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The human side of digital transformation


The events of the past year rapidly accelerated the shift to digital, but to be truly successful in the long term, digital transformation also needs to happen at the very top – with the individuals who set strategy and allocate resources; and people who follow their lead.


Research indicates that 77 percent of CEOs report that the pandemic sped up their companies’ digital transformation plans, and Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella noted in the early days of the pandemic: “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”


Digital transformation is about people, not just technology


A recent analysis of more than 100 search specifications for C-suite positions in Fortune 1000 companies across a broad range of industries has shown that the search for technology and digital expertise has been on the rise even before the pandemic as 59 percent of the searches included tech or digital expertise. However, when looking at the digital skills required, it appears that digital skills are not advertised equally amongst the C-suite, with fewer than third of the role specification for Chief Executive Officer mentioning these skills.


With overall responsibility for the organisation’s strategy and serving as the public face of the company, CEOs today also have the already challenging role within the context of a rapidly changing landscape. When it comes to digital transformation, success depends on their ability to articulate the case for change, communicate the vision of the strategy and role model a culture that can drive the transformation.


Culture is a critical element of any change initiative and can’t be neglected, and it’s the role of the leader to drive an innovative and creative culture that can reinforce technology-driven strategic shifts. This shift requires building the knowledge and skills needed to lead organisational change, align the leadership team around a clear strategy, and ensure alignment across functional areas and work groups. Digital transformation is less about technology and more about people. Organisations can buy any technology, but their ability to adapt to an even more digital future depends on developing the next generation of skills, closing the talent gaps, and future-proofing their potential.


The opportunity to do more with less


Technology allows organisations to do more with less, however it is only effective if paired with the right human skills, as the creative aspect of innovation is entirely dependent on people. Simply put, the most advanced innovation is irrelevant if people are not skilled enough to use it, and even the most impressive human minds will lack behind if they don’t team up with tech. Therefore, to make digital transformations successful, before investing in technology, organisations need to consider investment into people who can make that technology useful.


Just as digital transformation is more about people rather than technology, the critical skills are soft skills rather than hard skills. With the changing landscape, organisations can’t predict what the required hard skills will be, and a more effective strategy is to focus on people who are most likely to develop them. Because whilst technical competence is temporary, intellectual curiosity is permanent and leads to innovation.


It is estimated that 70 percent of digital transformation efforts do not achieve their objectives and managerial resistance is one of the main reasons. At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills through to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at simon@askacumen.com.