Fujitsu recently released the latest edition of its strategic blueprint for the future, the Fujitsu Technology and Service Vision. The 2017 edition, Human Centric Innovation: Digital Co-creation, includes survey results that clearly underline the human element of a successful digital transformation strategy.
The report provides a snapshot of the issues that are uppermost in the minds of C-level executives and decision-makers in mid-sized and large enterprises, across 15 countries.
What struck me were the responses to the questions “Which factors are hindering the progress of your organization’s digital transformation?”, and “What are the most important capabilities that people need to strengthen in the digital era?”
The number one factor hindering progress, at 18 percent, was a “Lack of talented staff with the right skills for the transformation”. And the number one capability people need to strengthen, again at 18 percent, was, somewhat predictably, “Professional knowledge of digital technologies”. Much less predictable was the second factor, “Creativity and imagination”, which was very close behind, backed by 17 percent of respondents.
It’s the talent and the creativity parts that I’d like to explore, in particular in the context of diversity and inclusion. Digital transformation and especially automation and artificial intelligence, are set to change the way we work. And this will inevitably affect future workplace cultures as well as workforce expectations.
There is mounting evidence and a growing consensus that a diverse workforce and an inclusive workplace is good both for business and for the people working there. Definitions of course vary as to what that means, as well as the extent to which it applies in different cultures and geographies.
Broadly speaking, an inclusive workplace ensures that every person can be their whole self at work – knowing that the company and their colleagues will welcome them, irrespective of personal differences – backed by the necessary enablement and support mechanisms, such as corporate services, policies and benefits. Ultimately, these ensure that it is possible to really bring out the best in people. By workforce diversity, we mean employees who represent the societies where we operate our businesses, regardless of a number of personal factors including gender, religious beliefs, cultural backgrounds, physical capabilities and sexual orientation (LGBT+).
Enabling greater workforce diversity and workplace inclusivity takes effort, from “the center” as well as from “in the business”. Benefits may not always be immediately apparent to those inside the business, with the stereotypical response being along the lines of “I know it’s the right thing to do, but what difference does it really make, and isn’t that for someone else, like HR, to worry about?”
On the topic of talent, our survey accompanying the Fujitsu Technology and Service Vision underlines that business leaders believe a lack of talent will hinder progress. Where does talent come from? It’s recruited in to companies, developed, retained and engaged with. Diversity and Inclusion has a significant role to play in each of these. A company with a reputation for welcoming and genuinely supporting diversity will attract a substantially larger pool of prospective employees. That company will have policies and procedures in place, ensuring that talented people are identified and developed, irrespective of characteristics other than their performance and potential. Correspondingly, people who are fully engaged in the workplace are more likely to go the extra mile, feel more committed to their employer, and therefore are less likely to move on. This really underlines the key point that if you want to enable your organization’s digital transformation with talent, you need to make sure that you are taking diversity and inclusion seriously.
Now let’s consider creativity. Business leaders believe this to be among the most important capabilities that need strengthening in the digital era. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is evidence that diverse teams are more creative and therefore more innovative. It stands to reason that a diverse workforce will allow diverse teams to be established. It’s not quite as simple as that however. Studies have shown that people with similar characteristics form groups more quickly, as visible or apparent similarities enable rapid bonding and an associated ramp-up of team performance. However, although groups of people with different characteristics take longer to become effective, once they are up and running, they generally deliver a higher performance.
What this means is to ensure a business is truly enabled to be fit for digital, you need to provide the guidance and support that enables people in increasingly diverse teams to adapt to changes, and give them time and an appropriate environment in which to do so.
In summary, anyone responsible for a digitalization program should focus on the quality of the technology being deployed, the technical skills of the teams deploying it, and on the people who will be operating it.
However, the research findings are a strong indicator that non-technical aspects are arguably more important. A surefire way to enable and foster talent and creativity is through having a diverse workforce and an inclusive workplace. Business leaders, executives and managers of digitalization initiatives ignore these at their peril.