“People First” Transformation: Does it Really Help in Digital Transformation?
With a rapid evolving technology scenario, organizations that do not adapt to pioneering trends and technological advances run the risk of being overtaken by rivals. Often, this inhibition to embrace change is not about corporate will. Rather, it is the fear of the unknown that acts as a deterrent.
Technological advancements and agile philosophies have changed how businesses operate and people function. Yet, the fear of technology rendering their jobs obsolete, the lack of motivation to learn new skills, the inertia to stay in their comfort zone, an absence of servant-leadership philosophy and Lean-Agile thinking, and the consequent lack of transparency in responsibilities of individuals in leadership positions – all contribute to the resistance against technology adoption.
So, while technology remains an important element for change, organizations that also invest in transformation of its human resources have higher chances of success. The next sections of this article outline the business case for making this human resources transformation using a “People First” approach, and the business incentives of deploying such an approach.
Technology alone does not guarantee transformation
According to an annual project and portfolio management survey1 conducted by project management organization Innotas, 55% of the total businesses surveyed had experienced an IT project failure in the previous twelve months. Interestingly, this survey and the previous surveys unearthed a trend of similar project failures.
The results appear a tad surprising when correlated with the fact that there had been no shortage of quality project managers or technological tools to justify the high failure rate. That the high failure rate was due to lack of alignment of these human resources and technology initiatives with business objectives underscores the fact that having access to technology alone does not guarantee a successful business transformation.
For a real transformation to take place when adopting an Agile- or technology-driven transformation, what matters is how employees embrace change. Everything from how employees are habituated to their work routines to the work ethics prevalent in the organization plays its role here.
Benefits of embracing a “People First” approach
Technically speaking, Agile may be defined as an inclusive approach that conjoins people, processes and tools to create a continuous delivery stream. The core element of embracing any agile system of working is the people factor. While adopting new ideas, methods, and technologies is an intrinsic part of the Agile and DevOps frameworks, organizations that focus on its people first before embarking on such a change have a higher chance of success.
Many successful organizations are now adopting this approach as they empower employees by reskilling them and providing a delivery platform for human resource transformative. Such organizations have demonstrated an increase in key business metrics such as revenue, time-to-market, and new customer acquisition timelines.
The advantages of this approach are multi-fold.
Synthesis of risk-taking DNA: The ability to deal with uncertainty and take educated risks—hallmarks of an entrepreneur–can be a soft asset that can deliver hard results. The key is to inject this risk-taking DNA at some point in the organization and enabling its propagation. If some individuals or teams in the organization have these traits, they can have a positive influence on others, thereby setting off a virtuous cycle. This risk-taking ability is thus both a driver and a benefit of people transformation that is intended to drive digital transformation.
Skill enhancement of key resources: The “People First” approach helps organizations invest prudently in human capital. Companies today are looking to build a culture around their Agile and DevOps frameworks. Organizations are investing in not only hard skills but also soft skills training for their employees. The use of HR specialists2 to develop innovative educational programs is helping employees get past their inhibitions about embracing change and is encouraging faster adoption of technology.
Elimination of communication breakdowns: The successful implementation of a “People First” approach means that there is clarity in communication between various teams. Everyone from Development and Testing to Operations and Support are on the same page, improving productivity and reducing possible conflicts.
Creation of a blame-free work environment: By adopting a “People First” approach, organizations and teams work in a more constructive manner, eschewing passing the buck. While reskilling employees reduces the chances of failure, the work culture is redefined so that failure is accepted since it can be quickly and easily corrected. As a result, a blame-free work environment brings about real cultural shift, acting as a foundation for successful agile delivery.
Empowerment of employees for enhanced output: Very often, it is the people on the ground who have great ideas, which, if implemented, can improve and streamline organization workflows. A “People First” approach leads to a situation where the sum of the parts becomes a multiple of the whole. This environment or culture empowers the employees to do more, work more productively, and share more ideas. The benefits are thus three-fold: superior business outcomes, attraction and retention of key talent, and creation of a work culture where human capital, process, and technology integrate in achieving a common business goal.
Thus, in achieving digital transformation and an agile culture, mere adoption of technology is not likely to either engage your workforce or drive results. Instead, embracing a “People First” philosophy where employees understand how they fit into the larger scheme of things and how they are better off in a digitally transformed milieu is the need of the hour.