Are You Ready For The Digitalization Disruption?

Back in the 1990s, the only way to communicate with out-of-office employees was by sending a personal message via colleague or landline phone. I can also remember when we wanted someone in the office to read something, we passed it along with a “buck slip.” And if you were at the end of that slip, you might not see it for months!

Yet today in the age of the internet, smartphones, streaming and the cloud, we are always connected, and the line dividing our personal and professional lives is increasingly becoming blurred. New technologies are constantly coming at us, causing organizations across industries to experience digital disruption. What does it all mean?

Digitalization is changing the workplace so dramatically that the acquisition of new digital skills has become a prerequisite for success

In most offices around the world, there is now a mixture of generations (from Boomers to Gen Zs) who grew up in very different digital environments but who face similar challenges in the workplace, such as embracing new technology and experiencing information overload.

On top of that, rather than communicating through the telephones of yesteryear, people today are linked through cloud computing and IoT. Along with AI, automated machines and digital technology, everything in our lives now fits into a digital cyber-physical ecosystem. For many of us, it’s hard to keep up!

The effect of digitalization on employees’ work habits

One of the “buzz words” we’re hearing a lot these days is digitalization, which basically involves the use of digital technology to restructure an organization’s practices, business processes and customer experiences to meet ever-increasing competitive demands. One of our On The Brink podcasts focuses on this topic, which you can listen to here.

You can see this digitalization play out in companies like Alibaba, Airbnb and Uber, which have entirely disrupted their industries by creating new paradigms of customer engagement. You also see it in brick-and-mortar retail stores, where robotic assistants now perform customer support services. And in the healthcare industry, surgical procedures and patient care have been transformed by digital technologies.

In fact, the impact of digitalization in the workplace has been so profound that how and where people work has dramatically changed just since the last decade. According to several surveys:

  • 70% of people across the globe work remotely at least one day a week, and 53% work remotely at least half the week (CNBC)
  • 54% of people work when they’re sick, 53% work over the weekend and 52% work outside designated work hours (American Psychological Association)
  • 36% of the U.S. workforce (57.3 million) are freelancing full-time or part-time (Forbes)
  • Almost half of U.S. workers have a high likelihood of having their jobs automated over the next two decades. However, more than half of CEOs say digitalization positively affects profitability (Gartner).

Changing skill requirements mean that companies, and workers, have to adjust

In these rapidly-changing times, one thing is becoming very clear: businesses need to “future-proof” themselves. For instance, there are huge talent gaps right now in machine learning, AI and cybersecurity. These are top skills that companies look for when hiring IT professionals, which is why approximately one in three companies across the U.S. and Europe plan to hire more tech workers next year.

In particular, cybersecurity has drawn a lot of attention over the last decade as the number of cyberattacks has increased dramatically. Yet in spite of this, there is currently a shortage of skilled cybersecurity workers, at the same time that cyberattacks are affecting businesses of all sizes in all sectors, with ever-greater frequency and sophistication.

An obvious takeaway is that companies can’t afford to miss chances to provide cybersecurity skills training for employees who are ready to take on a new role. However, very few employees have the required support or training to change their career trajectory within their company. Those willing to take on new roles need a clear career progression path because it can help incentivize current staff to look outside their immediate job roles. Clearly, there’s an opportunity here for companies to “future-proof” themselves. We did a great On The Brink podcast on cybersecurity, which you can listen to here.

3 ways organizations can facilitate digitalization-driven change

So, is digitalization a good or a bad thing? Depends on who you ask. According to a 2017 Gartner survey, around 56% of CEOs around the world think that the impact of the digital transformation is a positive thing. As for employees, their perspective is not as positive. About 40% of global employees believe they won’t be able to keep up with this rapid rate of change, says IT Brief. Still, there are certain steps companies can take to keep their personnel from becoming discouraged during today’s digital transformation, as well as after it:

  1. RETHINK how to adapt current job duties and descriptions to new digital processes.
  2. RESKILL Equip them with the skills necessary for performing new roles through proper training. Even jobs in the data center or IT department may require reconsideration because new processes and technology require additional training and certification.
  3. REDEPLOY employees with specific skills to other departments of the company where those skills will be more useful or appropriate.

What digitalization means for organizational culture

One of the main things that stands in the way of a company achieving success in the digital age is its organizational culture. What I mean by this is that businesses typically have three main digital-culture shortcomings:

  1. Difficulty forming and acting on a single view of the customer
  2. Fear of taking risks
  3. Functional and departmental silos

How can they work through this? By building a culture where people won’t feel uncomfortable trying new things.

Leaders need to act as role models and break the status quo of hierarchical decision-making. The focus of the culture’s DNA needs to shift from optimizing current processes to creating innovative new ones in order to create a culture where learning from failure is celebrated. I recently wrote a blog about the importance of recognizing your mistakes and learning from them, which I invite you to read here.

You should know, however, that cultural changes within organizations will always be slower and more complex than technological changes. That’s why business leaders need to take a proactive rather than passive stance on rethinking their organization culture. They won’t achieve the agility and “future-proofing” they need unless they build a culture that performs well across all departments and processes, that focuses on customers, and that embraces risk. If they want to have a competitive edge in this age of digitization and to attract and keep the best talent, this is absolutely crucial.

But don’t forget to actually talk to each other!

While I have discussed all the benefits of the digital age, I also want to note the loss of some social skills. More and more these days, people are losing their ability to interact with their colleagues, talk to their bosses and communicate with others on a social level. (How many times do you see a couple sit down at a table and start texting, not talking?) Even with all the advances technology has brought us, let’s not give up one for the other.

4 ways to learn more about digitalization and culture change

Feeling left behind in these changing times? We can help.

At Simon Associates Management Consultants (SAMC), we specialize in helping organizations accept, prepare for and adapt to change. Applying the tools, methods and principles of anthropology and Blue Ocean Strategy® are two of the primary ways we do this. Please contact us to discuss how our team of specialized corporate anthropologists and culture change experts can work with you so that you and your business can overcome today’s technological challenges and soar. We look forward to hearing from you.

From Observation to Innovation,


Andy Simon
Partner, Simon Associates Management Consultants 

Don’t miss a single episode of our On The Brink podcast!
Subscribe now