From internal processes and leadership approaches to ensuring your people have the right blend of skills to succeed, what are the obstacles to overcome and the pitfalls to avoid for companies that are serious about transforming their business?
This year’s HubDay Future of Work conference, held in the heart of Paris, featured a host of different industry experts who all had one thing in common – each one served to remind company leaders that their most valuable business asset is their people.
When it comes to undertaking a digital business transformation, too many organizations make the same two mistakes. The first is they focus too much on speed.
“Just like The Beatles said, it’s a long and winding road,” begins Christophe Guénard Director General of global digital advertising firm Publicis Sapient. “For all companies a business transformation is a long journey – there are no shortcuts.”
This preoccupation with rapidity comes from seeing agile startups as the competition. They can move quickly, but only because they have no heritage, assets or an existing legacy or market share to defend. Indeed this agility is a survival instinct. “Yet too many brands think in terms of winner takes all,” continues Guénard. “That you have to be the first to occupy the new market or lose the opportunity.”
This leads to the second mistake – forgetting that transformation requires a cultural shift.
“A business transformation is not about technology,” warns Guénard. “It’s about finance, strategy, management and above all, people. And when you move quickly, you leave your people behind.”
So what can companies do to ensure their transformation succeeds? According to Caroline Loisel, Senior Digital Consultant for the Hub Institute, it’s crucial to recognize that there are three very real fears that employees feel around the subject of transformation and companies should take real steps to address these concerns.
By providing too much information, too quickly and by reverting to jargon rather than explaining things with clarity, organizations make employees fear they’re going to be left behind.
“Then there is the fear of dehumanization,” explains Loisel. “The loss of direct working relationships and collective effort.” Digital approaches to working, communicating and interacting with colleagues can lead to isolation and a sense of being disconnected, rather than hyper connected. One of the reasons co-working spaces are experiencing such huge growth is because even nomads enjoy being around other people and interacting with them while they work remotely from the office.
The final fear is losing your professional sense of purpose as automation and artificial start to reshape the business landscape.
“People are worried about the future of their professions,” Loisel continues. “What happens when someone loses that emotional connection they have with their occupation? We need to be aware that people will be trying to find a new balance as things change in terms of their company and their occupation.”
To eradicate these fears and because a business transformation is a cultural shift, it’s crucial that companies focus on soft skills rather than simply making certain employees have the capabilities related directly to their role.
“Regarding soft skills and hard skills, when it comes to digital transformation, it’s the combination of the two which are the key to success,” says Hymane Ben Aoun, CEO of recruitment firm Aravati. “But how do you evaluate candidates in terms of both?”
Edwige Chevallier Director of HR for Groupe Rocher – owner of global cosmetics and beauty brand Yves Rocher – believes the answer is to use human resources as a filter. Regardless of the candidate and regardless of the importance or seniority of the post being filled, the first interview is with the HR department.
“This is where we focus on personality, on a person’s ability to integrate into a group through their confidence and communication skills and as a result with the wider business culture,” Chevallier explains.
Only when her department is satisfied a candidate can align with the business culture does that person move to the next step of the recruitment process. It’s an approach that has proven key to Rocher Groupe’s continued success, but even it sometimes has to make an exception.
“When the position demands an emerging skill set, or the business need is immediate, the talent pool is smaller and the competition for that talent is greater,” says Chevallier.
However, even here there is a solution. Soft skills can be learned and developed and being able to bring experienced employees or those in more senior positions up to speed culturally will pay dividends for any company serious about transformation.
“The best approach for developing managers’ soft skills is coaching,” believes Colombe Mandula Co-founder of online business coaching service Simundi. “Developing someone’s soft skills helps that person reach their potential but also benefits everyone else in the company.”
Her company offers video calls with experts, by appointment. All users have to do is select the area they need to work on, when they need to work on it, whether it’s public speaking, conflict resolution or helping to onboard new team members.
Everybody in attendance at the event had brushed their teeth and bathed every day that week; but, when James McErlean, Head of Headspace at Work, Europe expanded the questions to include mental health, very few in the audience had taken time out over the past seven days to look after their minds.
“We often ignore the mind,” he said. “That’s strange considering we have 70,000 thoughts a day.”
The point being made was that even with the right balance of soft and hard skills, unless people can be the best versions of themselves at work, everything about that business, from its culture to its productivity will be impacted negatively.
“Modern life can bring more pressure as well as more opportunities,” continued McErlean. “That pressure can get to a point where we stop performing to our best.”
Headspace is a guided meditation app that’s already being used by 50 million people around the world and is now, along with a lot of similar types of application, working its way into businesses as well.
But for companies focused on being transformative, it should be the next logical step. Many businesses already provide gym memberships so their people can look after their fitness, and on-site cafeterias or vouchers towards lunch so that their employees can eat better. Flexible and home working are also becoming the norm so more people can achieve a work-life balance. Helping the workforce stay mindful is the only thing missing from the equation.
“People are the foundation of business. We spend a lot of time hiring and training people. But if they can’t perform at their best it becomes a problem,” McErlean said. “If your people are healthy and happy, your business culture is going to be better and that means your business performance is going to be better.”
But there is a limit to this business performance too. According to French serial entrepreneur Philippe Pinault, companies that want to future proof themselves need to seriously rethink their organizational structures.
“Often we are already agile in the way we work in our teams,” he says. “But the wider organization gets in the way of individuals and individual teams reaching their full potential.”
Unless businesses can move away from the top-down pyramid, that structure will weigh heavy on any attempts to transform. “The rate of change is so great that we can’t say what a business will look like in 10 years’ time. But we can put processes and approaches in place to respond to those changes,” explained Pinault. “A digital transformation isn’t about having certain tools. It’s a paradigm change and leaders need to be ready for it.”