People skills are the key to successful digital transformation

People drive transformation in their organisation, not technology. Success depends on the perfect balance of skills, experience, and personal traits. Here Peter Lunio, director at Golden Marzipan, shares his thoughts on the importance of the human touch in digital transformation.

Here at Golden Marzipan, we have long argued that people are the key to successful digital transformation. Indeed our Battenburg digital model, with the wrap-around marzipan relating to the people element, is a testament to this. However, given the failure rate of transformation programmes in the housing sector, it’s clear that many housing associations are either struggling to get the right talent onboard or they are simply not taking the people factor seriously enough

Depending on who you listen to, it’s widely believed that between 70% and 84% of digital transformation programmes fail.  And it’s not hard to see why. Far from being a simple upgrade to an organisation’s operating system; digital transformation typically involves a complete overhaul of a business’s processes and often cultural change. Take a look at the South Lakes Housing story, where they realised this very early on.

Digital vision and legacy influence

In our experience housing associations clearly need people with digital skills, including senior executives with an awareness of technology and a vision of where digital transformation will take the organisation. Southdown Housing is a great example of a social housing business where the senior team had a very clear digital vision. Read their story here.

However, legacy skills, around historical IT systems, hardware and software can be equally as important. One of the biggest challenges of digital transformation is convincing everyone in the organisation to engage. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, many people are naturally resistant to change. Some might worry that digital transformation will lead to automation, replacing their jobs etc. People with legacy skills can be key to bringing these people on board. Employees with such skills can readily identify with more familiar ways of working, helping to support and guide others through the transformation. 

Skills for success

An organisation’s culture should enable talent to thrive and drive progress forward. The commitment to change, the empowerment to take risks, and the alignment to a shared goal and purpose must emanate from leadership and throughout the organisation. Without it, digital transformation will stall, regardless of the calibre of talent, you bring on board. Our blog Culture Change in the time of Zoom covers this in more detail.

But even with a culture that supports the organisational change and effective collaboration; having the right people, with the right skills and attributes, in the right roles for any given transformation project is pivotal to a successful outcome. And currently, people with good experience in digital transformation can be hard to find and recruit.

In our experience, the best people to lead a digital transformation are those who are comfortable with change, operate well in a fast-paced environment and can make quick and pragmatic decisions. They typically have excellent communication skills, engaging both stakeholders and the wider business, coupled with a broad understanding of the organisation’s direction of travel.

Experience in supporting and leading change in more than one environment is ideal. As is the ability to combine knowledge from different aspects of digital with an understanding of business processes and operations. However, the most important quality is resilience. This is critical given that digital transformations can take years and there will be many setbacks and organic changes along the way.

ICT/digital transformationalists also need exceptional people skills, and this is arguably one of the most important attributes. Much of their job involves communicating, engaging and influencing other individuals within the organisation, gathering crucial information on the progress of the transformation project to make any necessary changes.

Striking this balance between technical and soft skills will stand leaders in good stead to adapt to technical change, both now and in the future.

People power

With many housing associations currently migrating from legacy systems to the cloud, managing large-scale change programmes or reinforcing their infrastructure through cybersecurity, and demand for these skills is high. The opportunities for ICT professionals have probably never been better and many may be tempted to move, meaning competition to attract and retain talent is tough. In our recent Breakfast Briefing on “Is, your ICT team fit for the future?” it was clear that this was becoming a major issue. 

In the current climate of ICT skill shortages, we would argue that organisations need a compelling talent acquisition strategy. Clarity around values and culture is essential, along with an attractive package of benefits. Professionals are still motivated by money, but other elements can also be important, such as greater flexibility, remote working, career development opportunities or a particularly interesting transformation project.

Hiring the right people can make a huge difference to digital transformation success but they must have the potential to deliver exciting change. These include digital leaders, tech architects and visionary data scientists: people who can, leverage the full breadth of skills available to them and mobilise teams through leadership or subject matter expertise.

To discuss how Golden Marzipan can support you to get the people element of your digital transformation right, please contact or call 0333 210 7531

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