Digital Transformation Needs The Human-Centered Workplace
In Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, the character Mike Campbell is asked how he went bankrupt. “Two ways,” he answers. “Gradually and then suddenly.” Business revolutions happen like that, and right now, we are in the middle of two simultaneous business revolutions. Digital transformation and the Human-Centered Workplace began to affect one another about ten years ago. Gradually and now suddenly, they are locked in a symbiotic embrace, and the world of work will never be the same.
Digital Transformation built gradually for the last decade as new technologies, products, and economic models replaced long-established industries. Data gathering and analytics, the “operating system” of digital transformation, is now essential to unlocking new value in every corner of a business.
During the same decade, the Human-Centered Workplace evolved to displace faceless bureaucracy. The most talented employees now demand that employers respect not just their value but their values. A recent MIT Sloan School survey of managers and executives found that 72% of respondents strongly agree that it is “very important to them to work for an organization with a purpose they believe in.” The Human-Centered Workplace emerged in the last decade as HR learned the importance of leveraging company culture to attract the best and outperform the competition. Like digital transformation, the Human-Centered Workplace uses data analytics to understand human interactions at a granular level.
And the “suddenly” part? That’s the past 18 months. The pandemic inspired a cultural acceleration equivalent to flooring a Tesla, as leaders and employees scrambled to improvise new ways of working in a matter of days. The new context of remote work and today’s emerging plans for hybrid workplaces blur boundaries between work and home, between individuals and institutions, and between shareholders and stakeholders.
IBM CHRO Nickle LaMoreaux confirmed this recently at Workhuman Live Online, telling me, “We’ve had leaders focused on culture, and people focused on transformation. But just recently with our new CEO, we have an SVP of Transformation and Culture. We brought transformation and culture together because you can’t have one without the other.”
The dance of values and data
At the core of every human is a desire for social connection, diversity, empowerment, community, positivity, and a sense of meaning. These are no longer needs reserved for outside the office. The Human-Centered Workplace is a culture of relationships based on the most human of values: belonging, empathy, teamwork, engagement, respect, kindness, and gratitude. This is the enduring platform for change.
The Human-Centered Workplace gives people the power to cultivate and experience the work relationships that allow them to live authentically. The values expressed in a company’s mission statement are expressed by its employees’ behavior, and thanks to digital technologies, that authenticity is as measurable as any other business goal. For example, Workhuman data tools analyze values expressed when employees recognize each other’s work and compare those findings to the company’s stated values. The system can literally create a picture of that ephemeral thing we call culture, telling leaders whether the social reality of the workplace matches its social aspiration.
New ways of analyzing data can help promote human traits as subjective as fairness. When applied to performance management systems, natural language processing can detect whether a manager’s assessment of diverse employees is impartial and free of unconscious bias – and even privately prompt that manager to consider changing his or her choice of words in communications. Digital transformation in this way accelerates a company’s journey to becoming a Human-Centered Workplace.
At a larger scale, comparing company data against our database of 50 million recognition moments demonstrates progress in terms of critical human factors like engagement, authenticity and goodwill among employees.
Two transformations, mutually reinforcing
Digital transformation is now so complex and urgent that you can’t achieve it via a template or project plan; it’s a dynamic, ongoing set of changes in technology, mindset, outlook, context, and business practices. What you can do is start out in a direction and consistently create a narrative of successful transformations. We are a storytelling, meaning-making species, so when transformation becomes central to your cultural story, people internalize not only the need to transform – they acquire a psychological stake in its success. As the narrative enters every corner of a company, successive changes create a flywheel effect, making people more comfortable with nonstop change.
There is a digital toolset for supporting The Human-Centered Workplace, and it consists of social recognition, continuous performance management and data visualization. I’ve written in this space about social recognition’s role as a cultural “force multiplier” in dealing with change. Digital technology is a force multiplier for social recognition, enabling it to grow organically throughout an organization until its benefits and insights become part of everyone’s day. The twin revolutions reinforce each other.
In particular data visualization makes all those human emotions like kindness, belonging, and gratitude easy to measure in a workforce. Next time you look at a chart, notice how the data and the way it’s presented create a narrative in your mind. Visual representations of data make the connections that make a story. That’s what data visualization and social application dashboards do so well. Just as data analytics informs today’s strategic decision-making, human analytics informs HR practices like performance management, building engagement, and retention.
Dystopian movies like The Matrix got it wrong. Instead of digital technologies making the everyday world hostile to humans, they are amplifying the power of authentic connection at scale. Digital transformation and the Human-Centered Workplace developed a symbiotic relationship for a decade. First gradually, and now suddenly, they are opening a way to make even our largest and most complex workplaces into agile, connected and more human communities.
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