There is no dispute that we have undergone and will continue to experience significant digital transformation.  You can look at any industry and see the impact of technology. There are new apps, new features, and digital experiences in every aspect of our lives, and as we look to the future of work specifically, we will see more.  More automation. More AI. More virtual and augmented reality. More robots. More human-machine partnerships. Basically, more of anything technology related. 

One could assume that if there is a continued increase in and focus on technology, there is a less and decreasing need for a focus on humans as part of the work equation.  However, that assumption would be wrong.  In a world of data, digitization, and digital transformation, the future of work is more human centered than ever before.

Technology transforms how we work, and automation can drive efficiencies.  Humans drive how effectively technology is used to deliver results, create a competitive advantage, or solve problems.  In short, technology can help us scale, but humans drive real sustainable growth and performance.  

The bottom line:  As organizations evolve technologically, they should employ human centered strategies to drive the best results.  These strategies include:

  1. Elevating human touch points as a part of the customer experience – Engaged employees create engaged customers, and engaged customers create sustainable growth.  This is a proven correlation in behavioral economics, yet many companies have driven technology to the forefront of the customer experience and the humans as more of a backstop or last resort.  In doing so, those companies put themselves more into the category of a commodity and the customer experience is more transactional.  While perhaps more efficient, both come with the risk of less ‘stickiness’ with the customer.  If the goal is to create lasting connections with customers or clients, we must ensure that the customer experience is truly relational, not simply transactional.  This is achieved by creating more intentional human touchpoints that elevate the experience and deliver value added elements on top of appropriate technology solutions. When done well in the right balance, the approach differentiates and results in greater client enthusiasm. 
  2. Equipping leaders to be people focused.  Emotional intelligence (EQ) in leaders is more important now than ever before and being a people manager is increasingly more complex.  Roles and role expectations are dynamically changing. Work arrangements are flexible. Physical presence is fluid. How, when, and where people do work is different. And the whole person comes to work.  The ability to help each team member bring the best of themselves and their performance to the job is an essential part of a leader’s role, and to do it well, a leader must apply more intentionality than previously required. Therefore, companies must prioritize leadership development, and ensure that leaders are given the skills and tools to understand the workers of today and how to lead them in a continuously changing work environment. In addition, companies must recognize that leaders need the space and time to devote to the people aspects of their role.
  3. Building internal capabilities to drive the people-dependent outcomes of change.  The desired outcomes and ROI from most technology changes are people dependent, meaning employees must achieve a behavior change or execute some aspect of their work differently for the technology to achieve the intended results.  To do change well, we must meet people where they are and effectively address this human side of technology transformation.  The human side strategies go beyond training to include communication, coaching, resistance management, and reinforcement. In work environments where delivering with technology is an imperative, organizations that build their internal capabilities to consistently and repeatedly prepare, equip, and support people throughout any change will be able to “out-change” the competition and win consistently in the market.  
  4. Embedding learning in organizational culture.  In a rapidly changing environment, the ability to learn and unlearn quickly is essential.  Everyone must adapt to move forward. Static knowledge results in stagnant outcomes. To survive, we must build learning into the organizational culture.  Historically, learning has been defined by experiences in the ‘classroom’ or as part of a course. While learning base level skills might still happen “traditionally”, the true power of organizational growth and the ability to pivot when change happens is through a learning culture.  Within a true learning culture, knowledge sharing is pervasive and seen as a norm.  That knowledge sharing may relate to client information, technical expertise, performance improvement, or simply new ideas or areas of exploration.  It takes the form of informal conversations, intimate learning circles, mentoring or one-to-ones, experiential learning, and resource sharing.  If the habit of this “in the moment” knowledge sharing and performance improvement is embedded in the fabric of the culture, it increases the ability for the organization to adapt to technology and other changes more quickly and manage unexpected shifts with greater ease.  Most importantly, it helps promote organizational growth on all fronts.

Technology has the ability to transform the future of our work, but the humans using and adopting it have the greatest impact on transforming our results.  As you move forward, consider what human centered strategies you will implement to make the greatest difference for your organization.