While automation seems to be making its way into our workplaces at an unprecedented speed, at the same time, doubts seem to be creeping into the minds of employees as to what will they do if a bot will do their work? In order for employees to be open about transformation, leaders need to address these doubts to bring about a cultural change before a digital change can take place.
In an exclusive conversation with People Matters, Sonali De Sarker, Senior Director Human Resources, IMEA, shares how one can instill a digital transformation mindset in the organization and what role can culture play in transformation.
How do you instill a digital transformation mindset in your organization?
When people walk into an organization, even before joining, they think as to what kind of organization I am interviewing with. So in order to give them an idea of what kind of work we do, when we onboard, we send them a welcome mail about all the formalities and at the bottom, it says the mail is from a digital worker or a bot. Of course, there is a human contact number just in case. Thus they get a sense the company is different-and they are much more open in their thought process. We familiarize them with the fact that there are about 20 bots working in HR, which makes them realize that our company believes in doing things differently.
Also, our culture is that of failing fast and moving on, which makes our employees understand that failure is viewed not as a failure but quick stepping stones to success. Hence people get a sense that this is the way transformation happens here and they have to be very open to failing, to speed and to innovating rapidly.
How did your team approach the initial hiccups to challenges to transformation?
One needs to understand that while rolling out any transformation initiative, it is important that employees understand 'what’s in it for me?'
You have to address their fears that if a bot will be taking over a certain process, what is going to be their role? Also, a transformation has to be with baby steps initially in order to garner early adopters. Once people realize they are doing better quality work as compared to before transformation, they become far more open to greater transformation.
Also, for transformation to work, the processes have to be such that they are digitized well enough. Otherwise, the automation fails. So the process approach has to be clear in the person who is going down the path of automation. Typically what happens is people try and address only one part of the process. A piecemeal approach does not work, you need to automate an entire process end to end to get the benefits out of it.
What role does culture play in shaping the journey of digital transformation of any organization?
The ‘what’s in it for me’ from the culture standpoint works for any organization. You transform either because it’s a top-down mandate or because you believe that it is the right thing and everybody will benefit from it. In both these approaches, which are totally separate, the one thing that’s common and needs to be addressed is ‘what’s in it for me.’ This has to be clear to the leader and deeper down.
Of course, if the organizational culture values innovation and trying out new things, the transformation will work better there.
How can leaders accelerate digital transformation in their respective organizations so that it becomes a seamless journey from top to down?
When it comes to transformation, leaders should be clear about what objective is being met.
Secondly, if digital workers will join the organization, it will obviously free up some of the employees’ time. So what kind of work my team will do? Is that going to be a better kind of work? And if yes, do they have the skills for it? So how should I reskill them? Thus transformation should be looked upon as a method of career enhancement of employees.
Just as with the advent of computers, bank tellers moved to the more expertise-based customer-facing roles, and no one could fight the computer revolution, similarly, automation is one more revolution that cannot be fought. If it’s a given that it is going to happen, it is the leader’s responsibility to drive it and move their companies ahead. It is just a question as to when will you get on to it.
What is your key piece of advice to fellow HR and business leaders who are about to undertake their digital transformation journeys?
I think being open would be one. Trust the fact that the technology works. Look at an entire process and not bits and pieces otherwise you won’t get the ROI in terms of time being freed up. This is a huge opportunity to go back and increase the human portion in our processes because it frees up time and you can have those conversations. Lead when you have the advantage and not when you are told to do so.