Digital transformation and the evolving role of people management

Organizations are pursuing bigger and faster digital transformations, accelerated by pandemic times and the rise of hybrid workplaces. You, as managers, must also sustain the human side of the equation—supporting employees as they leverage new technology, and ensuring it works for them.

Digital transformation makes organizations more competitive: improving customer service and productivity, facilitating hybrid work, and fostering greater agility. But the technologies that enable hybrid work have developed more rapidly than many people and organizations can adapt.

Such rapid transformation can be challenging for staff and require you to do more—to embrace your humanity, build empathy, and even show vulnerability to ensure digital transformation works for everyone.

Most organizational changes that come with digital transformation can fit into three baskets:

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

Changing work

Digital transformation is not about replacing people with technologies; it’s about leveraging technology to do more. It should inspire you to take a fresh look at work, skills, and processes.

Digital transformations will require you and your team to think and behave differently in response to new challenges and opportunities. Some workers will find machine-augmented work helps them produce greater value. But as machines do more, people will be reassigned to the more complex tasks at which humans excel: teaching, interpreting, designing, creating, problem-solving, and influencing others.

Even within digital meeting platforms, we’re discovering entirely new ways to work together—breakout rooms, privacy features, display features, and collaborative tools that can make virtual meetings as seamless as an in-person brainstorm.

Organizations are also leveraging more humancentric technology. Natural language processing, AI, and machine learning can provide human scale insights into your organization’s efficiency and the technology that drives it.

Meanwhile, you will need to identify skills gaps and fill new roles to meet the demands of new work processes. Provide training and skills development for existing staff, focusing on independence, creative thinking, and adaptability.

Changing demands on management

Embracing digital technology means you must work harder to convey empathy and humanity as you manage both in person and through digital channels. How are your employees coping with new technology? Are they experiencing the same camaraderie, collaboration, and meaningful contact? Or do virtual meetings end abruptly when the agenda has been covered?

Even organizations with an inclusive culture may have to consider new ways of preserving those hard-won elements. Are those who have the best Internet connections contributing more during online meetings? Are team members who are physically present more likely to be heard? Managers like you need to navigate these new situations fairly.

While IT departments strengthen cyber security defenses, you must strengthen the human side of security, where data breaches often occur. Help people identify real or potential cyber threats.

Recognize digital privacy as an issue distinct from security. Understand what digital privacy means for employees, clients, and customers, and ensure everyone’s needs and actions mesh with organizational policies and best practice.

Changing management systems and structures

Hybrid work models require you to learn new protocols. For example, in the absence of in-person supervision, you must develop new, transparent, and non-invasive methods to assess performance.

Create robust processes that allow team members to learn and adapt. Learn to recognize and champion the value of independence, creative thinking, and adaptability.

You and your team must become more open and vulnerable with one another to help identify, adapt to, and overcome challenges and potential weaknesses in new technologies. Encourage resilience, experimentation, feedback, flexibility, and empathy in interactions. These qualities are often new and uncomfortable in the workplace at first, but they’re essential to success.

Addressing revolutionary shifts in your workplace through individual policies and new management practices isn’t always possible. Often, they represent an opportunity to seek organizational change.

How can managers address the challenges of digital transformation?

Faced with such challenges, you may be wondering where to start. Third-party advisors can help by examining issues through different lenses and providing structural guidance to address each one.

A skilled advisor can help you:

  • Assess how new digital capabilities affect your overall employee experience, people strategy, and work processes.
  • Analyze and recommend changes to organizational structure, management practices, and talent strategies.
  • Review and develop cybersecurity strategies that support the human side of the security challenge, thus helping team members learn what kinds of attacks they’re most vulnerable to, and how to prevent them.
  • Develop an inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility strategy that encompasses and optimizes your digital transformation.

From changing systems to systemic change

While revolutionary, digital technologies have only solved the simpler problems of getting work done. The more complex challenges involve developing better ways of collaborating and growing individuals and teams to achieve
organizational success.

Curtis Adair is a Partner with MNP’s Advisory Services group in Regina. Curtis is a strategic leader with more than two-and-a-half decades of demonstrated results helping organizations achieve greater success by driving transformational change and enabling information technology and system implementations.

Curtis Adair, Partner
MNP Regina