What Leaders Can Do to Digitize Workforces

At this point, most managers have accepted that workforce digitization and automation are inevitable and all companies will need to make the changeover sooner or later. That means redefining jobs and how work is performed and measured. That can be a destabilizing force, but it does not have to be. “As this happens, executives should carefully reassess the well-being of their organizations and, in many cases, adjust their leadership styles for the new context, says McKinsey & Co.

Seventy-eight percent of business managers expect his and her companies’ workforces will become digital in the next three years, however only one in three of these people feel prepared enough to lead during this potentially volatile transition. At the moment, roughly 20 percent of businesses are digital, according to their leaders. The rest are on digital journeys.

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A digital workforce by definition is one that integrates technology to connect all elements of the supply chain, including the Internet of Things and big data. As the more mundane tasks are accomplished by machines and even robots, humans will need to learn a new set of skills to find his and her place along the supply chain. Management will need to figure out how to help employees and businesses navigate this internal sea change. Leadership will need to “build a compelling vision for the organization as a digital business in such a way that they can share that not just with stakeholders, but with employees.” FirstPost reports. That means putting the employee at the center of the transition, emphasizing the new standard will enhance collaboration and knowledge sharing. That, in turn will improve productivity by connecting expertise with work. “It will force companies to figure out how to reassemble the remaining tasks into something that makes a new kind of sense, even as it reconceptualizes the very idea of what a job is.”

According to Accenture, there are five general steps management can take to become a digital workforce:

  1. Align your workforce and HR strategy with the business
  2. Start experimenting with more flexible and agile ways of working using proven digital technologies and tools
  3. Define the digital skill gap within the workforce
  4. Develop required digital competencies
  5. Foster leadership behaviors that fuel a digital culture

Leaders reluctant to rock the boat by upsetting his or her employees should take heart to know that generally speaking, most employees are actually upbeat when it comes to transitioning to a digital environment. Seventy-one percent recognize the team benefits of innovation while 69 percent point to agility and 68 percent see the increased productivity that will result from digitizing. The problem is that more than half of employees do not think leadership is ready.

To be sure, transitioning to a digital workforce will most likely produce anxieties within the employee cohort. “Companies must also be careful to account for the more permanent aspects of their employees’ working lives, such as the business segments they know best, their functional areas of expertise, and the geographies where they live. As digital workforce platforms remake organizational structures, these more enduring ‘homes’ will provide a key aspect of stability.”