(This is part 1 of a 3-part series on the role of L&D in digital transformations)
In our conversations with learning leaders, one thing is clear – everyone seems to be talking about the role L&D needs to play in helping organizations succeed in their digital transformation initiatives.
A key point to consider, however, is that, today, L&D is operating in unchartered territory. The newness and speed of change driven by digital disruption is putting pressure on the best of business leaders, and learning leaders are no different in this regard.
This blog series is inspired by these conversations, our observations and research in this space, with a view to share knowledge and best practices.
Part 1 of this series is focused on the most common blind spots that we feel L&D leaders are likely to experience. Part 2 will talk about some key areas where learning leaders need to upskill themselves. And finally, Part 3 will focus on best practices and ideas for learning leaders to bring about in their learning strategies.
Learning point #1:
The misconception that management has all the tools, knowledge, skills, time and resources to cascade the vision
- It is assumed that once the transformation strategy is defined, the management team is uniformly and consistently communicating the story down the line, and that they have the necessary capabilities and time to do so. That is not the case.
- This is a common misconception. I mean, these guys have a business to not only run, but transform at its core. Even if they have the capabilities, would they really have the time and energy to bring everyone on board. The resounding (and humane) answer is no. It’s our job as learning specialists to guide them in this regard.
- For a successful digital transformation, management requires new skills, a common language, focused approach to strategy cascading along with the support of change agents across the organization. The last one is particularly important - learning teams need to identify, assess and equip change champions to help cascade the message. This requires specific interventions to sensitize, develop mindsets and capabilities, and an execution plan for the change champions to deliver the goods.
Learning point #2:
“We’ve implemented it, they will adopt it”
- Adoption of new tools is not guaranteed unless the ‘what’s-in-it-for-them’ is spelt out clearly for employees (i.e. digital ways of working). Moreover, not all employees have the same learning agility to adopt the new way of working.
- The number of times I have had this conversation is not amusing. I have seen the sense of pride and satisfaction when I am talked through the amazing new initiatives being rolled out in the company. And within a quarter, a sense of frustration when none of the initiatives really get off the ground.
- Why does something like this happen? It’s deceptively simple to understand, and deceptively hard to execute. In most such cases, the “what’s in it for me” just doesn’t get established. So, amidst so much of change going in, this lands up as just another initiative.
- For a successful digital transformation, employees must be sensitized to the business context, made aware of their digital quotient, and provided specific training on topics such as how to make sense of data. I have heard of organizations spending 50% of their training hours dedicated to building context. I think that is an amazingly brave but extremely appropriate thing to do.
Learning point #3:
Incrementalism / lack of thinking at scale
- One reason is that companies tend to pilot the changes in smaller groups and then scale. While this seems like a lower risk approach, it not only slows down the speed of the initiative, but also prevents valuable insights and learning from across the organization to flow in at the right time
- Why would organizations and leaders tend to go slow with this? On the one hand, the business imperative is huge. On the other hand, there is extreme tentativeness regarding the new initiatives. Isn’t this natural? Of course, it is – why would you expose the organization to any risk when you don’t know the outcome. Unless, of course, this risk is lower than the overall risk the organization faces. Remember that only 16% of digital transformations are successful. Isn’t that reason enough to rethink the incremental approach?
- For successful transformations, there is a need for critical mass of learning coverage across the enterprise in a systematic and sustained fashion. Key skills required for growth and survival are no longer in question. It is up to the learning leaders to identify, prioritize and execute competencies based on the business needs (more of this in part 3 of the blog)
Learning point #4:
Mis-assessment of what it takes to change the hardwiring / core of the organization
- Most employees are married to the legacy business model. They don’t have a clear understanding of the economics of digital and tend to over-index on the usual competition.
- There is a complete inability to reimagine the workplace with a sense of urgency can be a huge hindrance to digital initiatives. And let’s face it – this is the largest change initiative being experienced by an entire generation. Yet, most organizations are slow to fathom the extent of change required in the hardwiring of the organization. So, on the one hand, there are organizations best classified as digital masters – paranoid, agile, anxious. And on the other extreme are the fence sitters. Its incredible how many of them actually exist. It is no surprise then that 50% of companies that existed on the Fortune 500 list have disappeared since 2000, thanks to digital.
- For successful transformations, organizations need to define new roles, capabilities and ways of working (e.g. being agile, rapid prototyping and failing fast, etc). Without these core changes, every new idea is going to face a huge wall of resistance from various parts of the organizations. Commonly heard statement – “How can we go agile when it takes 60 days to approve an idea, 100 days to get it off the ground, and the motivation to continue when there is complete lack of interest from my bosses”.
Needless to say, given the nature and pace of change, these learning points also need to evolve. These learning points highlight the challenges that organizations and leaders face in adapting to the digital way of working. Overriding these challenges is only the first step – they don’t guarantee success in digital transformation. Each level of the digital transformation process comes with its own challenges. Some of these are known while most are still in a state of blur. This is because we are still in the nascent stages of digital transformation.
What’s your experience in this regard? Please drop a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org - I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this topic.
Shobhit Mathur is Chief Business Officer at KNOLSKAPE. Shobhit is instrumental in ensuring that business is on a rapid growth track and delivering value to all our customers. He comes with over two decades of rich experience spanning business strategy, sales, marketing, and product management. Throughout his career, he has earned the trust of customers through successful business transformations. Shobhit is also the driving force behind KNOLSKAPE’s position as a thought leader in the talent transformation space.
- Part 2: Key Areas Where Learning Leaders Need to Upskill Themselves
- Part 3: Best Practices and Learning Ideas for Learning Leaders to Implement