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Digital transformation has been creeping across the business universe for years. However, the COVID-19 pandemic gave it an unexpected boost. McKinsey & Company estimates that during the first few months of the pandemic, digital transformation progressed by approximately seven years.

But the journey is far from over. Digital transformation happens quickly, but it doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, the vast majority of enterprises are still working on completing and/or extending their digital gains. Many are encountering unexpected obstacles as they try to consolidate their digital revolution. Often is often because they’ve made a mistake in their focus, concentrating on the digital tools rather than on the people in the organization.

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Every digital transformation inevitably includes new digital channels like apps, bots, and tech platforms. However, it’s first and foremost about the people who use them.

Digital Culture Begins with People

For years, consultants and thought leaders have been trying to educate executives about the importance of culture in digital transformation. A digital transformation extends far beyond the tech, and it can’t succeed without the right mindset.

You could have an organization that’s chock full of cool digital tools. But if it’s persisting with the same top-down, compartmentalized corporate culture, it’s not really digitally transformed. Digital transformation requires the breaking down of boundaries between teams. In this way, data, insights, and processes can flow freely across the organization. Digitally aligned companies have a non-hierarchical structure that’s almost flat. These organizations empower employees to spot issues and take the initiative themselves.

Because a digital culture requires so much more cooperation and collaboration, it also demands a high degree of trust between everyone in the enterprise. And that comes down to human relationships. Your people need to be ready and willing to work together, sharing ideas and discoveries and removing silos between departments and teams.

Digital Tools Are Used by Human Beings

On the very simplest level, if you can’t educate employees about your digital transformation, all your digital toys will go unused and your investment will be wasted. People usually dislike change. There’s a natural human tendency to ignore unfamiliar digital workflows and processes in favor of the approach they’re familiar with.

Even if employees accept the new apps you provide, you want to be sure they’ll get their full value from them. You don’t want people continuing to track their assignments on a spreadsheet and just copying them over to your project management platform whenever they complete them. That’s a waste of time and effort.

For a true digital transformation, all employees need to be both able AND willing to adopt digital work practices. In other words, they need to allow them to take over their most time-consuming and mind-numbing tasks. This will leave them free to focus on revenue-driving activities instead.

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Confused Employees Are Not Productive

It’s extremely unlikely that all your workers are digital natives. In fact, they may well be bewildered and overwhelmed by the new digital workflows, different protocols, and unexpected ways of working. Even people who use shopping apps and banking portals might not be prepared for complex project management systems or data visualizations.

Inevitably, you’re going to see some confusion during the earliest stages of your digital transformation. However, when you concentrate on your people, you’ll be able to keep that to a minimum. You don’t want to lose domain knowledge expertise because employees are so overwhelmed by the new ways of doing things that they go elsewhere.

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Take the time to introduce changes gradually. Look for digital training platforms that support employees with embedded suggestions, popup wizards, and guided demos. This will give them confidence over the new tools.

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Inappropriate Expectations Can Disrupt Your Company’s Digital Transformation

One of the biggest handicaps for any endeavor is that of unrealistic expectations. You need your employees to believe that digital transformation will bring value once they become familiar with it. You also need them to realize that digitalization isn’t a magic bullet that will cure all their work-related frustration.

If your workforce doesn’t accept the benefits of a digital transformation, they’ll be working against you at every turn. They will ignore new tools and frustrate your hard work. You can’t impose a digital culture from the top down. You need buy-in from all your employees.

At the same time, if people aren’t aware of the challenges and difficulties that they’re going to encounter along the way, they’ll be disappointed when some of their biggest gripes about work persist even after digitalization. You need to foster positive, but realistic, expectations about your new processes.

Machines Can’t Replace Humans

Despite widespread fears, the digital revolution isn’t going to replace human employees with robots. Enterprises can and should automate the most tedious, tricky, and time-consuming tasks. However, that shouldn’t result in widespread layoffs and terminations.

Consumers, partners, and B2B buyers alike want human relationships. This means deploying people, not machines. Getting carried away with the digital will drive away customers who miss the human touch.

Instead, digital transformation should free up employee time for more customer interactions. Meanwhile it should also give them the data-driven insights they need to hold personalized, unified conversations with every customer.

Digital Transformation Begins with Human Change

Organizations that ignore the human element of their digital transformation do so at their peril. Employees are the bricks of your digital culture. They need to both know how and want to use your new tools to their fullest extent. If your digital transformation focuses more on machines than on people, you’ll find yourself losing customers who want warmer relationships. Additionally, you could lose employees who can’t understand their new workflows. Eventually, you could even lose revenue.

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