By Lindiwe Miyambu, Group Executive for Human Capital at African Bank


HR digital transformation is a hot topic for HR professionals who are well aware of the power of digital technology and its potential and ability to transform HR as we know it. Covid-19 has given this revolution a turbo boost and amplified the challenge of transforming how HR operates on the one hand, and how the workforce needs to transform on the other. It has also clearly highlighted the human impact in digital transformation. 

Many companies find themselves in an uncanny situation where Covid-19 has in fact been the unexpected catalyst for digital adoption. Significantly, those companies that had solid digital foundations are now tweaking aspects of their offering, as opposed to building digital solutions from the ground up and HR has needed to be front and centre, finding the tools to empower individuals to work more effectively.

What’s become very clear is that, although it’s assumed digital transformation is heavily technology centred, it’s a mistake not to appreciate that digital transformations are just as much about the people as they are about the technology. The term reflects the alignment of people, process and systems/technology to empower people, engage customers, optimise operations and transform products. 

Finding ways of getting people to work differently is the real challenge. It’s not only upskilling teams, but also inspiring them to want to make the change. Losing sight of the impact on your people and culture is one of the biggest reasons digital transformation so often fails.


Change is the only constant

Like anything else in an organisation, to be successful, this drive for change cannot rest within your Human Capital division alone. The focus on overall improvements to resources and people needs to encompass the entire organisation. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that the culture of most companies has changed irrevocably. The “how we do things around here” is changing daily, and in some cases forever. We have had to find new ways of embracing the benefits of digital transformation.

With change being the only constant, how we respond to change will determine the future of our organisations. The higher our adaptability quotient the more likely an organisation will be to adjust and thrive in an environment of change. One thing is clear, everyone within the organisation is responsible for its success. It becomes a company’s philosophy and in turn it must become everyone’s responsibility to continually learn, unlearn and relearn in order to grow and adapt. 

HR digital transformation starts with leadership driving change and creating a platform for change which needs consistent evaluation and investment. Leaders should start by answering the big “when and what” questions. Digital transformation must then be clearly articulated and supported with a clear plan to enable people to formulate when they need to do what and how that needs to cascade effectively through the organisation. Everyone is then involved in the execution which deals with the ‘how’ factor, which in turn ensures a smoother transition into this new, more agile way of working.

Not only are we changing how people typically make decisions, relate and engage with one another in a work project environment, we are also changing the way they learn. They’ve had to develop new skills to accommodate new learning styles and the ability to change not only the pace of what they need to learn, but how they need to learn. Learning needs must be met at an individualised basis, at a more constant pace with new and changing tools. What is true today is generally not true tomorrow in this fast-paced environment, so continual learning and adoption is essential. At African Bank we are working towards a 70:20:10 split, with our preference and learning, leaning towards an almost 70% digital/virtual learning approach.


Empowering people to make decisions

The ability to make decisions per se, is not the challenge within organisations, but rather learning how to empower people to make decisions. Agile empowers teams to make project execution work decisions and instils agency within these teams. Leaders do not, therefore, need to be consulted about every small decision, given that their goals and Objectives, Key Results (OKRs) are very clear.

A key focus has been building a psychologically safe working environment where work groups are comfortable to voice their opinions and ideas, without the fear of being judged or reprimanded. Leaders have needed to learn not to micro-manage these groups but rather to allow decisions to be taken far more regularly and quickly. The traditional way of waiting weeks for a decision to be approved by the hierarchy are a thing of the past.

These days, to successfully grow and thrive you need structures which facilitate quicker decision making and new product methodologies that can accommodate this change. All teams need to share the same business vision, cascading down by clear Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), with short sprints of decision making and quick identification and removal of impediments. 

But again, without individuals feeling empowered and brave enough to make decisions which could be wrong, the entire structure falls flat. Too much oversight can show teams signs of mistrust and punishing failure will only result in immobilising their work. Engaging and inspiring others to see more than just the problems before them, has become a priority for leaders who need their teams to see the possibilities within the problems and to be brave enough to make decisions they believe in.


Allowing for flexibility

Then of course with many teams still working remotely, flexibility is another key requirement. Although a concrete plan is important, leaders should be open to adjusting strategies as needed. Whether they choose to put in their hours in the morning or evening should not matter, as long as the work gets completed and is of high quality.

The best method is to ask your people how they want to be managed while working remotely. All of this requires leadership to fully understand that relationship building is a key ingredient that will enable them to employ different methods for their diverse teams. Agility, adaptability, transparency and empathy are essential qualities for leaders today. 


Looking forward

Looking forward, we believe the workplace of the future will become a hybrid model of people working from home and at the office. Leaders will be required to relearn new ways of leading in a remote world as the predominant delegate-and-comply model of management will no longer work. Encouragement of ongoing human connection through continuous communication and leadership one-on-ones, which promote higher levels of trust, engagement, and productivity are key. 

This change in culture, in the way people interact with each other, how they learn, and what tools they use, has an impact on how problems are solved and how business decisions will be made in future. There is no doubt that digital transformation is ongoing, and HR will need to remain in a state of continuous review and transformation. At the centre of everything will remain people.