20. August 2021 By Nicole Gaiziunas
It’s a trap: how we avoid the most common pitfalls of digitalisation
Many decision-makers are now aware that digitalising the working world is a major challenge. But far too often, they fall into the same traps when trying to address the issue: while anyone who invests in high-speed Wi-Fi, high-quality end devices and digital solutions may be making progress on their digital journey, they must not leave it at that. This is because if you forget about people and their different views and needs, you’ll not only make less progress, but in the worst case you will even go backwards, since a lot of money is spent on implementing new solutions that cannot be implemented in the company or are implemented far too slowly. But if you’re aware of the most common obstacles that decision-makers unconsciously put in their own way and that of their staff, you don’t necessarily have to be tripped up by them – or you can at least react appropriately in time if your efforts to create a forward-looking, digital corporate strategy are suddenly thwarted. This is also part of a successful digital transformation.
Pitfall: Providing for ourselves and our families – digitalisation and job cuts
One of the most common pitfalls is our worries – such as worrying about being able to provide for ourselves and our families. Many people associate the words digitalisation and digital transformation with large-scale job cuts. They’re scared that an algorithm will take over their job and their employer will no longer need their services. In some areas this may even be true, but that is only one side of the coin: while some processes and activities – for example in manufacturing or the automotive industry – have become redundant due to digital optimisation, a plethora of new digital activities and job profiles are also emerging. And for that, additional qualifications are needed – so far, so good.
The pitfall that decision-makers and HR managers can fall into when they try to explain the new outlooks to their employees is that they overstate or understate. Either they claim that every job is safe OR they say that everyone has to become an IT expert to stay in the company. Both statements, however, fuel the worry that employees won’t be able to provide for themselves or their families because they believe neither of them. The truth is somewhere in between! So, the way to avoid this particular pitfall is to put your cards on the table. Admit that change also means change for employees – even that some jobs might go, but that this is not the company’s main aim. At the same time, take responsibility and work together with your employees to do what’s needed to avoid job losses. This way, you will be taken seriously. ‘Doing what’s needed’, by the way, is obtaining the qualifications so they can take on more digital activities and jobs, otherwise known as reskilling. This means that large-scale job cuts can be avoided in many cases.
Pitfall: Reskilling – a lack of communication slowing down progress
Reskilling means retraining the existing workforce for digital job profiles and offers companies good prospects for retaining employees and strengthening their digital profile at the same time. But even those who want to make their team digitally savvy might be unable to avoid a pitfall – when it comes to reskilling, it is important to get all of the stakeholders in a company on board. Far too often, companies ignore the extent to which poor internal communication slows down progress. If, for instance, a car manufacturer decides to retrain its mechatronics engineers, it should not only discuss this move with the employees concerned. Their direct superiors and the works council must also be involved in the planning. Otherwise, anyone feeling left out will very quickly dig their heels in – even though they wouldn’t object to the reskilling in principle. Why would they? Avoiding job cuts is in everyone’s interest.
The solution: reskilling only works if everyone is on board. Discussing reskilling is the only correct option to take, especially when the impact of it will affect others in the company, too. If the training takes place during working hours, for example, this must be factored into production planning and targets may have to be adjusted. But by initiating a dialogue, all of these hurdles can be removed, clearing the path for forward-looking action which everyone feels like they’re a part of.
Pitfall: Digital readiness – no one is as good as they think they are
From what I’ve seen over the past few years, there is another huge pitfall lying in wait: those who want to advance the digital transformation in their own company often have no idea how digitally ready their employees are, let alone how digitally ready they are themselves. What I mean by that is whether they have the skills to use digital tools and apply digital expertise. Decision-makers generally overestimate the digital readiness of their company by quite some distance. In turn, they underestimate how much retraining and reskilling both they and their staff need. The result is they spend a lot of money on new solutions and tools that nobody can work with afterwards. Employees are overwhelmed and no one wins.
The way to avoid this particular pitfall is to check how digitally ready the company is by performing tests designed to assess this capacity before the digital transformation starts. We have had great success with this with a number of customers. If the test shows that only ten per cent of employees have expertise in digital transformation, you can take countermeasures and get the level of digital readiness on track through training and reskilling before the actual transformation starts. The trick is to know where you’re starting from and draw the necessary conclusions. Of course, it may feel pointless to have unplanned intermediate steps ahead of the digital revolution – but it’s even more pointless to drive transformation processes at the pace of a shifting sand dune. Being familiar with the pitfalls of digitalisation and how to deal with them can speed up your digitalisation progress much faster than you might think.
In addition to the examples I’ve mentioned in this blog post, there are several other stumbling blocks that decision-makers and HR managers may encounter in the digital transformation. If you want to read more about them – and the best way of dealing with them – then check out my new book ‘Die 44 Fallen der Digitalisierung’ (‘The 44 Pitfalls of Digitalisation’; in German).
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