Every day, I hear people in business talking about digital transformation, digital disruption, the digital revolution. I hear them talk about their organisations becoming digital businesses.
But the thing is, in most cases they aren’t becoming anything of the sort.
We can’t underestimate the impact that technology has on the way we interact as consumers, as employees, as enterprises and service providers. But we need to be careful to avoid the easy distraction of the simple half-truth.
Before “the digital revolution”, we didn’t refer to ourselves as physical businesses. And to that point, it is hard to put a finger on when physical became digital. The calculator? The mainframe? The mobile phone? The internet? When was the start of the end and the end of the beginning?
It really doesn’t matter what sector your organisation operates in, finance, retail, leisure, media or public services. The chances are that the principal purpose for which you employ people and go to work every day isn’t “digital”, but something else. To insure people against loss, to sell people the means to keep warm, to provide entertainment, content or security, health and wellbeing.
I’m not splitting hairs, my experience of working in various organisations over the years has taught me that in times of change, in times of disturbance or disruption, the survivors are the ones that understand what they do and what they exist for. They have a purpose that transcends the means of delivery.
They remain single-mindedly focussed on this core purpose and reason for being, but completely open minded to the way in which they can execute it in a changing world. This differentiation between intent and execution is critical for organisational alignment and strategic direction.
As HR leaders, we can really demonstrate our value when organisations undergo change and there is no doubt that new technologies provide opportunities that need to be optimised and embraced. To do that, we’ve got to understand what our businesses are really about, how they make money or fulfil their public service remit.
The nature of business, of organisations, has changed before and it will change again. There will be new entrants to our worlds and established names will fall by the way. In many cases, the biggest difference between those that win and those that lose, will not be the change itself, but the ability to understand what stays the same.