When your organization invests in new digital solutions, it is natural to focus on the glittering new technologies, how to implement them, and how they can help with short and long-term goals. But technology is only one part of a digital transformation. The critical ingredient for a successful digital transformation is your people.
Digital transformation is a journey. The most successful efforts meet people where they are, help them take the trip at a pace that makes sense for them (even in our rapidly evolving world), and, most importantly: bring everyone along.
I’ve taken the lead in guiding our 55,000 employees in the U.S. through our own digital transformation journey over the last 3 years. No one left behind was the empowering message behind our effort—our message to our people that this was about investing in their development and skills as much as it was implementing and optimizing our technology.
Here are a few tips on constructing a people-led digital transformation.
Knowing the friction points for your teams is a significant first step in digital transformation. No one is better equipped than your employees—those closest to the day-to-day operations—to help you identify inefficiencies in processes and help the organization apply technology solutions where they can drive the most significant outcomes.
Conduct listening surveys
It’s a simple step, but conducting listening surveys and having regular conversations with your teams builds trust. It reminds them that their input is the fuel behind the transformation. Said another way, the transformation is something they’re driving, not something happening to them.
Identify the administrative
As a large professional services organization, our calling—and our people’s motivator—is working directly with our clients to solve their most complex problems. But we found many of our people were spending significant time on important but administrative tasks. Tasks that should be simple in our hybrid world of work, like reserving a space in the office near your colleagues, or checking employee benefits, were time-consuming and frustrating. We had an opportunity to simplify the experience for our people by creating a digital assistant that addressed these pain points.
Leverage a digital assistant
We focused on applying a digital assistant and the underlying automations to unlock our people’s time and simplify tasks. We started with the goal of automating several mundane tasks—including time reporting and preparing for holidays and vacations—by using voice-activation phrases such as “set my out of office” or “set my holiday time.”
Now, the digital assistant is helping users find answers to their questions, make workspace reservations, display which coworkers are in the office, recognize and reward team members, manage their learning, and track required actions. Since launching our internal platform, we have garnered 35,000 weekly users, saved an estimated $10 M in internal costs, and eliminated tech projects that are no longer necessary.
Clients often need help achieving the amount of employee buy-in necessary to make the most of their digital investments. However, we have found making those investments in the processes and issues your people care about day to day goes a long way to inspiring their adoption of the tech and process transformations being driven elsewhere in the business.
Many organizations have invested millions of dollars in leading-edge technology. Still, they don’t earmark enough of the budget on the change management and upskilling necessary to empower their people to use the tech. New processes, technologies, and business outcomes require new skills. Training your people on how to use the latest tech is important, but it’s not enough. Upskilling your people in the agility and change resilience skills necessary in today’s rapidly changing business environment is an equally important ingredient.
Offer bite-sized training
We all learn differently, so a one-size-fits-all curriculum will not likely work. We have also found that mandated training, not surprisingly, typically inspires little enthusiasm. Instead, meet your people where they are. Small, bite-sized learnings that are engaging, mobile and relevant can often take you further than hours of structured training modules. Enabling people to learn in modes that make sense to them is another way to drive both inspiration and engagement—which can lead to your employees helping each other through the change.
At PwC, we embrace the power of bite-sized training by using our own upskilling platform equipped with 16 K technical, digital, and behavioral courses and over 120 immersive learning experiences to encourage continuous learning through short, easy-to-access content on the topics our employees find most important.
Make it self-directed
I’ve seen the power of self-directed learning and how it has motivated our people. We had each of our employees take a digital baseline assessment to better identify their skills and what training they could benefit from. From there, our upskilling platform can identify and recommend the content most relevant to their skill set. This empowers our employees to prioritize the learnings most relevant to their job functions and careers, giving them the flexibility to go at their own speed.
The freedom to engage in self-directed learning plans (enabled by our digital assistant) has allowed tens of thousands of our people to grow their skills, which not only contributes to the continued digital transformation of our firm, it creates more valuable, more motivated, and more engaged teams.
Digital transformation without an understanding of clear business outcomes is an evil plan. And a transformation that fails to meet those outcomes is a recipe for long-term problems. The world is a hyper-competitive place, with economic uncertainty, volatile interest rates, geopolitical unrest, and supply chain disruptions all presenting a very complex landscape for organizations to succeed.
It might seem that in such a world, there’s no place for fun in your transformation. But a dose of fun is precisely what’s needed. There’s enough stress on our people. Learning new skills and empowering them to drive better results across the organization shouldn’t be one more thing to do but something that helps them feel energized and empowered.
Weekly trivia games
We implemented weekly trivia games with our upskilling efforts. Our people signed on to a custom-built app and played as contestants in a live game show, competing on topics related to our strategy and digital transformation for bragging rights and small cash prizes (larger prizes were available to teams who played together). At its peak, we had more than 20 K of our team opting in and signing on to play alongside their teammates.
Making an effort to unlock an environment where employees engage with each other, challenge each other, and support each other as they grow their digital skills creates the conditions that will accelerate your transformation and the desired business outcomes you’re after.
Our PwC team has built over seven thousand automations to help take the friction out of their day; they’ve unlocked more than 7 million hours of time and capacity now directed to our clients and growth agenda. And many of our most prolific developers come from non-technology backgrounds, empowered by the new digital skills they achieved in our upskilling journey.
Our clients are on the same journey, benefiting from lessons we’ve learned along our own path. Recently, a big-box retailer wanted to equip its finance and accounting controllership team with automation and analytics solutions. Unfortunately, they were living in the world many of us have experienced for years: manual spreadsheets to gather data and expensive technology upgrades that lacked the scale of adoption anticipated in the business case.
When the controllership team reflected on the pain points of their employees and stepped back to listen, the journey took a turn for the better. They have automated data gathering and reporting methods and eliminated much of the manual spreadsheet grinding that had absorbed too much of their time.
Whether you want to transform an enterprise or a department, these are powerful principles: human-led transformation is the key to making the most of your technology investments.
If your team members believe you’re asking them to take on more effort, learn new systems, and implement new processes only because you want greater bottom-line profit, buy-in will be very difficult to achieve.
Employees know intelligent companies invest in tech, transformation, and people to achieve bottom-line outcomes. But it is possible to be transparent about these objectives while at the same time leading with how this transformation will empower your team members to be more relevant, more highly skilled, and more valuable professionals wherever their career takes them.
This is the approach that gains that all-important trust. You’ll not only get their engagement, but you’ll also find they’ll be more willing to help right the ship when things don’t go as planned, and many will step up and begin inspiring their colleagues to lean in as well.
At PwC, we call that a human-led + tech-powered transformation, and it is the new equation for success in a world of complexity and uncertainty that relies more than ever on an engaged, skilled, and agile workforce.
Joe Atkinson is vice chair - US chief products & technology Officer at PwC, enabling teams to develop products and drive strategies that have an impact on the way people work — to change how work is done at scale. A proud dad, husband and Penn State alum, Joe is driven to give back to his community, supporting nonprofits focused on health, social betterment and digital literacy.