Sage: Digital transformation hits a wall without staff buy-in

"Proper integration and upskilling of the workforce" is central to digital transformation success, says Sage People's Kathleen Lord.
11 October 2019

Sage office in Warsaw. Source: Shutterstock

We don’t yet conference call our colleagues across the world in a 5G hologram, or engage in VR-enabled team-building sessions, but, beneath the surface, digital transformation is happening.

Cloud computing is changing what is possible with our approach to work and the tools at our disposal; AI and automation technologies are letting us reimagine traditional roles.

Confident in the return it will bring, businesses are investing staggering sums into new technologies. And while that’s a step in the right direction, the pace and success rate of initiatives is trailing— there is much more work to be done.

Research by AppDirect found that nine out of 10 companies are undergoing significant roadblocks on the road to digital transformation. The issue? Businesses are quick to acquire technology but lack the talent and resources to implement and leverage it. 

According to Knowledge Academy, 31 percent of firms cite an overall lack of internal knowledge as blocking their goals for digital transformation.  

All too familiar with the issue is Kathleen Lord, Senior Vice President of Sage People, who told TechHQ that when it comes to digital transformation initiatives, “proper integration and upskilling of the workforce on the technology is usually overlooked, as well as its importance underestimated.”

With more than two decades of experience in sales and executive management at startups and large software companies, Lord has successfully led teams to the direction of Sage’s award-winning global cloud HR and People solution.

Lord said that a combined lack of leadership, top to bottom management, and direction is the recipe to fail. The responsibility to ensure the organization is genuinely united on its path to digital transformation then needs to start from the C-suite. 

“This commitment also needs to be translated to budgetary allotments and cultural shifts within the company — if everyone isn’t aware of and on board with the transformation, it won’t work,” said Lord.

Phil Lewis, Managing Director of Corporate Punk, shared the same sentiments in an article for Forbes; “digital transformation is fundamentally a human process,” he said. 

“Even in technology environments, it is human emotions that primarily drive decision-making and determine engagement with change initiatives.”

Keen to show investments in the latest technologies, many organizations overlooked the human element of digital transformation, and employees further down the ladder are left in the dark.

Without a clear corporate strategy being communicated throughout the organization, technological disruption will be received with distress, and organizations will be faced with confusion and a lack of staff buy-in on their digital journey.

People-powered transformation

Lord shared three starting points for businesses undergoing digital transformation, to ensure they have the full backing of their workforce.

# 1 | Get the people on-side

First, the C-suite has a role to communicate the goals of the transformation to all staff across the organization and oversee the implementation by stages. 

A strong commitment to transformation and the shifts in structure, dynamics, and culture of an organization require upper management to take charge and lead.

# 2 | Measure the impact

Next, besides having clear goals on the benefits of technology integration, a measurable outcome of the transformation is what truly sets apart success from mediocrity, or even fail altogether. 

By reaching a consensus on ROI and having a vision on the desired outcome, organizations will find themselves allocating budgets and distributing resources to appropriate departments more effectively. 

# 3 | Invest in training and skills

Lastly, adequate training and investment in digital skill is the final step to ensure a successful digital transformation. 

As mentioned above, the upskilling of the workforce is often overlooked and companies end up failing in completely revolutionizing their business model. 

To get everyone on board with digital transformation, staff need to be in the loop and receive substantial support to use new technologies.

No signs of slowing down

Despite the risks and challenges many organizations face in digital transformation, there is no sign of reverse evolution in this era of technology dominance. 

Companies risk falling behind competitors by not upscaling their digital game; according to Lord, more than 40 percent of firms say digital tools ensure compliance with regulation for relevant jurisdictions and are a catalyst for venturing into international markets. 

Moreover, the rise of 5G and WiFi 6 promises a wealth of growth opportunities for those businesses equipped and ready to capitalize on them. 

Organizations aiming to stay on top of the tech chain must invest heavily in digital transformation, but all will be a waste if the workforce is not behind and pushing for the same goal.

“Digital transformation is a pillar in achieving organizational goals,” said Lord, and a “people-first” approach is imperative. 

By strategically planning and providing training in digital skills and knowledge, organizations will find employees embracing the disruption with higher confidence and stretching the limitations of the new technology, resulting in innovation.

In the end, asking which came first, people or technology could provide some clarity.