It is predicted that companies will spend $1.7 trillion in 2019 on ‘digital transformation’ – so it must be important.
And because it’s important, and because people are spending so much money on it, you can’t pop into a Board Meeting these days without being asked about whether your digital transformation strategy is working. And so people put ‘digital measures’ in place, and track them on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis. Measuring their digital transformation in the same way as they’d measure or assess any other project, initiative or programme.
This is all well and good, except it suffers from the same issue as the 90% of digital transformation projects that fail. It leaves out the people.
At Freeformers, we often say that we do the people part of digital transformation.
We work on a relative prosaic definition of digital transformation, with a focus on the ultimate impact. We suggest that the change a business can expect to see from digital transformation = new technology x new ways of working. You can introduce all the new tech you want, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, blockchain, VR, you name it, but if people don’t change the way they’re acting and working, you’ll never see the benefits.
And that’s what we focus on – how do you help people to have the confidence and capability to think, act and work differently? How can you help people to take advantage of new tools and technologies to improve business performance, and indeed improve their own happiness at work? How do you make technology in business work for everyone? And how do you know if what you’re doing is actually helping?
We believe the people part of digital transformation is important for three main reasons. Firstly, it is investing in the long term – today’s transformation is yesterday’s Blackberry Messenger. By giving your people the confidence to change, you are investing in those future transformations that aren’t even visible yet on the horizon. And secondly, because we’d rather there was a future of work where people were happy, confident and productive, than one where there’s a relentless focus on automating tasks and cutting costs, to the point of absurdity. What’s the point?
Thirdly, our experience working with organisations from across every sector is that it really is the people that make the difference. Of course you can set aside digital transformation examples where you’re moving a bunch of physical servers onto the cloud to save money and increase flexibility – take as read here that we’re not talking about infrastructure changes but changes to products and services for customers, or new tools, systems or processes for staff. In those latter two examples, it is people’s ability to act differently in new situations that is the difference between success and failure.
This is of course where Freeformers come in from a practical sense – we impact and measure people’s confidence in using new digital tools and technologies. Through our advocate-led combination of face-to-face and online learning, we give people the foundation in the skills they need for the future and, most importantly, the mindset they need to want to keep learning.
To address the deliberately provocative word in the title of this blog, what do we mean by ‘better’? This comes back to that core belief of ours – that people are worth investing in. We believe that if we can prove that investing in people is good for them and good for business performance, then we can work more companies to give more people the capability confidence and opportunity to earn a meaningful living now and in the future.
So by better, we are again using a relatively common sense definition – better able to contribute to their company’s performance. And more comfortable dealing with change, better able to learn new things and more confident in their own future.
So how do you go about measuring these things? How do you see if people are changing the way they think? Are they happier and better able to contribute to their own futures and that of their organisation?
Freeformers use an approach that breaks down change into four parts. Each of these elements can be measured, reviewed and improved but, crucially, it is the combination of the four that gives you a real insight into what’s happening:
Mindset is the desire to want to do something. The knowledge that a certain skill, approach or way of working is important, and the desire and ability to improve it. Skills are the tangible capabilities that enable you to do certain things. Can someone use an app, visualise a dataset etc? These skills are important enablers, but they run out quickly – even more quickly now than they did before due to the rate of technological innovation and change.
Behaviour is the actual doing of something – just because you want to and can, doesn’t always mean people actually do. You need the right mindset and the right skills in order to act, but those actions are measurable in and of themselves. If it appears as though your people have the right mindset and skills, but still aren’t acting in the way you would like them to, there are likely some other structural issues at play. And finally, impact is the end result that you expected to see as a result of the change you are instigating. Are more customers using your digital tools? Are you making more money? Are more customers giving you higher satisfaction scores?
Freeformers measure a change in Mindset using our Future Workforce Model. Existing measurement frameworks fail to provide accurate and useful pictures of people’s potential in work. Freeformers have developed a set of 12 attributes which all individuals will require in order to be employable, successful and productive in the future.
