Guest Column | June 27, 2019

Futureproof Your Organization In The Age Of Digital Transformation

By Debbie Shotwell, Saba Software


Digital transformation is happening all around us, in our organizations and our personal lives. Are you ready? Whether you are or not, it has arrived. As technology develops at a dizzying pace, the way we do business is changing. This affects everything from how we acquire customers, to what we offer the market, to our tools, processes and our employees.

To succeed in this new world, our organizations must evolve their talent management practices to reflect new digital innovations and processes. It’s not a “nice to have” – the survival of the company may eventually be at stake. Constellation Research uncovered that industry-leading companies' ability to adapt to digital disruption was a key component in their long-term success. Since 2000, they found 52 percent of companies on the Fortune 500 list declared bankruptcy, went through an acquisition, or simply ceased to exist.

And here’s a heavy thought: The talent management practices that led us to success may not work in the future. You don’t want your organization to be left behind because of a failure to adapt quickly enough to the new digital landscape. The key to reimagining how to leverage technology and processes comes down to creating a new talent development strategy. HR and learning leaders, it’s time for futureproofing.

HR Leaders: Get Ready For The Future
The digital future waits for no one! This is the time to make talent development a top priority. HR and learning leaders: your task list should include identifying, supporting and developing skills and competencies that your people need to excel – and that improve business results.

Strive toward futureproofing your workforce by creating a continuous, hyper-connected development experience for people that aligns to the ever-shifting goals of the business. As the digital transformation marches on, your organization needs to fight to keep its competitive edge.

Growing Retailer Pursues Integrated Talent Development
Northern Tool + Equipment faced digital transformation a few years ago when its paper-based performance review process was predicted to falter as the tools and equipment retail chain grew rapidly. Once the company (with 2,500 employees in 20 states) transitioned to performance management technology, employee performance improved.

“There was a lot of pain with the (old) review process,” said Dustin Bernsten, Director of Talent Management for Northern Tool + Equipment. “Having a technology that gives us visibility has made really all the difference to our senior leaders.” 

Northern Tool + Equipment now enjoys insight into goals from valuable front-line employees who interact daily with customers. These goals can flow upward toward the rest of the organization, giving an influence to these workers that didn’t exist a few years ago. Employees’ creative ideas are more visible to managers and executives with the new technology.

Coaching Strategies To Prep Your Workforce
Consider your rockstar employees. In a competitive market, they could get a job anywhere. Supporting their ongoing skill development is more important now than ever before. I recommend starting with coaching as one tool to retain high-caliber talent, safeguard institutional knowledge and drive business outcomes.

Here are ways to support employees by giving them the resources and guidance they crave to improve skills and close performance gaps.

  • Setting Goals And Providing Ongoing Coaching

Using the 1:1 meeting format, managers can capture employee goals and align them with strategic business objectives. The 1:1 meeting is a tool both managers and employees can take advantage of as once-per-year appraisals (that no one likes anyway!) are replaced with modern performance management where development and performance conversations are everyday activities. During regular check-in meetings, managers and employees can discuss goal progress, challenges and milestones, and career development opportunities.

In the course of the 1:1, special emphasis should be given to employee goal setting that is tied to the goals of the business. Among high-performing organizations, Brandon Hall Group found that 51 percent linked objectives to departmental goals and 42 percent linked L&D objectives to individual performance reviews.

  • Creating A Place Where Feedback Is Welcome

Open, two-way dialogue is great...if your organization has created a culture of feedback first. Lead your managers by offering training and support to be effective coaches who seek and receive feedback. Just 47 percent of organizations report that they have a formal program to train managers to become better coaches and mentors, so make sure your organization bucks this trend.

Develop A Culture Of Learning

Coaching for growth is meaningless if the culture of your organization is not oriented around learning. The most successful digitally enabled companies share one thing in common: they have transformed how their people learn and lead.

By encouraging the exploration of new ideas and countless iterations, these high-performing organizations feed the hunger employees want for development opportunities. After all, 94 percent of employees say they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career but the number one reason employees feel they aren’t learning and upskilling is because they don’t have the time.

Make Time For Learning
Encourage employees to carve out time for learning in the flow of work. Boost accountability by following up on learning progress in 1:1 meetings with managers. We all know that every learning opportunity doesn’t have to be a two-day offsite learning extravaganza. So create a talent development environment where your employees can learn and apply their new skills in the flow of work. Microlearning, with its “bite-sized” amount of content, is a perfect avenue for this. You’ll find that employees thrive as they seek out the training they need and then share their knowledge with others.

As your employees build learning and development momentum, they’ll discover that the digital transformation is a tremendous opportunity to develop skills they never knew they needed. Tomorrow is bright – for businesses and employees alike – so begin your futureproofing today.

Debbie Shotwell, Saba SoftwareAbout The Author

As the Chief People Officer of Saba Software, Debbie Shotwell is responsible for human resources, learning and development, employee communications and community relations.

Debbie brings more than 25 years of passion and experience building high-performance teams and cultures that deliver results. She is a Certified Compensation Professional (CCP), a member of the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) and has been featured on, Forbes and the SHRM blog. She's the recipient of the National Association of Professional Women's Humanitarian Award and has served on the board of directors of Pleasanton Partners in Education and 101 Best and Brightest.