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The Human Side of Digital Transformation

Principal Consultant, Finance Transformation
Principal Consultant, Finance Transformation
I have been in the recruitment industry for 8 years spending much of this time helping organisations hire mid- senior leadership and board level Finance positions. I now work with Transformation leaders to define, design and deliver Transformation programmes delivering statements of work mapped to outcomes. Typical mandates include Transformation Director, Program Director, Change Manager and PMO. These mandates are within a range of organisations from PE/VC backed scale-up organisations to the FTSE250.

Digital transformation has become the buzzword phrase of the last few years as organisations reinvent themselves with tech to respond to the demands of today’s consumer. Whether it’s investment in industry-specific AI, moving to the Cloud, or adopting new software and methodologies, businesses across every sector are evolving to improve CX, productivity, and the bottom line.

However, in spite of its obvious potential, adoption rates of workplace technology are often disappointing, leading to failed transformation projects. Reliable sources often cite a fairly constant 60%-70% failure rate, with an even higher percentage of leaders saying they are still yet to see tangible benefits from tech adoption. This can be off-putting to those companies yet to embark upon their digital transformation journey, given the investment involved, but are these failures really the result of the tech itself? More often than not, the answer is no.

Successful digital transformation isn’t just about choosing the right technology, it’s about it being adopted well by those who use it. Positive digital adoption is the only thing that will make a transformation successful, and leaders often underestimate what it takes to get employees on board. Employees are human; humans are consumers; and consumers love tech that makes their lives easier. So, they’re bound to embrace it at work with no problems, surely? Again, the answer is a negative.

Why is technology in the workplace different?

Despite hungrily snapping up the latest phone, streaming everything, and automating as much as we can in our domestic lives, it’s different when it comes to our jobs. Technology in the workplace is often more complicated to learn and delivers us nowhere near the satisfaction we get from pairing new AirPods to our new iPad. When the benefits are less clear, we tend to resist more, and when things are harder and require more effort, we look for the easier route, which is usually the existing tech or process. Couple that with the fact that many employees are monitored on productivity and new tech inevitably means an initial slowdown, it’s no wonder it’s tough to get buy-in. For business leaders, transformation is a case of gain vs. pain and while they often understand the former, they may not appreciate the latter.

We hear a lot about communication and training, and while both are important, training sessions and emails aren’t enough to change people’s minds and get them to genuinely adopt the technology and develop new behaviours. The transformation needs to align with the company vision and be part of a cultural change to succeed. Here are some additional steps leaders can consider in order to achieve more successful change:


Communicate a vision that shows people where you want the business to be, where they will be, and also how you will measure that journey


illustrate how any new technology is in line with the culture and beliefs of the organisation that employees have already bought into


 use key employees as influencers, leading the way and convincing their peers that the change is positive


Break down the barriers that a silo culture promotes to show how much easier the process is when data is shared transparently across the company

Go slow

Change doesn’t need to be wholesale and extreme; simple steps in the right direction that everyone can take easily are often longer-lasting and more effective

Be smart

remove the options of the legacy ways as soon as possible to avoid staff reverting to what was considered easier. Consider “stacking” new behaviours on top of existing ones to aid their adoption.

Ignore the goals, for now

Focus on the process rather than the outcome in the initial stages. Teething problems will put people off, as will a drop in performance or output. Encourage the process and the results will come.

There’s little point in investing time and resources into new technology without doing the same for your people. One can’t succeed without the other, and any successful digital transformation must concentrate on its human side as much as its tech

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