Why are so many digital transformation efforts stalling? Because leaders remain fixated on technology, at the expense of humanity.
The pressure to radically reshape organizations is only accelerating: industries keep converging, new competitors appearing, and societal and stakeholder expectations rising. Yet digital transformation efforts at many organizations are stalling. The reason? Transforming in a way that drives significant business value and has meaningful impact on the way organizations generate value for stakeholders requires applying a new, human-centered framework. It requires organizations escape the historical definition of “work” to become what we call a “Human Enterprise”.
The Human Enterprise reframes our relationship with technology to enable new ways of working and unlock new paths to value. It’s about making enterprises more human, applying a human dimension to both deploying technology at speed and innovation at scale. But it’s also about the enterprise of being human. Today’s emerging technologies provide a historically unique opportunity to free us from work we shouldn’t be doing and empower us to undertake work we should. It’s in this way that we are really engaged not in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but the First Human Revolution — using the power of technologies such as artificial intelligence to proactively change the way we work and, in turn, the very nature of the organization.
Building a Human Enterprise
There’s a reason technology-led advantage is increasingly short-lived. First, if everyone is transforming, no one is — transformation is today the new normal. Second, technology alone isn’t the solution — it’s a tool, and its effectiveness depends on how it empowers what we do. We’re at an inflection point where we can drive how technology shapes our world, rather than being driven by it. The Human Enterprise sits at the heart of this transformation. So how do you build one? By following six principles:
1. Human-first, not digital first
Always ask, “What are the human implications of this decision?” Empathy is the driving principle when designing solutions in a Human Enterprise, ensuring technology:
- is like well-designed furniture — ubiquitous, essential, unobtrusive, intuitive and supportive
- not only automates mundane, repetitive tasks, but acts as a tool to unlock greater creativity and collaboration
- enables and empowers change and innovation, but isn’t the focal point of transformation efforts
2. Purpose and values-driven foundation
Recognize value means more than financial metrics. A Human Enterprise defines its purpose and creates an ecosystem of long-term value, including the well-being of human stakeholders. That means it embraces technology as an instrument to realize its purpose.
3. Collaborative, “open architecture” culture
A Human Enterprise has an ‘open architecture’ culture, removing friction and encouraging experimentation to build the ecosystem required to address increasingly complex challenges.
Cultivate an ‘open architecture’ culture, encouraging experimentation and collaboration across an ecosystem of value to solve the increasingly complex problems it faces. A Human Enterprise uses technology to:
- enhance the organization’s culture and build trust, not replace it
- save time, freeing employees to take advantage of opportunities for human engagement
- enable communication and collaboration
4. Diversity and learning-driven innovation
Diversity is not only the right thing to do for a Human Enterprise, but a business imperative: Boosting creativity and innovation, improving employee morale and retention, and aiding financial performance. Technology:
- supports employee learning and development, instead of being another thing they need to learn
- reduces human biases by, for example, adding a layer of machine-driven data analysis to inform decisions
- becomes an equalizer to help spread and encourage ideas and knowledge, rather than something that leaves behind employees whose roles and skillsets are not suited to technological advances
5. Agile operating models and systems
Today’s structure-driven operating models promote standardization. A Human Enterprise is organized around issues, not processes, and values agility over hierarchy, focusing on relationships and fluid teams to encourage creative thinking. In this approach, technology:
- adapts to the needs and enhances the abilities of employees and customers, rather than holding them back
- is implemented with a technology at speed ethos, which resolves the constraints of legacy technology environments to deploy new functionality at the pace required by rapidly changing customer experience expectations
6. Technology as an enabler for humans
At a fundamental level, a Human Enterprise becomes a platform using technology as a tool to support organizational agility. It removes the constraints of legacy technology, allowing new capabilities to be plugged in as needed, and amplifies the human element through improved communication, collaboration, and creative freedom. In short, it creates something vastly more than the sum of its parts.