; is there CCTV footage available? And while they’re responding, the can take notes and details using the device and send it directly to police IT systems from there. These digital technologies will result in a smarter, more efficient police workforce.

2. Give them some insight into how customers’ behaviours and habits are changing

At publishing company Time Out chief digital officer Dave Cook, meanwhile, spends a good deal of his time engaged in what he describes as “resetting employees’ expectations” around how online and offline content is consumed by readers. He says:

Journalists are passionate about writing a high­quality piece of content but actually getting them to understand how consumers want to digest that content, via a mobile phone, for example, is for them quite a transition.

So there’s a lot of work to do explaining to journalists how people read, what they visit, how long they spend there ­ many of us only skim­read, for example, particularly when we’re on a mobile device. And here, data’s really important to us, actually showing them [which] are our most popular types of content, this is the sort of stuff consumers really love, this is what drives traffic. Where possible, we put analytics in front of them, even if that upsets the applecart.

3. Don’t baby them ­ give employees help and support, but make it clear they must help themselves, too

At Johnston Press, chief digital officer Jeff Moriarty advocates an approach that stresses individual responsibility, he says:

Our oldest newspaper [the Stamford Mercury] dates back to 1712. Talk about legacy! So there’s a real sense of ‘how we’ve always done things’ and it can be hard to get employees to think about new ways of delivering news and more data ­driven journalism. Equally, on the sales and marketing side, it’s about getting our sales teams to think about selling online ads not print ads, it’s about getting marketing to think about social marketing.

It’s our responsibility to make sure they have the skills they need and that the company provides the training or guidance necessary, but I also think it’s up to the employee to ‘go digital’ in this new, emerging world. There’s a personal responsibility to understand technology and I think it’s very hard sometimes to have patience with someone who just doesn’t want to change in a business like ours, when we’re under so much pressure. It has to be a combination of company and personal responsibility and that has to be communicated, from the top.

4. Keep an open mind as to where resistance might be encountered and the best ways to respond

That’s the advice of Jacqueline de Rojas who, in addition to her day job as vice president of EMEA for software company Citrix, also sits on the board of the Home Retail Group (owners of retailers Argos and Homebase, among other companies) and is president of TechUK, a tech industry body that represents over 850 hardware, software and IT services companies. A ‘one size fits all’ approach to helping employees adjust to digital transformation simply doesn’t work, she says.

I think diversity in general is really important here, as in all things. There’ll be geographic differences to consider. There’ll be age differences to consider, especially at a time when demographic trends mean we’re looking at an ageing workforce. And there’s gender diversity, which is still very low in technology areas. All companies need to be doing more things, in a better and more focused way, to help employees make the transition.

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