By Nor Izmawati Mostapar, Vice President, MII Corporate Communications and e-Learning
Digital transformation is forcing businesses to transform not only their suite of products and services but more importantly, to transform how they operate. In this dynamic environment, leaders must drive a culture of innovative transformation to bring the workforce to speed, with a focus on employee engagement, career mobility and upskilling. In short: digital workforce transformation.
The demand for a more talented and digitized workforce goes beyond adapting to the new digital world. It comes down to the need for highly skilled people. Unfortunately, highly skilled people are in short supply and the insurance industry is no exception to this dire shortage. Many business leaders realize that hiring the workforce that they need is not as simple as it is deemed to be.
There are just not enough prospective recruits, and the expense would be enormous. Ideally, businesses want people who can command artificial intelligence, analyse data, invent, and apply solutions, and seamlessly adapt to new roles when needed. All the while, these same people should keep their soft skills sharp, transition into mobile apps development, and join online self-taught courses. But do these people exist? Maybe they do but only a handful would persevere and amongst this small group, none are available for hire. So, what is there left to do? Transform the existing workforce.
The success of a digital workforce transformation begins with workforce transformation initiatives. It all depends on the organization, the business strategy, customer demands, and the skill level of the existing workforce. What needs to be done, varies as no two businesses are alike.
Here are some tips on how to kickstart the digital workforce transformation journey:
Cater to different generations
There are many factors pushing businesses towards digital workforce transformation. Especially in this pandemic era, flexible and remote working are options now being widely adopted in organisations. This is not just to increase cost effectiveness, but also to make the workplace more flexible and appealing to employees. That along with the advances in technology mean that both software and hardware are affordable and a lot easier to use.
The way Millennials and Generation Z consume information is fundamentally different and organisations are increasingly rushing toward consumer-like technologies that can attract new employees as well as retain the existing workforce. Similarly, organisations must also consider the needs of older members of the workforce who may prefer a more traditional approach such as newsletters via email. By embracing digital transformation in the workplace, businesses can empower their people, drive information seamlessly, measure the engagement and end-user experience while providing information in a way that each employee prefers. This can be done through the integration of new platforms that can deliver various types of content via preferred channels which users (the workforce) can choose based on their preferences.
If businesses want to retain and attract talents, they need to be forward-looking and react to this age of digital transformation. Businesses thrive when their workers feel informed, valued, and engaged,
and all this can be done by embracing technology.
Before you can articulate how your people need to change, you must know the results you expect them to deliver. If there are several end goals, narrow them down to just one or two at a single time. This will help define workforce changes required, to accomplish these prioritised business goals. For example, organisations that might need employees to work with artificial intelligence (AI) can set up an experimentation lab where staff learn to build and test AI-based apps. Organisations may also establish coaching programs, support technologies, and incentives for the select group of talents. It is vital to clearly communicate the goals of the organisations to ensure the entire workforce is given insight into the transformation plan and the roles that each person will play in materializing the goal.
Obtain emotional commitment
To wholeheartedly participate in a transformation journey, talents need more than a strategic direction and incentives. They need to be excited about the future and inspired to go through the journey. The management must also recognize how fear, anxiety, and fatigue can escalate when people do not feel engaged. Therefore, many companies include flexibility and well-being programs as part of their long-term workforce transformations.
The founder of PwC’s Katzenbach Center, Jon R. Katzenbach, suggests that many business leaders and managers avoid addressing emotional commitment directly because it’s hard to know what people are feeling, and especially difficult to manage emotions on a scale of hundreds or thousands of people. Also, most leaders are rational and thus might have a blind spot in assessing how people will react emotionally to any type of change. But it is possible for any leader, no matter how cerebral in temperament, to foster positive emotions on an organisation-wide level. A convincing story about the value of the company’s contribution to the world is a powerful starting point for any type of emotional engagement.
Personal behaviours of top leaders are critically important. Leaders must be the most visible, excited champions, articulating the case for change, defending what it requires, and participating wholeheartedly. Leaders can demonstrate commitment by building their own skills, to set an example to others. These newly acquired skills can be something that the general workforce is also asked to learn, or kickstart a new initiative and invite others in the company to review, test, comment and help improvise. Employees will easily be inspired to mimic the same.
Focus on behavioural change
Any workforce transformation effort, digital or not, must explicitly instil new behaviours. The skills and knowledge will follow the newly shaped behaviors.
It takes thought and time to create behaviour change; change does not sink in when learning is confined to a training course. For example, to acquire skills in predictive maintenance — a form of artificial intelligence that can anticipate and prevent possible breakdowns — factory workers need to learn by doing. The factory worker might thus get involved in installing sensors, developing a computer model that makes sense of the data, and honing some interpretive skills: explaining his or her own conclusions about the data, and considering others’ ideas.
Organisations can also try digital twin-style simulations of business realities, virtual reality programs that simulate a complex environment or augmented reality systems. Implementing these virtual systems carries less risk and costs less than changing real-world systems. Just as airlines use flight simulators to train novice pilots, companies can allow a novice manager or employee to see how different strategies might play out over time, without jeopardy. Not only do employees better understand their possible decisions with this approach, but they also learn the behaviors needed to implement them.
Another thrust is to promote repetition in the learning experience. Adults need periodic opportunities to practice and refine their techniques so that the learning sticks. When people continually behave in a particular way, the behavior will eventually become second nature.
Become an inclusive organisation
A transformation plan must be designed to accommodate the
full diversity of people from various backgrounds. To be an inclusive organization means embracing the wide range of experience, perspectives, and goals that people bring to work. It may also mean establishing a heterogeneous structure as part of an organization’s culture. Companies that live the values of inclusion are more likely to recruit and retain highly skilled people, and to benefit from
The “unwilling” employees, those who feel that they cannot learn the skills of a digital age, can be reached if you convince them to explore options they may not have considered. When they see what is possible for them, they can become highly enthusiastic, eager for the opportunity to learn. To achieve this phase, it may require a detailed breakdown or description of what the plan is, how it will be done, how long it will take and what needs to be done.
Leaders can also point out that workforce transformation engenders a leaner, less bureaucratic, more fulfilling work environment, where people are moved into more productive roles.