Hays UK jobs and employment blog


Why people are the key to the success of your digital transformation efforts

By Simon Winfield, Managing Director, Hays UK & Ireland



Below is a transcript of the podcast:

Digital technology is undeniably having a huge impact on both society and the workplace, generating unprecedented and constant change. It also brings potentially endless opportunities for organisations to innovate and outperform their competitors – but only if they are able to effectively overcome the barriers they face in doing so.

One important, yet often underestimated barrier in successfully exploiting all the benefits technology can bring, is people. So, today, I’m joined by Simon Winfield, Managing Director of Hays UK & Ireland, to discuss how leaders can address the ‘people element’ of their digital transformation efforts.

1) Before we begin, it would be great if you could introduce to yourself to our listeners

Thanks Megan, I’m Simon Winfield and I’m the Managing Director of Hays UK & Ireland. I joined Hays in 2006, having started my recruitment career in 1993.

I was initially responsible for our businesses in Western Australia and Northern Territory in Australia, I relocated back to the UK in 2014 and took responsibility for our operations in the West & Wales and then more latterly Ireland, before being appointed Managing Director of the UK & Ireland business in 2018.

I was also appointed as a Corporate Director onto the Recruitment & Employment Confederation Councilearlier this year.

2) The topic of today’s podcast is all about digital transformation. Before we start, I thought it would be useful to clarify for our listeners what exactly we mean by digital transformation, as well as other words associated with the term, such as automation and human value?

Yes, it’s a great place to start – all the terms and buzzwords out there can be really quite confusing.

But, I think it’s important that all of us, not just those working in IT or technology, understand what they mean. After all, technology is prolific in the world of work and generating constant change, which will impact all of us, if it’s not already.

Let’s start with the term ‘digital transformation’ – essentially, it’s the acceleration of activities and processes to fully leverage the changes and opportunities provided by digital technology. George Westerman of Massachusetts Institute of Technology defines it well – he says, “Digital transformation marks a radical rethinking of how an organisation uses technology, people and processes to fundamentally change businesses performance.”

Next, another commonly used term is ‘automation’. Automation is an alternative to manual processing – it is the creation of technology and its application in order to control or operate a process automatically. An example of this is the fact that in sales and marketing, sales and marketing professionals now have access to automated lead generation software. So, thanks to technology, the process of collecting leads and fielding them to the business doesn’t need to be manual anymore. Another great example is the use of text-mining technology by lawyers to read through extensive and large documents.

I think lastly, when commentators speak about digital transformation, the term ‘human value’ is often used. Human value is the application of people’s competencies, their skills and their experience to a do a job and individual tasks. In the digital age, the skills and competencies we have as humans will become even more important. Qualities such as adaptability and curiosity are going to play a key part in ensuring the success of digital transformation projects. So, the value we can add as humans has never been more important in today’s world of work.

3) In reality, I’m sure many leaders would say that they are just at the start of their digital transformation journey. Obviously, making the right technology decisions is incredibly important – but what else should leaders be thinking about at this stage, in order to ensure their digital transformation efforts are a success?

Yes, I’d agree with you in that most businesses are just at the start of their digital transformation journeys. In fact, in our recent survey, we surveyed over 14,500 people in the UK, we found that 70% stated they are investing in automation. So, organisations are starting to make some significant investment in their technology and supporting infrastructure, which is obviously promising and a step in the right direction.

But I think many would argue that the real challenge when it comes to successful digital transformation and automation isn’t just the technology – the people play a massive part as well.

So, in answer to your question, leaders should be thinking the ‘people element’ of digital transformation, about how they can build a culture that is open to change and how they can upskill and develop their people in the right way, and also how they can ensure they are hiring for the right skills to ensure success now and in the future.

Essentially, if you ignore the ‘people part’ of digital transformation, your more likely that your efforts are going to fail.

4) Ok, so you mentioned culture, why is this so important in driving digital change? How can the right culture help a business embrace change and facilitate innovation?

The culture of a business is going to have a huge impact on the effectiveness, speed and ultimately the success of its digital transformation efforts.

Broadly speaking and looking at our research, it seems that most employees believe that automation within the workplace should be embraced. But, to really drive change, your entire business and everyone in it must be mobilised to deliver the change. Every member of staff should understand why the change is happening, what it means for them and the part they will play in its rollout and the delivery.

