Digital transformation represents the efforts enterprises and organizations undertake to transform their services, product offering, as well as customer and employee experience leveraging the latest technological evolutions.
Digital transformation is about using digital technologies to improve an organization’s bottom line. It is not just about increasing profits; it’s also about improving customer satisfaction, employee productivity, and innovation. By embracing digital technologies, businesses can create a more efficient and productive workplace while also satisfying customer demand for digital experiences.
In this article, I talk about how cultivating a culture of innovation can help organizations during their digital transformation journeys. This article builds on my vast experience and expertise in digital and financial transformation projects that I have built through my career at a major Oil and Gas corporation. My aim is to educate business and finance leaders that are embarking on digital transformation journeys.
Throughout my 13+ year career, I have embarked on multiple digital transformation projects, from implementing a new Cash Flow forecasting tool in 2017, which improved our cash flow forecast by 35%, to implementing an industry-leading Strategic Workforce Tool in 2022, which allowed the identification of significant efficiencies (>200M USD). In 2019, I was moved to Houston, from Belgium to contribute to a large-scale Finance Transformation Project for the Corporation where I identified multiple opportunities in digital automation, robotics, and predictive analytics to transform end-to-end financial processes.
As technological advancements shake up organizations, an important, often underestimated enabler and catalyst for digital transformation success, is often overlooked: employees.
With every technological breakthrough, whether it is the implementation of AI, robotics, or the implementation of the latest Business Intelligence application, the skills and training requirement of employees drastically change. When I introduced new tools, processes, and systems over the past years, one of my main focuses has always been educating the end-users.
A new technology can be ground-breaking, but if employees are not motivated to use it, don’t understand the case for action, or do not know how to use it, the benefit case and value of the implementation could be severely reduced.
To successfully navigate the transformation journey for its employees, and ultimately drive success, large corporates need to develop and nurture a culture of innovation. Below are tips that help you foster the right culture if innovation.
- Encourage employees to learn new technologies and skills
- Promote cross functional learning
- Spark creativity
- Confront biases and test the status quo
1. Encourage employees to learn new technologies and skills
Encouraging employees to learn new technologies and skills is a great way to strengthen the digital knowledge and aptitude within an existing organization. Offering training programs, workshops or even leveraging AI can be a cost-efficient measure to incentive your existing workforce to learn new technologies and strengthen digital disciplines.
Besides adequate training programs, it is important to ensure employees keep on learning continuously and are provided with the resources to do so. Giving your team the support they need to learn and leverage new tech is a win-win situation for everyone. Below a few examples:
- Create a sandbox environment for your employees; employees will be encouraged to use the new system if they have a safe environment to test without fear of losing their jobs
- Implement a yearly skills assessment; yearly skills assessments can be a great way to keep employees engaged and motivated. Skills assessments will also allow you to identify gaps in the organization and adjust training needs.
- Incentivize the implementation of new tools and technologies; at my organization, I hosted a yearly challenge where colleagues could submit their deployment of new technologies. This sparked and promoted innovation and led us to identify new best practices in a fun and playful way.
- Promote self-service training; besides initial live training when new technologies are introduced, create video resources employees can refer to.
- Introduce ‘technology champions’; a technology champion promotes change and learns the new technology in depth. He/she will serve as a point of contact for other employees who will want to learn. At my organization, I implemented a ‘digital expertise’ portal, where volunteers could donate time to employees who needed technical expertise. This platform has proven very useful and resulted in technical savvy employees donating >1000 hours per year to colleagues.
2. Promote cross-functional learning
I strongly believe that fostering collaboration between business professionals and tech teams is a great way to promote cross functional learning that could lead to innovation. I still vastly remember ideation workshops with business and IT individuals that would generate new ideas. When, in 2022 I developed a new Strategic Workforce Tool for a newly formed organization, I spent countless hours with HR representatives and end-users. Couple with my digital and financial knowledge, this sparked new ideas which ultimately led to the creation of a new process and tool that generated great efficiencies.
By joining forces, business teams and IT teams can close knowledge gaps, and enhance cross-functional process enhancements. Cross-functional brainstorming workshops can be a great way to foster this collaboration.
3. Spark creativity and celebrate success
If a company wants to succeed in its digital transformation journey, it is essential that its leaders spark creativity of its employees. Many employees thrive in an environment where they are engaged in strategic and creative tasks. Leaders weaken their team’s creativity when they don’t promote experimentation and don’t support failure.
To encourage creativity and innovation, leaders can inspire discussion of team aspirations, and let their teamwork towards co-created goals. Experiments never fail. Even when an attempt fails, with the right mindset, teams learn priceless lessons to succeed in the future.
Training employees across the organization on design thinking and agile methodologies can further spark creativity. Small steps are important to recognize and celebrate success to keep momentum and morale high. Culture is a concept that involves human beings. Celebrating (small) wins, will build confidence for the big leaps and create organizational endurance to achieve the big wins.
About the Author
Christoph Makar Christoph Makar is a leading and renowned digital transformation leader with over 12 years of experience. He has great expertise in deploying digital technology solutions that radically transform existing financial and administrative operations and deliver value to the business.