Putting People First: The ‘OBCs’ Of Digital Transformation For Marketers – Forbes

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This article is by David Armano, global strategy director at Edelman Digital. He leads their Digital Transformation Practice.

Digital transformation is happening all across the brands and industries that surround us. One misstep I often see and one that can be fixed with a shift in perspective is leaders underestimating the importance of human capital when it comes to navigating their own digital transformation journeys. It’s an honest and common mistake in an age where we are tempted to fight technology with technology — but it’s a mistake nevertheless.

To encourage this shift, I often talk with executives from various industries about investigating the organizational, behavioral, and cultural aspects of their businesses — the “OBCs,” so to speak. But the starting point is the basics and overview of where change is needed — People, Process and Platforms.

It’s natural that executives want to evaluate technology as a priority (Platforms). Those conversations are binary and the solutions feel turnkey. Are you missing an important software? Do you need a new CMS? Buy it, implement, and claim “victory.” It sounds simple, but it’s missing the most important component of your digital transformation journey’s success — the people making it happen.

Nestlé provides a good example of putting people first. Back in 2011, the company hired Pete Blackshaw, an executive from Procter & Gamble, to help navigate their digital transformation journey. He didn’t focus on technology. Instead, he built a “Digital Acceleration Team” that now collaborates with peers across Nestlé’s 200 brands and no doubt influences culture in addition to how the organization is structured.

Putting the emphasis on people may seem a bit touchy-feely. It’s not. It’s deliberate and by design and sets the foundation for everything else that needs to change and be optimized for doing business in the digital age. Know your OBCs, and you can face the “people problem” in easy to digest, bite-sized-chunks:

Organizational

In theory, this is the easiest piece to bite off. Organizational design puts pen to paper and highlights where key skill sets, roles and talents are needed. When executives go through “org” exercises, I always advise they avoid the tendency to just move people around and truly evaluate talent, roles and job descriptions in the process. Organizational work helps us organize thoughts around people and the roles they play.

Behavioral

Behaviors are what people do vs. what they say. This is where data comes in. Search queries, for example, tell us about what people really want vs. what they tell us they want. Same goes for what e-mails get read and which stay unopened. Data doesn’t lie. In order to better understand behaviors, you can’t just mine data. You must interpret it. Having data scientists on your team is a good start, but the real successes come when you pair them with analysts, strategists, or planners who can see patterns and decipher what they mean.

Cultural

Culture is context. For example, learning the role technology plays in our customers’ lives can tell us why, how, and when they use it. On the business side of things, culture dictates just how much change an organization can handle at any moment. I’ve seen companies try to wean employees from e-mail while ignoring that e-mail is tightly woven into the culture of the company. It’s not just a technology, but a way of life. Surveys or interviews are a good place to start when trying to understand culture, but you must go deeper. It’s core to a smooth transformation.

Knowing your “OBCs” means putting people at the center of your digital transformation journey. Addressing the fuzzy nature of human capital isn’t often as satisfying as pulling the trigger on new technologies or forging new partnerships, but it’s the best way to ensure that you are focused on what matters. It’s people who buy our products and people who sell our products. Putting people first, especially during transformative moments in business, means setting up a stronger foundation in the long run, even if it feels less gratifying in the short term.

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