Digitization isn’t the problem. Ignoring the human side of it is.

Nov 12, 2018
Human side of digitalization

They had had it all figured out; simple tasks would be automated, information would be digitized, processes would be optimized and the human touch would be minimized. On PowerPoint, it looked brilliant, innovative and made perfect sense.

In reality; not so much.

Two years after ‘Project Digitization’ was launched, little had changed. Technologies were available, the launch party had been grand, training classes were extensive, and the message from leadership had been loud and clear; everything would change.

Yet; not much did.

Leadership’s eager ambition of impressing the board with their ’digital transformation agenda’, followed by rapid implementation, had missed a ‘tiny little detail’ in their strategy.

A ‘tiny little detail’ with huge implications. They had forgotten – or simply ignored – that they were not only dealing with technology here, they were also dealing with… people.

Human emotions in ‘The Digital Age’.

The ‘annoying’ thing with people is that we are not machines or robots, we are humans. This means that we cannot be programmed, handled, implemented or even ‘managed’ to change. To willingly and effectively change, we need to understand and feel. Understand the rationale behind it and feel inspired to be part of it.

Running transformational projects based on the idea that people are machines without thoughts and emotions, is planning for failure.

Approaching transformational projects with curiosity and willingness to explore human nature, try to understand their hopes and fears, and involve and engage them along the way, hugely increases the chances for a positive outcome.

And then there is some…

Deloitte Human Capital Trends 2016, a report based on 7000+ surveyed companies in over 130 countries, concludes that there are 3 great challenges that businesses are facing in today’s digital world of work, and that is organizational design, leadership gaps and culture.

Deloitte states its lack of organizational design, leadership and culture 

Organizational design

92% of the companies say that today’s digital world of work has shaken the foundation of their organizational structure. Deloitte believes we will see shifts from traditional functional hierarchies to ‘network of teams’. In such a structure; values and culture, transparency of goals, frequent feedback and free flow of information, and ‘skills and contributions’ valued over ‘positions’, will be the norm. This will require radical changes in how companies are organized and led, not only structurally but also with shifts in mindsets and behaviors, initiated and driven from the top.

Leadership gap

90% of companies cite leadership as a major problem. While leaders earlier might have gotten away with ‘positional/title-based leadership’, leaders will now be required to inspire and engage their teams through expertise, passion, energy and empowerment instead. The roles of the leader will primarily be to inspire teams to perform, connecting them to the broader mission, and helping them collaborate with each other. Many leaders will need to re-learn what leadership is when emotional intelligence, empathy and kindness becomes as important as IQ and formal competence traditionally has been.


86% of the companies said culture is very important and 82% considered it a competitive advantage. The majority of the ‘Millennials’, the generation that soon make up 50% of the working population, say they value great culture, inspiring purpose and meaningful work over formal roles, position and salary. And in spite of traditional beliefs, research shows that this is not only a millennial thing, this is in fact a humanthing, and leads to increased engagement, collaboration, innovation and performance in the workplace. Peter Drucker’s famous expression ‘Culture east strategy for breakfast’ is more relevant than ever. Leaders who understand how to create cultures where people jump out of bed in the morning, look forward to work, ready to tackle whatever challenge, change or situation they might be facing, are the ones who will be leading in the future.

Future ahead

One who understands the relationships between the human heart and the human mind will always out-hack those who chase after an ever-changing technology. (John McAfee) Digital is 10% tech and 90% human. Organizations talk about digital as if it is 90% tech and 10% human. (Lucia Adams) It is time for a change.