A big part of making sure this happens is obviously clear internal communication – communicating to the relevant people at the right times with clear messages, which help them understand to shift their mindset and approach. In fact, McKinsey found that IT leaders who communicate with their staff across every level of the organisation are eight times more likely to run successful transformation project than those that do not.

So, clearly communication of the objectives of the project with your staff, and importantly, ensure that your senior management team are not only bought in, but they are visibly and actively engaged in it.

The impact of employee’s day-to-day roles also have got to be very clearly explained – clearly explain what the technology is, emphasising the benefits that it will bring them in enabling them to spend more time to focus on higher-value tasks and further develop their skills.

Ultimately, leaders need to build a culture that is open to change – one that embraces rather than shies away from change. And a big part of that is feeling comfortable with allowing your employees to try something new, potentially fail, but use the learnings to drive projects forward.

5) It sounds as if embedding a ‘test and learn’ environment is important here – do you think leaders need to change the way they approach to failure and risk-taking?

Definitely, with all of this technological change, comes a lot of unknowns. So, without a ‘test and learn’ mindset in their organisations, leaders are potentially setting themselves up to fail. Without testing, how are we going to know which technology is right for our businesses? And without being able to implement new changes quickly, organisations will be forever behind the curve. A test and learn environment allows you to implement change and optimise it along the way, but it does need people to be agile enough to be able to adapt.

So, leaders need to shift the culture and mindsets of their organisations to start seeing failure differently so that innovation and creativity are encouraged and employees are willing to collaborate and provide some feedback.

I think failure should be seen as an opportunity to learn and employees need to be ‘given permission to fail’. They need to feel comfortable and supported in taking calculated risks.

6) Our CEO Alistair Cox has written on his LinkedIn Influencer blog about the importance of building a growth mindset culture – do you think this is also important in times of change such as these?

Without a doubt, according to Stanford University Psychologist, Carol Dweck, a growth mindset is all about believing you can develop your existing skills and learn new ones with practice and effort. However, those with a fixed mindset tend to believe that their skills are relatively fixed and can’t be changed or improved.

So, I think helping your employees feel comfortable and confident in taking on new, unfamiliar tasks proactively, such as working with a new piece of technology, is critical to success.

Ultimately helping your employees to adopt a growth mindset will help them feel more comfortable tackling projects that are out of their comfort zone, all the time approaching their work with a focus on learning and continuous improvement.

As Alistair says in his blog, if your employees are fixed in their mindsets, then there’s a risk that your business will be too and that’s a scary place to be.

7) Which skills do you think are most important in ensuring successful digital transformation efforts?

Skills are another absolutely vital human element of successful digital transformation – without the right skills in place, your going to struggle to make the progress you’re looking for.

However, it seems as though most employers lack access to the right skills to make the best use of automation technology. Worryingly, from our research, we’ve found over half of employers in the UK expect a lack of skills from current staff to be their top barrier for automation integration, and I’m sure it’s the same picture across the rest of the world.

Many employers also don’t believe they have the right skills in their business to allow them to exploit technology to the full. And this is echoed by employees, who say they do not believe they are receiving the support they need from their employer to effectively prepare for automation in their workplace.

It’s therefore really important that leaders tackle this issue head on and make every effort to understand which skills are going to be most important, and, importantly, put measures in place to help their existing employees to upskill in the right areas.

The implementation of automation enables employees to leave behind the more administrative side of their roles, and instead, more time adding human value, and applying their soft skills to their work.

Therefore, soft skills – skills such as problem-solving and communication – become even more important and in even greater demand. In fact, from our research, we found that critical thinking, communication, people management, emotional intelligence are ranked as the top soft skills employers are facing a shortage of within their existing teams, and certainly when hiring.

And, when it comes to technical skills, the top three skills shortages employers said they were facing within their existing teams and when hiring, were project management, change management and data analysis.

8) So, it sounds like embedding a culture of learning is crucial?

Definitely, the culture and mindset piece is absolutely key. To plug skills gaps and really see success with your digital transformation and automation efforts, a culture of learning must be embedded into the business.

The key to this is understanding that each employee will learn differently, some will prefer structured, classroom type learning, others will prefer more bite-size, self-directed learning. There isn’t a one-size-fits all approach. However, according to a LinkedIn study, most prefer to learn at their own pace, and to learn at the point of need.

Also, linking to what I said earlier – I think it’s important that employers feel they are able to make mistakes and take risks. Employees should understand that this is all part of learning.

