Adapt or die…

It is not the strongest of the species, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that’s most adaptable to change.

Charles Darwin 

If 2020 has taught us anything by now is this: we have to be ready to adapt and change overnight because the costs of not being able to do so are simply too great. 

CEOs and leaders everywhere were faced with hard decisions. On top of their fully packed schedule filled with prioritising, strategising, conflict management, putting out fires and so on, they were faced with a brutal reality. The way they were doing business had to change overnight and their success depended on how fast they could adapt to the new market needs. In my research I was really curious about what is something that successful CEO’s tend to do really well. One of the things that stood out is that it has to do with being able to adapt proactively. This means that having a growth mindset, dealing well with setbacks, thinking long term and following through with their commitments can be what sets them apart from the not so successful ones. A research article from HBR shows that leaders who have this capacity are  670% more likely to succeed, which is quite astonishing when you think about the defining traits. 

According to the Economist, “COVID-19 has led to the mass infusion of data enabled services into even more aspects of life”. What this means is that Digital Transformation is now more important than ever. 

Doing it wrong can be really costly.

In 2018, in the US alone, $1.3t was spent on Digital Transformation. Out of that, a staggering $900B went to waste. This means that 70% of projects that intended to apply Digital Transformation completely failed to be implemented. 

Although 93% of companies agree that innovative tech is critical and 53% of CEOs say that digital transformation has led to revenue growth, the reality is that we still fail to act on it. More often than not, on the road to digital transformation, organisations pay more attention to technology than to their own people’s adaptability to change and their own processes which are crucial elements of the equation. 

As I dug into the research deeper I spotted the same problem over and over again. When we consider Digital Transformation we don’t take People into account. Companies forget to utilise their greatest asset yet!

Utilising this better can not only save you money but also it can make you millions. 

Technology alone is not the answer, but leveraged correctly, it becomes a force multiplier for your human capital.

But why do we ignore this all the time although research keeps pointing out at the importance of people in transformational change? 

To me it falls under the category of things we dismiss because we think we know them. As I often say only applied knowledge will serve us and can propel us forward. 

Here are some suggestions from us, that we shared during our Digital Transformation for CEOs in the Cambodian context a couple of weeks back.

  1. Pay attention to your people 

Technology and its creativity comes from being able to automate, doing more with less but in order for all of this to be effective, we need the right human skills. Innovation and its creative aspect are dependent on, you guess it..people. As such, human adaptability becomes an important element and re-skilling and up-skilling our people becomes a crucial element of the equation. With the future being as uncertain as it is right now, a safe bet would definitely be a focus on your people. Encourage collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and focus on their self growth. When it comes to investing in technology, as a leader, you have to consider investing in your people as in the absence of great human potential technology become useless. 

2. Focus on soft skills

Do you know what the skills gaps are in your organisation? Are you promoting from within and are you offering in job training? If that’s not something you offer, as an organisation, you have to start considering it – that’s if you want to stay ahead of the game.

What tends to be left out in the digital transformation process is that the key technological skills are soft skills rather than hard skills. Over the years, I’ve had this conversation multiple times and I’ll keep emphasising this point: Having the right technical skills without the right attitude, mindset, capacity to adapt become really useless. Without people who are curious, adaptable and flexible we won’t be able to progress much. As such, your focus as a leader should be to focus on those soft skills. In our journey for Digital Transformation creating a data driven mindset within the company becomes crucial but you cannot do this without people who are willing to learn and grow. 

“Since nobody knows what the key future hard skills will be, the best action is to bet on the people who are most likely to develop them. Our own talent development philosophy is to combine this dual focus on potential for soft skills, and knowledge for hard skills: we select people with high learnability (people with a hungry mind) and match their interests to in-demand skills, while understanding that those hard skills may soon become outdated — so the key is that their curiosity remains intact. Technical competence is temporary, but intellectual curiosity must be permanent.”

3. Drive change from the top 

Real change typically happens from the top down. It’s a simple display of transformational leadership. And you don’t need me to say that especially in today’s context we have seen displays of leadership that have simply transformed countries and organisations even during unprecedented times. We all have access to the same tech, we have the same amount of time in a day and so on but what differentiate you from your competitors is that you’re leading your company. You bring to the table your mindset, your values, your integrity, your competence. Pair that with great talent and a data driven mindset and you will surely see some radical changes happening.

4. Make sure you’re action on your data insights 

Which brings me to my next point. So much of the current discussion on data is focused on AI, machine learning, deep learning, or natural language processing. As exciting as these technologies are, what will give you that competitive advantage is having the necessary skills to translate that data into meaningful insights, and above all being able to act on those insights. We cannot over-emphasise the importance of this point. Simply hiring the smartest talent or buying fancy AI tools doesn’t mean you automatically become high-tech. If you think of companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, you will soon realise that the common denominator is their radical data-driven culture. Their strategic advantage is that they live and breathe according to their data. You have to start thinking of your data as oxygen and this is something that you need to cultivate, nurture and harness in time, in order to set yourself apart from your competitors. 

As these last months have demonstrated, human being have the capacity to adapt and be agile. But if we think about it the agility is typically people-led and supported by technology. For the last 10 years, I’ve spent a lot of time researching on what sets organisations who succeed apart and I always come to the same conclusion – the common denominator is people – people who are willing to adapt, to stay agile, to reinvent themselves and use technology to enable them to stay ahead of the game.

Human beings are the common denominator to the concept of future proofing, whether it’s as a complement to the technology being unleashed for remote working, or whether it’s because we possess the soft skills and leadership needed to navigate a historic crisis, or because we have the insights needed to drive slow success or fast failure for a cure. It all starts with each and every one of us, and those we are responsible for developing. The key is to nurture curiosity, so we have options, even outside of a crisis.

Harvard Business Review