Workforce Digital Transformation Summit in Amsterdam – Key Take Aways

Workforce Digital Transformation Summit in Amsterdam

Day Two of the Workforce Digital Transformation Summit

I had the honour of chairing the second day and started the day with a quick recap.

Workforce Digital Transformation Summit Event Banner
Fig.2: The Event Banner

The first speaker was Bjarte Bosgnes chairman of the Beyond Budgeting Roundtable who spoke on Beyond Budgeting as an enabler for Agile. I will come back on the concept of Beyond Budgeting as I have his book on the topic in my reading list. I thought his key messages, particularly around the need to think in terms of Management Innovation and not just technology.

He spoke a lot of the Illusion of Control that many of our management processes give (and Budgeting is one of these). The goal instead needs to be to move to full transparency as a way to avoid too many controls and checks. In Equinor, they translated this in an approach named Ambition to Action, which is a process to translate strategy and manage the risk that enables the required transparency and flexibility. This process also delivers a continuous dialogue on what to measure. Nothing happens just because we measure it.

It was then the turn on the stage of Kiki Van Den Berg EVP HR at RaboBank who spoke about Transforming Workforce and Scaling. She brought the experience of scaling Agile ways of working to a team of approximately 3000 people, and the challenges faced. She stressed how this approach could bring happiness in the Workplace, that she defines as being able to give a meaningful contribution to the business, feeling the success of your achievement. One of the critical lessons they learnt in scaling agile was that of syncing the organisation on one way of working and one “rhythm”. No more different sprint length per team, but one unique “heartbeat” across the org.

Frank Theilen VP Digital Transformation at Emerson, looked at Digital Adoption Challenges. His point of view was interesting as he looked at the challenge of adoption from multiple angles: Leadership, Employees, Customers. He looked at how business leaders can adopt innovation mindset, how employees will change behaviour in their adoption journey, and how customers can adopt new services through the usage of MVPs as a platform to share value.

After a short break, it was the turn of Sarah Clark from General Assembly, sponsor of the event. Her intervention was about the failures in Digital Transformation. She presented many data points from different sources but focused primarily on the key reasons why some transformation fail. Human Factor is on top. 

Then Joelle Carrere from AkzoNobel has spoken about Data Visualization. She covered the challenges of bringing back different business units and functions under one unique umbrella and focused on the centrality of Master Data Management in this. On HR data, the challenge that persists is the scepticism of many. 

After lunch, we had Asif Sadiq from The Telegraph who covered the critical topic of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging. He made a couple of fascinating points, challenging widespread assumptions on current Diversity and Inclusion practices. We tend to put people in boxes based on one attribute, usually the more “visible” one. The issue is that Intersectionality is a reality. People belong to multiple groups at the same time, and they often don’t recognise themselves in the most visible one. In this boxing then we often forget Men. We don’t do enough on talking to them on the importance of inclusion, which then creates the reaction and results in defensive behaviours. We need to redesign our processes taking into consideration all diversities, whereas instead, we tend to do this only applying a concept of “normal” that doesn’t exist. This applies to new technologies and algorithms, as well.

We then had a panel discussion on the topic of HR Technology and Change Management, moderated by Fernando de Almeida. Frank Theilen, Hanna Summa and Meredith Taghi took part. The key outcome here is that HR technology implementation is always a journey. HR comes from a period when it fell in love with all new shiny objects, implemented the, but did not really reason in terms of their added value (which BTW I think is the reason of why so many investments in HR startups have happened). HR needs to learn more with technology partners on this, and especially take the bull by the horns and own the change management part.

The two last presentations were from Clara Jakubik from Keolis and Erzsébet Malzenicky from VEON. The first was about the implementation of a Digital Academy for the entire population of Keolis. A considerable endeavour especially for the employees (think bus drivers) not connected to the company’s IT systems. It was a tremendous journey. Still, with a strong commitment of the leadership and thoughtful thinking of the content, it became a great example of how we can spread digital literacy in our companies. 

The Veon case was a bit of a “hit” on our stomach. Most of the companies participating in the event did not come from technology. So we all felt the discussion to be about something that is still in the future somehow. Veon is a telecommunications company, with operations in many emerging countries. For them, Digital Transformation started ten years ago, as they were transforming ing mobile…and has never stopped!

Her conclusions were an excellent summary of the entire event. Simplicity is a crucial attribute for success. There is a tendency to create complexity, but this will not sustain the test of time. We need to think holistically, as technology is affecting everything: employees, customers, partners. And we need to think about all their individualities. We need to use data to gain credibility and define our decisions. And we need to consider at transformation as a long journey against a moving target, not one process. 

Summing Up

The Workforce Digital Transformation Summit was an exciting event, with two days of full immersion. The first conclusion is that nobody has a silver bullet on this topic. There is not “One Solution”. It’s the world of trial and error and learning around the way. But for sure, the issue is on everyone’s agenda.

The second significant point is that it is not a destination but a journey. And this is the most significant change in our mindset. We then need others in our organisations to also understand this, which calls for an essential role for HR in shaping authentic digital cultures.

Last but not least, the change will happen whether we want it or not. It’s in our power to define which role we want to take in this. 

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  1. […] part in a recent event, one of the speaker at a certain point mentioned a sentence that made me think. We need to […]

  2. Massimo Giannini

    Brief, interesting and straight to some of the key points to building up the future workforce.
    I like your belief that the technology component isn’t a differentiation, especially if access to it is really instantaneous. But is it the case today?

    • Hi Massimo! Issue is that technology can be easily bought now. True in most cases is not immediate, but it is also true that the differentiation points among technologies are not many. HR can differentiate in the way it adapts processes to deliver significant experiences, using tech intelligently

  3. […] reduced as a project with an end date. Big learning that came out for example from the conference I recently attended in Amsterdam, where we learnt that telcos are digitally transforming since at least 11 […]

  4. […] is a crucial element. Also, at a recent event, we discussed what role HR should play. We need to take the lead on the cultural side of the […]

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