Agility is about people, not technology, says HR Indaba panel

Panellists reveal the biggest stumbling block to agility is the unwillingness of organisations to change.

During an HR Indaba Online Impact Session on HR’s role in modernising business, Deloitte Africa’s chief digital and innovation officer Valter Adao looked at the five principles that must be considered when considering implementing digital solutions:

  • Digital transformation equation – On the left side of the equation, Capex (of the machine) must be less than the opex (of the human). On the right side of the equation, exponential tech dividends (reducing costs, uplifting customer experience).
  • Beware “The Technology Fallacy” – It’s not about technology. People/leadership are the real key to digital transformation.
  • Lifelong learning – Our knowledge decays at a rate of 30 percent per year and organisations are moving away from deep technical skills to more hybrid skills.
  • The age of the ecosystem – Work is being disconnected from jobs. Jobs and work are being disconnected from companies. The gig economy is on the rise.
  • Generational theory – This theory only works in economically homogenous areas (London, Japan, US) not in South Africa.

“Organisations that win in this new digital economy are the organisations that have the right leadership mindset as well as the right fluency that encourages the organisational behavioural change,” said Valter.

He highlighted that we tend to think about the technology and not about the people. If success was indeed about the technology, then the richest and oldest companies in the world would be the most digitally transformed, which is not the case. The companies that have the leadership mindset to navigate this environment are those that will win at the end.

Chief HR executive of Dimension Data, Michaela Voller, reiterated Valter’s comments about people over tech, and noted how fascinated she is by the fact that HR practitioners had forgotten how to understand people.

“We’ve had robotic expectations from people for a long time and we all have to go back to our human side. After all, that is why we, as HR practitioners, got into the space,” she said.

She challenged her fellow panellists to start studying their subject matter with their people, and to try and understand their behaviour. She added that you can use data to understand people’s behaviour much better, along with applying empathy and being vulnerable. In this way, she said, organisations would become agile.

Group chief people officer at Discovery, Tswelo Kodisang, said Discovery had been fortunate enough to understand the power of data from the onset. Their Vitality programme, which was based on leveraging data to influence and work with people, linked back to their purpose of making people healthier.

During the pandemic, Discovery had to be extremely agile as their Vitality programme was based on people driving, going to work or the gym, and flights – all of which came to a halt. “The team had to course correct, be agile and drive innovation as the pandemic was happening,” he said. “We didn’t waste the opportunity created by the pandemic and we moved going to the gym to exercising at home, which also got more people to participate.”

He also spoke about Discovery being a platform-based organisation with a host of different international partners that participate in their journey of making people healthier. “We are present in 25 countries and most of the presence is on the back of a technological platform called Vitality One,” Tswelo said.

“Discovery has been building data engineering capabilities and data analytical capabilities to inform the decisions that we make through insight,” he said.