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Digital transformation and the evolving role of people management

March 14, 2022

Digital transformation and the evolving role of people management

Synopsis
4 Minute Read

New technologies are redefining what it means to contribute, create value, and empower teams to succeed.

With organizations pursuing bigger and faster digital transformations, accelerated by pandemic times and the rise of the hybrid workplace, managers must also support the human side of the equation — ensuring employees feel supported to leverage new technology, and that new technology works for them.

Digital transformation has made organizations more competitive: improving customer service and productivity while facilitating hybrid work models and allowing for greater agility and adaptability. But the technologies that enable hybrid or remote work have developed so rapidly over the past two years, many people and organizations have not been as quick to adapt.

Such a rapid transformation can impose challenges on its members and require managers to do more — to embrace their humanity, become more empathetic, and even expose their vulnerability to ensure digital transformation works for everyone.

Digital transformation is introducing any number of organizational changes, most of which can broadly fit into three baskets:

  • The changing nature of work itself
  • The changing nature of demands on managers
  • Changing management systems and structures

Let’s review each category in detail, and especially the role managers play in helping their teams skillfully embrace change, navigate the challenges, and reap the benefits of digital transformation.

How is digital transformation changing work?

Digital transformation is not so much about replacing people with digital technologies as leveraging machines and software to do more. It should inspire leaders to take a fresh look at work, skills, and new and different ways of working.

It may be necessary for team members to think and act differently or evolve their behaviours in response to the changes and opportunities that digital transformations create. Some workers will find themselves producing greater value through machine-augmented work. But as machines do more, so will people who are reassigned to the more complex tasks at which humans excel — such as teaching, interpreting, designing, creating, problem-solving, and influencing others.

Even within digital meeting platforms, users are beginning to discover entirely new ways of working together. They’re discovering breakout rooms, privacy features, display features, and collaborative tools that can help make working remotely as effective as getting everyone inside a meeting room to develop an idea on a whiteboard.

Organizations are also taking advantage of the trend toward more human-centric technology: for example, leveraging natural language processing, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to provide human-scale insights into the efficiency of the organization and the technology that drives it.

At the same time, managers will need to identify skills gaps and fill new roles to meet the demands of new ways of working. They will also need to provide appropriate training and skills development for existing workers — especially in the domains of independence, creative thinking, and adaptability.

How is digital transformation changing demands on management?

As organizations embrace digital technology, managers must strive to be more human and work harder to convey their humanity as they manage both in person and through digital channels.

Managers need to consider how employees are coping with new technology: Are they experiencing the same closeness, camaraderie, collaboration, and meaningful contact? Or do virtual meetings end abruptly when the last order of the agenda has concluded?

Even organizations that have successfully honed a culture of inclusiveness may have to consider new ways of preserving those hard-won elements. Are people who contribute more during an online meeting also those who have the best Internet connections? Do members who physically attend meetings find it easier to be heard than those who access remotely? Are remote systems designed to allow everyone to participate to the extent they did in person? These are all new situations that managers need to negotiate with fairness.

And while IT departments continue to provide passive security and strengthen cyber security defences, managers must continue to focus on the so-called last mile — strengthening the human side of security where data breaches often occur and helping people learn what is a real or a potential cyber threat.

Managers must also recognize the importance of digital privacy as an issue distinct from security. This includes understanding what digital privacy means for employees, clients, and customers, and ensuring the needs and actions of their teams mesh with organizational policies and best practice.

How is digital transformation changing management systems and structures?

Hybrid and remote work models are creating a need for management to learn new protocols. For example, in the absence of in-person supervision for autonomous work, managers must develop new and more transparent and non-invasive methods to assess performance. 

To maintain that balance, managers must develop good processes that allow team members to learn and adapt. As above, they must learn to recognize and champion the value of independence, creative thinking, and adaptability in a more digitally dominant environment.

Managers and team members will also need to be more open and vulnerable with one another to help identify — and collectively adapt to and overcome — personal challenges and potential weaknesses in new technologies. Here, it will be valuable to emphasize the need for resilience, experimentation, feedback, flexibility, and empathy in interactions. These qualities are often new to the workplace and not always comfortable at first, but they will be necessary to support the success of teams and whole organizations.

It’s not always possible to address revolutionary shifts in how work gets done through individual policies and the evolution of management practices. Often, they represent an opportunity to seek organizational change.

How can managers begin to address the challenges of digital transformation?

Faced with such challenges, managers may find it difficult to know which issues to address first. Third-party advisors can assist by examining issues through several different lenses and providing structural guidance to address each in kind.

Some areas where a skilled advisor may be able to provide support include:

  • Assess how digital capabilities you are intending to implement affect your overall employee experience, people strategy and different ways of getting work done
  • Analyze and make the changes needed to organizational structure, management practices, and talent strategies as your operating model evolves with digital capabilities
  • Review and develop cybersecurity strategies that support the human side of the security challenge to help team members become more aware of what they are personally most likely to fall victim to and how they can prevent that
  • Develop an inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility strategy that encompasses and optimizes your digital transformation and technological change

From changing systems to systemic change

While technology has enabled a revolutionary shift to remote and hybrid work over the past two years, these solutions have only solved the simpler problems of getting work done. The more complex challenges involve developing new and better ways of working together and growing people — as individuals and teams — to achieve organizational growth, reach goals, and drive better results.

How managers address these challenges and what they do over the next year are critical decisions that will determine the future of their organizations for years to come.

To learn more about how MNP can help your organization negotiate digital transformation or pursue organizational renewal, contact Len Nanjad, Partner, Organization Renewal, at [email protected].

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