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Maintaining Humanity and Purpose in a World Digitally Transformed

  • by Hyper Island Asia

It starts with bottom up change

Melanie Cook, Managing Director, Hyper Island Asia Pacific

“Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we have chosen instead to have overwork for some and starvation for others. Hitherto we have continued to be as energetic as we were before there were machines.”

British philosopher Bertrand Russell’s words have rung true for almost a century now, but a certain global pandemic might have finally pushed the needle. Suddenly, every company is a digital company. The machines have become integral for basic communication and work-continuation across the working world. Digitalisation was not just a stop-gap solution too—many believe it is the bridge over these troubled waters.

In Asia, eighty-five per cent of the entrepreneurs and 87 per cent of the MSME (micro, small and medium enterprise) entrepreneurs surveyed saw digitalisation as the way forward for economic recovery.

CEOs and CTOs speak endlessly on what digitalisation can do for their company—saving time, manual effort, and human error. But what does this exponential digitalisation mean for human purpose? How does purpose and profit co-exist?

In a time where people’s tasks and even entire jobs are being automated, how does a leader help their people find their reason-to-be as they see increasing technology-led decision-making?

Provide a larger purpose as a guiding compass and enable change from the Grassroots up

When jobs and tasks start getting automated rapidly, it is essential to help teams define their purpose (why they exist) and their culture (how they work together to achieve that purpose).

Defining these two things will help any team to be more focused and aligned, but also enable teams to understand that all things work towards a common goal and vision. The point of digitising accounting processes isn’t to replace the accountant, but to free up the accountant for decisions that machines cannot make—so that the organisation as a whole benefits from these decisions.

It is important that both leaders and their teams understand that digitisation is not the end—it is the means to an end. Digital transformation isn’t your organisation’s mission, it’s merely an improvement in practical procedures.

Most people only embrace change when it happens with them, not when it happens to them. Sometimes, change comes from the invisible forces of the outside market. But the most impactful and true changes come from within—from the grassroots up. Leaders need to give their employees a purpose to guide change and empower their employees to make those changes.

Business transformation has long been governed by the C-suite—but with limited success. According to McKinsey, 70% of business transformations fail. We believe that the key to creating a real impact within a business, and therefore the organisation itself, is to instigate business transformation from the bottom up.

Grassroots Transformation empowers people to drive change through innovation and is designed with the beliefs that impactful change starts within your current sphere of influence, meaningful change starts with the individual, not to the individual and for it to be joyful, change must come through innovation, not force majeure.

At Hyper Island, we have created and adapted frameworks, tools and processes that people from any level of the hierarchy can use to innovate a business. People should have the courage and capability to drive digital transformation themselves, so that they can instigate digitisation while designing themselves into the transformation.

Teach employees how to embrace uncertainty with creativity

The thing is, digitisation is inevitable. No matter how traditional an industry is, processes will become automated. From construction to manufacturing, automation knows no bounds. Instead of fearing the oncoming shift, organisations must teach their teams to embrace, coexist and work in tandem with digitisation. Technology should not be seen as a competitor, but a complement.

This is easy to comprehend in theory, but how does this look like in practical terms? Organisations must focus on human-centric skill sets: leadership, creativity, agility, innovation.

These are the skillsets that the machines of today cannot touch. Leading a team, ideation, and conceptualisation are inherently human activities— still remain the domain of the human brain. But every single one can be supported and strengthened by digitisation. For instance, tools like remote scrums and kanban boards can help to build agility and change the way you work.

Support work-life digital integration and keep motivation and engagement up

As we integrate more of these digital tools into our lives, personal and professional, it is important for organisations to support this shift. The past two years have taught us that employees crave investment in the human aspects of work, they want social and interpersonal connections with colleagues and managers—a shared sense of identity.

The sudden loss of that has contributed to the wave of The Great Resignation. According to McKinsey, fifty-three percent of the employers said that they are experiencing greater voluntary turnover than they had in previous years, and 64 percent expect the problem to continue—or worsen—over the next six months.

Organisations and leaders must internalise and accept that sustainable transformation has to come from the organisation itself, and not just as demands from the leadership team. They must equip themselves by learning how to address the huge structural changes that are happening in society and the implications they have for their organisations; and understand how to lead teams through methods which give direction to, and enable employees to digitise and transform.

Be an active participant in the great tides of transformative technology

Bertrand Russell wrote those words in the height of The Great Depression, an era of mass unemployment. The Great Resignation poses a neat parallel, but this time, it’s voluntary, intentional and progressive. While the machines swept in with the Industrial Revolution, so too, do artificial intelligence and the advanced software today.

The people of the Industrial Revolution also feared and despised their steam-powered successors. Through the decades we have not only learnt to coexist with these machines, but have come to accept and heavily rely on them for daily life. We’re seeing history repeat itself, we must use what we know and to build a human-centric, empathetic and equitable future for ourselves, driven by the employees for employees.

(This article first appeared on The Business Times, April 16 2022)

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