Designing Organizations for a Digital Age

October 6, 2020

Designing Organizations for a Digital Age

In today’s business environment, crafting a digital organization is a critical aim for every leader. Regardless of industry or size, every company needs digital strategies and processes to continue evolving and adapting for the future. 

For some companies like Microsoft and Schneider Electric, digital transformation is an evolution as they continuously iterate and adapt. For other companies, a digital transformation may require a revolution and reimagination of culture, strategy or mission to succeed in a digital age. 

While speed of change has been increasing, the COVID-19 pandemic added urgency and acceleration to these digital transformations. Current events have only reinforced that companies cannot respond to the world of work by staying the same. 

“It is impossible to produce superior performance unless you do something different,” said Ron Nersesian, CEO of Keysight Technologies in Santa Rosa, Calif. If companies do nothing to change, they will not generate growth. 

For leaders proceeding on the digital transformation journey, here are three guidelines on how to maximize success. 

1. Digital transformation is different for every company. 

We are in a digital age and every company has areas that can be transformed to become more digital and agile. The tough part is determining what that transformation needs to be. 

According to Christopher Worley, Ph.D., research professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., when he asks executives what they mean by digital transformation, he gets answers ranging from using agile teams to changing business models to digitizing processes and more. Ultimately, each company needs to define what their digital change journey will be. 

Schneider Electric has focused on talent management in its recent digital transformations. Switching its student internships to an online format, using virtual career fairs and developing an open talent market are programs that have benefitted from more digitalization.

The Coca-Cola Company leveraged technology to the fullest transforming its learning programs. “Our intent was to build a high-performing and learning organization that is humble and agile,” said Tapaswee Chandele, Global Head of Talent and Development at The Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta, Ga. 

2. Digital transformation centers on culture. 

While there are many technologies involved with a digital transformation, the fundamental thing that needs to change is the organizational culture. At The Coca-Cola Company, leadership created a learning culture so that the organization can continuously retool and reinvent itself to remain successful. 

Transformation at Microsoft grew out of connecting personal purpose to organizational purpose. Linking personal purpose to the company mission and culture allows them to deliver for their customers. 

“As we continue to transform in the Digital Age, and since the future is one of technology being a ubiquitous component of organizational and personal life, we believe striving to achieve our purpose as an organization and as individuals will continue to be a worthy aim,” said Joe Whittinghill, Corporate Vice President, Talent, Learning and Insights at Microsoft, Redmond, Wash.

Dawn Zier, former CEO of Nutrisystem, Fort Washington, Pa., explains that one enabler of transformation is a culture that rewards risks “because transformation is lined with failure. Very rarely in a transformation do you get it right the first time.”

3. The future of HR is the intersection of people and technology. 

HR leaders are already facing questions about which tasks computers do best and which functions are best done by humans. Fast forward 10 years and workers will be super-empowered cyborgs, according to Bob Johansen, Ph.D., Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of the Future in Palo Alto, Calif. 

While that may sound like science fiction, Johansen points to the U.S Navy as an example today. Navy ships are more automated and the human sailors more generalists to maximize the effectiveness of both. The challenge for HR leaders will be to find the balance. 

No matter where a company is along the digital transformation continuum, leaders must keep focus on their unique journey, the components of their culture that support digital processes and the future of work.

For more on digital transformation, read the Fall 2020 issue of People + Strategy. 

The Authors: 

Deborah Stadtler is Managing Editor at SHRM’s Executive Network, HR People + Strategy.