What about the human perspective?

The pace of change is increasing. The amount of technologies readily available for businesses and organizations to make use of in order to get more efficient, delight customers or drive new business has never been bigger. Even more so the amount of new buzzwords on town used by consultants in order to motivate clients to keep up spending in digital technology initiatives adds on each day.

Still, most initiatives will eventually fail. And even more so in the future. Why?

Sure, the technology perspective of keeping up to speed, adopting agile, mitigating monolithic legacy systems and securing a scalable architecture centered around API:s, and microservices is still a huge challenge for many organizations. But is that really the full explanation?

As digital becomes more and more foundational for the way organizations exchange value and do business, technology also becomes more and more intrusive on employees at all levels throughout the organization. What began with self-service and basic automation of repetitive tasks, affecting mainly the lower end of blue-collar, is today, or at least around the corner, capable of both automating complex and non-repetitive tasks as well as committing autonomous decisions on strategic questions. Thus, affecting large parts of the professions.

Automation in itself is nothing new. There was a time in the 19th century where being a window knocker (or “knocker up”) actually was a was to earn a legit living. Then came the alarm clock, automating the entire workforce. The ruthlessness of innovation.

Everyone is ought to be automated, eventually. Nothing new under the sun. The difference today is the pace of change combined with the reach of technology, far beyond the lower-end of labor into professions with mandate and budgets for strategic decision making.

Does this mean that is makes sense to actively oppose technology as an employee facing the risk of automation just because you can? Short-term – maybe. Long term – no. As an employee you are faced with two decisions; either you evolve – or you attempt to guard your stronghold as long as possible. As long as technology is seen as a threat, surrounded with buzzwords beyond understanding, many will choose the latter path in lack of real alternatives. Humans facing fear aren’t very rational.

For the business this is dual counter-productive with the pace of change decreasing and employee energy focused on opposing change rather than utilizing tech to deliver results. Eventually enforcing the business to do a costly competence change in order to mitigate the debt, with Swedish IKEA being one of the recent examples on this.

From my standpoint, many digital change initiatives would benefit from HR stepping in far further into the transformation game. Even more so as digital and AI becomes foundational for most organizations. In order for investments to succeed not only with tech implementation and project goals, but to create lasting change, the function will need to take a far more prominent position, with HR being the natural driver of change in culture, knowledge, human potential and competence. As younger generations look for organizations with a clear and sustainable purpose, this becomes even more strategic in its nature.

Moving beyond HR-operations and compliance into driving the strategic people agenda will be a challenge for many HR-departments though. For many HR-executives, this will require the same journey that most IT-executives already has embarked on, transforming IT from being a cost center with operations-focus, into being a business enabler or even a driver. On the other hand, it represents a rarely found possibility for HR to swim upwards in the value chain and gain more executive mandate as a function.

Only when technology isn’t seen as a threat to the long-term ability to earn a living, but rather as an opportunity to evolve your career for the broad layers of labor, will a culture that embraces rather than opposes change be able to thrive. For labor intense organizations this will be one of the most important bets in order to stay on top of change, get ROI on digital transformation initiatives and not be rendered obsolete.

Don’t forget the human perspective in your digital endeavors.

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Christoffer Vollmer

Strategist, project manager, economist, change agent & experience designer with almost 20 years experience of digital strategy, transformation & disruption. Blogging about strategy, disruptive innovation, design thinking and digital transformation.