• Erwan Hernot

Digital Transformation is a Big Training Challenge


Start with the difficulties ahead


1. The word and the timing are vague. Not compelling to action. In the ranks (from the floor to the C-suite cosy offices) you have multiple interpretations: from plain ignorance to the simple use of an app to the ambitious perspective of re designing a company! Add to this initial confusion the fact that Digital is not only IT nor only Marketing or Strategy, etc. It pervades everything. Digital understanding is not a question of generation either! Digital natives use apps and devices naturally but lack the necessary distance to understand the challenges it supposes for companies. They are more in a “black / white” mindset: a company that doesn’t digitalise quickly its businesses is outdated. Period.

2. Don’t underestimate negative reactions: “watch out, Uber is coming!” Difficult right now to find a word as negative as “Uber” Some people tend to fear digitalisation instead of diving in it. Illusion won’t help either: “Relax: Uber is coming … for others.” Uber triggers another set of reactions: Uber is coming. Right. Everybody is aware of that. But some C-suite members think it comes fast for others. Not for them. Digital is one of the many problems they have on their plate. Not a focus because they don’t imagine that others could disrupt their business quickly. Difficult then to ask for training budgets!


Recognise that we have to learn at all levels


1. On one hand, boards are, for instance, still composed of an elite that doesn’t – always – enjoy technology. One CEO of a major industrial company told a few years ago a journalist that he didn’t understand the value of Twitter. One top executive dedicated to digital in a major European bank told me that he serves as a “VIP after sales rep” for Board members regarding the use of their device. “How can common people get out an Apple Store and know how to use their device when these guys don’t? “He pointed to me. Let’s face it: C suite harbours some technology adverse persons. It is not that they don’t use smartphones or tablets. They do. But they stick to the old behaviour “I use the basic functionalities and I don’t care how it works as soon as it works”. This is not enough when technology itself allows majors disruptions and it is not exactly an ace for the battles to come!  Some of them even think – secretly – it is a fad and it will shine for a while and then go.

2. On the other hand, top execs were trained in a certain mindset where -in short- they were alone able to spot the problems coming in the landscape and were equally alone able to solve them. But when a few persons can ask questions nobody thought of before and redesign a market structure (think of Airbn’b), they can lose their bearings. Thinking out of the box means re-question their own success and right now their own value: am I the right person at the right moment tp guide my company in the world to come ?


Humility is a good start. Benchmark then on corporate reactions triggered so far:


– Raising awareness in the Top 100 top execs of a big company is a must. The trendiest moves are now training ones: reverse mentoring is a hot topic. So are learning expeditions.  You take groups of leaders and make them spend 2 or 3 days in a start-up.  Or you can set up a fablab to test new things. The motto is “Learn!  And act subsequently”.

– Building use cases to demonstrate impact and usefulness of digital to get buy-in from top managers. Ask Chief Data Officers. In order to explain what their job is about, they take plain examples of how they add value to the business.

– Monitoring closely innovation. This can go to the extent that companies buy start-ups to observe how it work … and try to control new potential threatening forces.

– Opening C-suite offices to new comers. Chief Digital Officers are appointed and enter top management teams.

– Disrupting your own business (Accor or Total do just that).


Go further then and dive into the  delight of management in the digital world!


Doing Digital transformation goes indeed beyond these first moves. It is a question of knowledge (you can acquire it: easy) and mindset/culture (you have to change the existing one: harder…)

1. Work by added value and not by territory. Territory is not safe anymore! It is not just  that all the work, that can be transferred to the machines, will. Take that for granted. Digital means work by added value (not yours: your customer’s perception) and not by territory. (“my customer belongs to me or my usual competitors”). Train people to understand the value chain and their contribution at all levels pf the company. 

2. Try, fail, learn and praise it! What you need now is to set up an innovation capability. Innovation doesn’t stem form old structures and work habits.  It means “try/fail/learn” iterations, cross functions and cross cultural teams, mix of different logics of work. These new paths need time and training, freedom and another vision of staff and managers performance. Can you imagine an overnight change in performance and people reviews : “Sophie is a good asset for the company, she has failed her project this year. She will train our next generation of project managers”? Here, the very persons that could benefit first place from an achieved digital transformation could be the first ones who could impeach it! Shareholders want, most of the time, quick ROI on everything.  That demand pushes hard for efficient process guiding everybody (no freedom) and saving money rather than a “fable” where some people try new things!  As a consequence, managers don’t see failures as an opportunity to learn. Central command and control still reigns supreme: if this short term mindset doesn’t change, people will keep Digital as a … mere buzz word . Ant they will stick to their old habits or worse – for the creative high potentials- will leave to start their own business. Train people to work differently and set up a new method of work.

3. Learn to cooperate with people that have another logic. Innovation comes from a good management of differences. Sales persons with marketing people (yes it is possible), both with technical staff and all with data analysts. Nurture soft skills that allow cooperation in your training programs.

4. Develop your digital experts … and your digital users! For the first ones, if you don’t, they will leave. Favour self training by all meanings. And put a self development objective for everybody. Technologies will change very quickly and if you don’t maintain your workforce with the changing basic digital literacy, you won’t add any value to the business.

5. Flatten your organisation and re-train your managers into facilitators. They will be less into administrative tasks and reporting (machines will do theirs part) and more in innovation ie. leading experts and developing all their team members.  There is a funny paradox here: never as in the digital age to come, the expression Human Resources is so relevant!


Les techniques managériales ne sont pas neutres...

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