Preparing for future transformation: lessons from 2020

By Chris Underwood
Chris Underwood looks back at the year that was to see what we can learn from it about digital transformation for the future...

The coronavirus pandemic has been the ultimate Black Swan event for businesses but what are the lessons leaders can take to ensure they don’t waste this crisis? 

Crises and periods of extreme circumstances provide learning opportunities, helping organisations to develop best practice when planning future digital transformation and change activities. This year has taught us a lot about the very nature of disruption and the unpredictable ways it can affect our working environments, leading us to rethink how we can better prepare for our own transformation projects and reset expectations of how much change can be achieved.  

Use 2020 data

The information collected in a period of change or uncertainty is extremely valuable when assessing business resilience and planning for the future. Effective data management strategies set goals and ask specific questions of the data, such as: how can we increase revenue? how can we increase productivity? and how can we improve the customer journey? 

Operations data, industry trends, customer and staff feedback collated from 2020 will highlight where the biggest gains can be made, helping organisations to prioritise improvements and investment. Leaders will also be able to compare pre- and post-pandemic operations and identify which changes made out of necessity should remain, be revoked or be adapted to reap further efficiencies. The organisations who had already invested in technology and digital processes were able to transition to remote operations far quicker and more smoothly than those who hadn’t and are accelerating their adoption of new technology capability in AI and automation. The business case for future technology investment and the importance of keeping an up to date, secure and resilient estate has been made a thousand times over.

Cultivating empathy in the workplace

Particularly in the early days of the pandemic, a culture of kindness emerged particularly in the workplace. Video conferencing gave us a direct window into our colleagues’ homes, enabling us to understand more about their domestic situation and develop a mutual concern for mental health and wellbeing. As a result, many HR teams reported employee engagement in 2020 grew, giving them vital channels of communication to support future transformation. 

Leadership always plays a central role in building workplace cultures and organisations will rely on. As the future workplace looks set to be a hybrid of remote and office-based working, and greater adoption of automation and AI technologies, investment in building online communities and communication networks will strengthen. Equally, leaders with emotional intelligence (EQ) in leaders will become highly prized. As organisations recognise their reliance on leaders at all levels, to support staff wellbeing and engagement throughout 2020 and its effect on motivation and productivity. 

Perfect the art of storytelling

Effective communication is integral to a smooth transition. In order to secure buy in from stakeholders and to garner team support to implement the changes, leaders must be able to share their vision for success. To build trust and confidence, great communicators adapt their style for different audiences, contexts, situations and scenarios

Listening skills are often an overlooked part of the communication skillset but are integral to the successful adoption of new ways of working. Constructing a narrative that builds the vision and takes the workforce on the transformation journey to the end state, maintains motivation and engagement though the hard yards of change. As part of this, they must feel that their concerns and ideas are considered, and their knowledge contributes to overall gains. 

Resilient agility

The one thing this year has taught us, is that you cannot always predict disruption. Businesses will not necessarily be able to equip employees with the exact skills and technology needed to navigate the next disruptive event. Developing leaders with a resilient agility – the flexibility to adapt to new challenges combined with the grit, fortitude and composure to see tasks through – will support organisations through periods of rapid change and uncertainty. These leaders are able to remain focused on delivery but are able to shift course to suit evolving environments. 

The speed with which organisations have adapted during the pandemic has completely redefined what is possible for future transformation. Agile leaders can facilitate accelerated timelines, implementing change quickly.

Final thoughts

This year has highlighted the integral and unifying role that technology plays across organisations. Between global events and technological advancement and adoption, change in the workplace is inevitable, and it is essential for businesses to stay abreast of new developments and emerging digital business models to secure their future in this disruptive world. 

Transformation should be approached holistically, with an understanding of how it will impact the whole organisation, from individual roles and customer experiences to broader external perceptions. Technology and data teams touch every part of the business so are poised to assess different operating processes and ways of working. Leaders can wield this information to break down siloed working and create opportunities to deliver more, building business value and ensuring survival. At the same time, they can anticipate how disruption will affect particular functions and teams to pre-empt potential barriers to deliver a smooth rollout. 

Chris Underwood is MD at Adastrum Consulting


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