We were at HR Tech World in Paris at the end of last month. There were many inspiring speakers, but two kept throwing the word ‘happy’ into their presentations. The atmosphere was as feel-good as the message – even if you’re a global organisation, it’s the engagement of your people, right down to individual level, that matters. Without it, digital transformation just doesn’t work.

These two speakers had bold visions. Ralph Schneider from SAP wants to see the world run better and to improve lives. Google’s Kim Wylie talked about fun and respect, and introduced the hashtag #WorkHappy, but these ideas were more than woolly, throw-away comments. Both speakers had a method by which their visions could be delivered. A people-centred method. And whereas many businesses have a plan for their change-management projects, too few put people firmly at the centre of that planning.

The message was rammed home – you only get a successful outcome if your people are engaged and, as Kim Wylie pointed out, that engagement must be present at rational, emotional and behavioural levels. It’s not enough to introduce an idea and get intellectual buy-in. It’s also essential to understand that some people simply don’t like change – if they’re not comfortable with it, they won’t like it.  Similarly, it’s not enough to help people face up to a changing culture. It’s also essential to give them the tools and the learning opportunities they need.

Going digital doesn’t mean that there is no human input to a task, and whenever an organisation invests in new software or re-engineers a business process, it’s vital that the organisation also invests in the workforce. And that, in turn, means that we need to understand the changing nature of the workforce. As more and more millennials enter the workplace, attitudes and approaches to learning shift. Instead of a top-down, imposed plan, a collaborative, inclusive method is required. This generation is used to learning via a repeated process of trial and error, not by rote. They want to get stuck in and explore. They test, they adapt, and their ultimate success is empowering.  The worst thing we could do with these enquiring minds is to force them to follow fixed pathways and structures. They don’t want to wait for a training course in a month’s time. By then, they’ll have switched off. They want embedded communication and support now. Hands-on learning with instant feedback and instant gratification. That’s the reward that will see them adopt the new technology.

Making progress isn’t about the tech platform. It’s about understanding what makes individuals tick. Once you’ve got that, you’re well on the way to a happy outcome for your people and your transformation project.

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