West Monroe Partners recently hosted a round table in Seattle for local workforce, HR and technology leaders on the topic of the future of work. There was a broad range of companies at the table, including Starbucks, REI, Zumiez and Delta Dental of Washington.
To start the discussion, we posed a question to the group:
With the advantages of being a “digital” company so well documented (better profits, increased productivity, improved decision making, flexibility, etc), why are only 18% of companies taking advantage of a digital strategy?
The primary reason is not unexpected: is difficult to make the change. Furthermore, many companies are still not completely certain what digital means. Is it a technology decision? Is it a marketing and branding term?
We advocate an understanding of digital as a holistic movement across many different areas of the company: from workforce optimization and process design to customer experience and advanced analytics to provide more seamless experiences and richer engagement for both employees and customers.
While acknowledging the challenges of making the transition, our roundtable guests all recognized the need. Some of the examples we heard from around the table about what’s driving their desire to transform to a digital workforce includes:
Fear of disruption from outside the industry – this can come in the form of a start-up disrupting established retail or business models such as AirBnB and Uber, or well entrenched innovators like Amazon moving into an adjacent or overlapping market.
Customer led expectations – Customers embracing digital and changing the way a company did its business, forcing them to quickly ‘catch up’ and provide an experience to match the new behavior. This might look like customers ordering items (clothing or coffee) and picking them up at a retail location, or looking for items online before coming down to the store to check availability.
Leading a Culture Shift – Some expressed a desire to use it as a transformative moment in the company, to shake up an older or more established order and bring in new thinking and appeal to the next generation of worker.
To help successfully manage these issues and cross the digital divide, we recommended roundtable attendees consider the following to prepare themselves for the transition:
- Create a strategy for a digital world, not just a digital strategy.
A strategy for a digital world should address all aspects of your business, and be informed by your vision of the future of your market or industry in the medium to long-term. This strategy should include all the primary functions of your firm and have a leadership or governance structure to help guide it. Setting up an organization and governance structure isn’t easy but it is worth the effort. This will give you a template and structure for managing change in the future when the next wave of disruption comes, as well as a team that starts to think about the challenges from many different perspectives.
- Build digital DNA into the work you do.
Start by looking at your teams and figuring out how to break down silos, get them to work more collaboratively and have regular sessions where they are sharing thoughts, ideas, challenges and concerns. Look for ways to augment processes done by people with technology, rather than ways to replace people with technology. . Promote smaller changes more frequently and start to increase the tempo of the organization, rather than dropping it all on their head at one time. Expect the process to be a journey, and not a destination.
- Develop a technology infrastructure and modern application platform that enables and harnesses the exciting capabilities of the last several years.
So much about enabling richer engagement and customer experience begins or ends with technology. Examples of new capabilities companies are starting to integrate into their businesses include: machine learning, artificial intelligence, cloud applications, big data and high performance architecture. Build some internal competency in skill areas that will enable you to create a leaner, more adaptable and secure technology foundation for the company. Make it a priority to keep it refreshed and replenished through training and development of employees.
- Build employee engagement to develop internal champions who can be part of the company’s success.
Engaging employees begins by bringing them inside the process of discussing and solving the company’s strategy for a digital world. Building champions within departments, investing in training and making them part of the design and implementation are key.
Digital isn’t the answer: it is the question we are being asked to solve. Many companies that are struggling to find the answer today have business models that predate many of the technology and business models that have evolved over the last 10 years. Ignoring legacy infrastructure and processes isn’t an option for most companies, but digital also doesn’t have to be a frightening or disruptive experience to companies that plan accordingly.