“We need to become a “digital” business – can you help us?”

This question (and its many permutations), which in equal measure speak to an admirable intent to embrace technology as a business enabler and an entirely understandable fear of obsolescence and job loss, is one which I am asked most frequently as Red & Yellow’s Head of Corporate Training. The answer in the overwhelming majority of cases is “absolutely yes”, but is always followed by a serious “but…”.

A well-coordinated, top-to-bottom learning and development (L&D) programme is unquestionably the only meaningful and effective driver of organisational change at scale, but unless a business is primed for – and equipped with a framework through which to deliver – it, most ad hoc training initiatives will fail. So “absolutely yes”, we can help, “but how ready is your business for the change through which it needs to go?”.

A deeper analysis of one’s business and a more thorough understanding of its digital transformation goals (which might involve questioning and re-evaluating the goals themselves) is paramount before an appropriate digital transformation training programme can be formulated.

Transformation Through Training

Digital Transformation as a business imperative is ubiquitous and as a subject matter is vast, and this piece won’t leave even the slightest of scratches in its surface. It’s not trying to do so. Through the lens of training, this piece aims simply to leave you with three questions to ask yourself when contemplating your own digital transformation journey:

  1. Are your leaders truly on board?
  2. Are your people ready for change?
  3. What critical skills and behaviours do your people need for your business to transform?

Transforming from the Top

The most obvious yet persistent root of all transformation or change management failure lies at the top of the organisation: the Board or executive team is not aligned on the need to change, lacks critical skills, or is simply unable – or unwilling – to see what is coming. It is often all of the above. That said, the most strategically prepared leadership team can, of course, still get it wrong, but they will undoubtedly stand a much better chance of success and of responding proactively to threats as they arise.

Good senior managers should be capable of identifying their own weaknesses and blind spots and either developing themselves to remedy them or implementing systems and controls to compensate for them. Anything less, and your business is almost certainly operating sub-optimally as it is.

Short, sharp training sessions are still critical in ensuring that the senior team remains attuned to new opportunities and emerging challenges, and is suitably equipped to chart a strategic route into a constantly evolving and increasingly unpredictable future.

A few days of high-impact, high-engagement, workshop-style training once a quarter will go a long way towards fostering senior alignment and ensuring that your Top Team is suitably equipped.

This is in many respects both the smallest and the hardest step in the journey. It involves the fewest number of people, but they are the ones who will have the biggest impact – positive or negative – on the success of the business and are often the ones most resistant to change.

Without the top taking a firm first step, the organisational journey is doomed from the outset.

Priming the Organisation for Change

Change is scary, and people resist it. The bigger the organisation, the fiercer the resistance. Broad-based buy-in is facilitated through clear, open and consistent communication across the organisation, and underpinned by training around the basics required to mobilise the workforce.

Equipping your people with a foundational understanding of the digital landscape, the key technological drivers of change affecting them, and where the company and your industry is going will help replace fear with optimism. Basic digital literacy is often overestimated in many large organisations grappling with legacy structures, and focusing on raising the bar here can be critical. How can an organisation digitise when the people who will need to drive this don’t intuitively understand what it means to do so?

No diligent traveller undertakes an arduous journey without packing some basic essentials. And your digital transformation journey would get off to a far smoother start if all of your people had a grounding in the principles embraced by the most progressive, future-first businesses. These include change management, customer-centricism, design thinking, lean business practices, agile methodologies, problem-solving and entrepreneurialism. Without a shared common understanding and appreciation for these critical skills, transformation will be very difficult indeed.

Organisations that want to prepare themselves for future

success (and survival) need to invest in changing the way their people think and behave, and the sooner that investment starts the better.

Company-wide online training, punctuated by facilitated workshops, can be a highly cost-effective and impactful means of getting staff on the same page and more “digitally fluent”.

Building New Capabilities and Careers

As important as it is to shift the organisation’s cultural paradigm from a traditional to a digital one, it goes without saying that the tools of the trade have changed and that – as Marshall Goldsmith wrote – “what got you here, won’t get you there”. And now that your people are readying themselves for the changes through which both the company and they themselves will need to go along the transformation journey, they will each need to reconsider their respective crafts and skill-sets in light of what will be needed from them in the years ahead.

There isn’t a job in the world today that isn/t already being disrupted by technology or doesn’t face disruption in some form or another over the decade ahead, even though the precise cause and possible effects might at present be hard to imagine.

Programmers, data analysts and scientists, digital marketers, user-experience designers, product managers – these frequently feature amongst the most sought after, and hardest to fill, roles in future-focused businesses, yet they are also roles which increasingly defy strict definition and are characterised by inherent flux. Unlike the typical job roles of 25 years ago which were for the most part static and consistent, the top practitioners in emerging fields and disciplines are defined as much by their curiosity, cross-functional expertise and commitment to constant learning as they are by the best efforts of recruiters to pigeon-hole them. A digital marketer needs to refresh her knowledge constantly as the landscape she works in evolves daily, and needs more than ever an understanding of how her role fits alongside and within those of her colleagues.

Companies committed to transformation need to align their strategic transformation goals (and associated change drivers) with the critical skills and behavioural attributes required to achieve these. Job roles and employee “career journeys”, mapped to L&D frameworks which deliver continuous, relevant training, are essential in ensuring that staff and roles are constantly evolving and developing in pace with the market, and ideally ahead of it.

It’s not about the destination…

Digital transformation – like any large-scale adaptive change – is not about the destination, but the journey itself. The future is by nature unpredictable, and no person or organisation will pick the right direction or the best itinerary every time a strategic decision needs to be made. Transformation speaks less to the embodiment of an organisation as a digital entity, and entirely to the ability of it to survive and thrive in a digital world.

For some businesses, the best form of digital transformation might be negligible or no transformation at all (as a single-store retailer of antique LP records might attest). But that decision and its associated outcomes should still be the result of a strategically-driven process, supported by learning and development in some form.