The 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland was center stage for kicking-off discussions pertaining to the most critical issues of our time, and setting the agenda for the year to come. Over the course of three days we saw more than 3,000 globally minded leaders, innovators, inspirational figures, business minds, academics, and celebrities come together and take on this formidable challenge.
HCL Technologies has been a Strategic Partner of the World Economic Forum for over ten years, working intimately with the Forum to address some of the most important challenges and opportunities facing the world. This year, HCL, in partnership with Fast Company, hosted a three-day event at a special Pavilion that showcased thought leadership programs, technology innovations, and various social events.
The overarching theme of Fast Company and HCL’s programs this year was focused on humanity’s evolving relationship with technology during the upcoming decade. On the second day of the event, we hosted a panel discussion titled “The Heart of Digital Transformation: A Human Centered Approach” – exploring how organizations are rethinking their business models and placing humans at the center of their activities.
The panel was comprised of Jake Schwartz, Co-Founder & CEO, General Assembly; Judith McKenna, President and CEO, Walmart International; Peggy Johnson, Executive Vice President, Microsoft, and Scott Belsky, Chief Product Officer and EVP, Adobe Creative Cloud. This discussion was hosted by Anand Birje, HCL Technologies’ Corporate Vice President and Global head – Digital & Analytics, and moderated by Stephanie Mehta, Editor-in-Chief of Fast Company.
The panel covered everything from the increasingly customer centric focus of 21st century enterprises to the importance of training and upskilling for a modern workforce. Here are the key takeaways from the panel:
- It’s About User Experience
More often than not, the development process prioritizes the customer in a very problem-centric manner. Companies attempt to solve their customer’s problem instead of developing a solution they’re passionate about. Organizations need to realize that it’s not about the technology, rather it’s the user’s experience of using the technology that is more important. Many companies like Adobe have imbibed this lesson deeply and have made their solutions design process more collaborative across the company. And while the urgency to leverage technology to enhance business is very real, it’s equally important to maintain accountability and responsibility. The increasing trend towards networked data with thousands of real people at its edges obligates companies to focus more on data security and ensure that it protection is also part of the user’s experience.
- Invest in Upskilling Your Workforce
The challenges of rapidly changing technologies are very real. As emerging Technologies become increasingly ingratiated into the business environment, the challenges faced by any workforce is rather formidable. Companies need to adopt a people-centric approach, investing in their workforce’s capabilities to add value to the business goals despite changing technologies. Walmart’s transition from being stuck as either a people-company or a tech-company represented a profound analogue for the discussion. The retail giant has found swift resolution to this problem by adopting the goal of being a “people-powered company empowered by technology”. This approach helps them keep the focus on people and using technology to improve end-outcomes for not only their customers but also their workforce. This approach is complimented and supported by General Assembly’s mission as well which is to “empower the world to pursue the work they love”. As an organization that helps bridge the gap between education and employment, their work with major Fortune 500 companies has allowed tens of thousands of workers to acquire, upskill, and transition from one job role to another in the digital world. This approach to “building your workforce” as opposing to “buying “it is strongly believed to be the future as it saves on the costs of lay-offs and skilled worker acquisition, while also avoiding the chaotic disruption of recruitment and training. In the end, it allows organizations to retain their workers and equip them with the tools they need to add value going forward and supporting their worker’s needs.
- Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch
While the panel acknowledged that digital transformation poses some significant challenges on all fronts, the means to adapt and endure, lies in the strength of the company culture. Microsoft’s example extends across nearly four decades of constant digital transformation in a highly competitive and fast-moving industry. In this respect, the company has found that cultural transformation is as important, if not more, than digital transition. They’ve followed the mantra of instilling a shift in culture within their workforce that goes from being “know it alls” to becoming “learn it alls” – once again emphasizing the importance of adaptability and training during times of transition. The idea of looking at one’s workforce as all “being in a boat together” is a leading philosophy espoused by Microsoft’s top leadership and is focused on keeping the company headed in the same direction with an authentic and consistent message. This approach to engaging with employees has paid off dividends as Microsoft’s workforce of nearly 130,000 people continues to evolve but is always able to add value.
- Listen for Solutions Within
The panel discussion also revealed the inherent importance of the human connection. While digital technology is integral at making work more efficient and speeding up processes, the human element can’t be ignored. Despite advances in technology, there needs to be a real human connection between stakeholders in a company. And this trend needs to be from the top down. Walmart’s strategy of towards understanding the challenges facing the company led to a nationwide campaign of meetings between senior leaders and regional groups where face-to-face connections were encouraged. By bringing people together and listening to them directly, the company was able to improve and crystalize its communications with its workforce, and also gain valuable insights from the ground level helping it course correct its own strategy. This form of grass-roots listening approach has been proven to compliment the company’s overall strategy by revealing how the real challenge in digital transformation is actually in its implications for change management.
- Invest in Diversity of Experience
One of the most innovative aspects of human-centered focus for next generation enterprises is their ability to advance their workforce in-step with evolving technologies. Companies like General Assembly have made it a business model, where they take existing workers and retrain them as per an organizations custom skill requirements and reposition them within the same organization. This approach is particularly essential in today’s era where nascent technologies are suddenly becoming integral to business operations. Within Adobe for example, the ease of learning is emphasized so that any engineer can learn something like Artificial Intelligence on the job as it can help enhance their contribution to the team in yet unknown ways. Similarly, this allows companies to focus on hidden gems in the under-represented worker demographics of their company. Adobe has launched a Digital Academy in collaboration with General Assembly which empowers women and minorities using a fellowship education model. This allows diverse groups of people to gain access to training in key technology areas and also secure a job position within Adobe. The fact remains that in the new era of emerging technologies and changing workplace paradigms, the winning move will always be driven by innovative thinking. Companies have to understand that a diversity of experience adds to the pool of innovation and is essential to solving new problems. By bringing together “remarkably different remarkable people” companies can transfer one skill set from one part of their organization to another in order to achieve surprising results.
If you wish to know more about our Davos dialogues, check out #FCDavosDialogues and #HCLatDavos