What is really important is that your employees feel that you are personally committed to their development, not just because of the financial benefit to the company, but because you want to see them grow and develop. And this will help them be more proactive in seeking out training opportunities internally, but also further commit to their own learning outside of the workplace.

9) And how can employers encourage their employees to really take ownership of their own learning and development?

Yes, that’s an interesting question and whilst, of course, employers have a key part to play in ensuring their employees have the right soft and technical skills to ensure the success of a digital transformation project, I think we’d all agree that the responsibility doesn’t just lie there.

In order to really future-proof their employability, it’s important that employees understand that a personal commitment to their learning and development is absolutely key.

After all, due to the rate of change, skills gaps are going to occur more often, and therefore, employees must be proactive and get into the habit of learning, and seeking out new learning opportunities.

So, in answer to your question, I think there a number of things listeners can do to help employees commit to their own lifelong learning:

  • Firstly, role model lifelong learning yourself – take time out to attend networking efforts, listen to a webinar or a podcast, and share what you’ve learnt with your team
  • Secondly, give them the right tools – the degree to which self-directed learning is a success will depend on the tools you give employees. So, try to provide access to micro-learning portals, tools that they can dip in and out of as and when they need to.
  • And lastly, think about incentivising lifelong learning – for instance, think about providing a yearly training allowance for each employee.

10) Lastly, onto hiring and recruitment – why is finding and attracting the right talent so important to ensuring successful digital transformation efforts?

Simply put, without securing a strong pipeline of skills and talent coming into your business, you may struggle to sustain your digital transformation efforts in the long-run.

However, worryingly, from our research it seems that few employers seem to be adapting their recruitment strategy as part of their organisations investment in automation.

In our What Workers Want research, only about half of workers say an investment in digital transformation would enhance the appeal of a prospective employer, yet only a quarter of organisations say they promote their investment when recruiting. What a missed opportunity!

In my view, this could lead to the implementation of their automation efforts to falter and possibly fail entirely. After all, your people are the engine room of your digital transformation efforts.

11) And should listeners focus on recruiting for technical skills or is hiring for attitude also important?

I’d say listeners should recruit new candidates based on their attitude and willingness to learn, rather than simply their qualifications, skills and experience.

The idea to find a balance between technical and soft skills when hiring, which will put professionals in good stead to adapt to technological change – both now and in the future. As I said earlier, the soft skills to look out for include critical thinking, communication and emotional intelligence.

Finding candidates with an open mindset towards change is also essential. To do so will likely demand a change in the way hiring is undertaken, looking into new talent pools and considering different recruitment channels and new technologies to find and engage those who have the right attitude towards change.

If employers are able to get the balance right between hiring for technical and soft skills, then they’ll be able to reap the potential rewards more quickly, including improved productivity, efficiencies, cost savings and new opportunities to add some more human value.

12) Now for those employers who have made steady progress on their technology journey, would you recommend they communicate or weave this into their employer brand strategy in order to help attract the right talent?

Employees want to work for an organisation that is investing in technology. 14% say it is absolutely vital in a prospective employer. Therefore, I’d say employers should actively promote their digital transformation initiatives and investments in automation to prospective candidates.

Employers should promote this at key points along the hiring process, ranging from job ads to the interview stage.

13)  And finally, and this is a question we ask all of our podcast guests, what do you think are the top three qualities that make a good leader?

That’s a good question, and it’s a tricky one because there is probably more than three I think, but I would certainly put it down to good communication skills, being able to articulate a really clear vision with the business and a roadmap for the future where they are going and the direction of travel.

I think secondly, I would say leading from the front and not being afraid and very clearly not being afraid to do the job and get hands on and stuck in when you need to. And I think thirdly, be brave you know we’ve talked a lot about digital transformation today and the impact that’s having on the world of work and I think we’ve got to be brave in the decisions we make and some of the things we do and take those calculated risks and not be afraid sometimes to get it wrong and go again.

To discover further insights into how automation is impacting jobs and the steps you can take to prepare, request your copy of the Hays What Workers Want Report 2019.

About this author

Simon joined Hays in 2006, having commenced his recruitment career in 1993. Initially responsible for our businesses in Western Australia and Northern Territory, Simon relocated to the UK in 2014 where he was responsible for our operations in the West & Wales and Ireland, before being appointed Managing Director of the UK & Ireland business in 2018.


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