They are not ‘digital skills’, but ‘skills for a digital future’ (Resilience, Productivity, Verbal Communications etc). Behind each of these attributes are a set of questions which uncover how people think – how do people perceive themselves in relation to these core attributes and how does that compare to how others perceive them (triangulation)?
There are two particularly interesting elements to look at here. Number one, is an absolute score – compared to our benchmarks, how do people score on the questions we use to assess their future readiness? But beyond that, it is even more important to look at change over time – how do people’s Future Workforce Model (FWM) scores change as the result of a learning intervention, change programme or life event?
This change over time, and the perceived self-efficacy of an individual in influencing that change over time, is the real indicator of whether someone is more ready to take on changes in the future. The faster and more sustained the change, the better they are becoming – the more ready to deal with uncertainty.
It is of course also efficacious to measure specific skills. Freeformers talk about the half-life of skills – the time they take to stop being relevant (you may think you know everything about how to use Word until your company moves to Office 365). There are various ways to measure skills – from your traditional compliance-based tests to something more exciting involving badges and levels – gamifying the process.
You can partner with external organisations to accredit your staff, playing into the traditional model of conformity-based learning. I say that with what is deliberately a loaded tone, but am also keen to stress the benefits here – your people do need a way of proving that they are getting better, a transferable something that others will agree with.
Measuring skills and giving people a way to prove that they have certain attainments has long been the route to higher pay and new job opportunities. What Freeformers are advocating however, is a shift towards viewing mindset and future capability as even more important. What i don’t know how to do today, I can learn tomorrow, what I don’t want to do today, I’m never going to try.
This is also why behaviours are an interesting and important part of the measurement mix. Looking at how people act not just what they say can be much more revealing. The issue here is that it can all get quite Orwellian. It could be great to track the words people are using in their emails – more positive sentiment analysis around that Office 365 roll out?
That’s good news. It could be great to track how often people are logging onto non-work websites, using that as a measure of employee engagement. All really interesting, but arguably creating more data noise than is helpful, and leading us down a path that is increasingly seeing a very legitimate public backlash.
Which is why, when we partner with organisations, we focus on looking at behaviours that lead to positive outcomes, and try to increase those, rather than decrease negative behaviours. How much self-learning are people doing? Perhaps we don’t look at completion of compliance-learning, perhaps we look at how many people logged in to the optional library of interesting content? Or how many people volunteered for that community event on the weekend? How many people in a team were able to take all their holiday while still delivering a year on year increase in sales?
That’s when behaviours are particularly interesting, when they are correlated with an impact. Ultimately, the whole point is to show that something positive is happening at the end of all of this. For many organisations, this will one or both of the big two – increased revenue, decreased costs. We’re under no illusion that the world of business is going to suddenly start giving greater credence to its people than its profits.
That’s OK, that’s not necessarily what businesses are about (although you could argue that is precisely what they should be about). If you can correlate behaviours with other measures of impact – customer NPS, staff engagement scores, decreased turnover, increased speed to competence – you can start to paint a picture of an organisation that is ‘better’ because its people are happier, more productive and more confident.
Combining these four elements, using the Future Workforce Model as an underlying score that provides individuals and and organisations with a view of their digital readiness, and combining that with more traditional business metrics, you are able to paint a picture of people investment leading to better business performance.
At Freeformers, whenever we undertake a pilot with a new client, we always insist on a pilot group. Reviewing all of the metrics we have discussed here with a group who are receiving none of our learning content and advocacy model. By doing this, we isolate the impact of our programmes, genuinely showing that we are making a difference. And, surprise surprise, we always do.
Which, I suppose brings us back to the idea of why we’re doing all this in the first place? If we can agree that, as a rule, we’d rather more people in our organisation were happy at work, productive for themselves and for the business as a whole, then there are a bunch of short term things we can look at to see if we’re doing things that are helping in the short term.
But f you really want to see if people are getting better, if they are getting ‘more able to adapt to new tasks and roles’, then you need to look at a few more things all in conjunction with one another.
Freeformers are trying to impact and measure that people change. If we can prove that people change = positive business change, we believe we can release more investment in people around the world. That would certainly make things better.
Find out how much you could save your business on Digital Transformation here.
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