digital transformation

Linda Segerstam, founder of The Intelligent Core, had to move quickly from face-to-face pilates to digital services © Handout
Lyndsey Jones OCTOBER 8 2020
From accelerating strategic plans to rapid innovation, businesses have been forced to step
up their digital transformation in response to the impact of the pandemic.
It is clear that organisations will have to adapt to avoid a “massive wipeout” and to do this,
they will “need a pulse on what the market wants”, says Jason Wingard, dean emeritus and
professor of human capital management at New York’s Columbia University.
From small and medium-sized enterprises to large corporations, here are five steps they
can take to make a successful transition.
1. Rapid pivot to digital
Personal trainer Linda Segerstam had what she calls a “freak-out moment” as her niche
UK-based business — pilates for golfers — vanished in March when golf clubs closed in the
Ms Segerstam, who is the founder of The Intelligent Core, had to draw on her experience of
change management to switch from a face-to-face business to one that delivers a digital
Work & Careers
Five steps on the path to digital transformation
From innovation to diversity initiatives, here’s how companies can successfully pivot
In the process, she says, she not only had to look for a platform she could use “quickest
without costing much money” but also at where her clients were going. “Zoom had issues
but I could see the market moving towards that,” she says.
She made her classes free, used Facebook Live broadcasts and created an events system.
Now she is integrating a video library with her website and has not only maintained her UK
client base but has expanded into Finland. She is also aiming to target the US market with
online programmes. “I have a niche and I want to go worldwide with this,” she says.
2. Innovation is key
Innovation cycles are now much faster and companies are having to be more nimble as well
as improve communication and collaboration, say leadership experts.
“Before Covid, it might be a three-year cycle that new things come, now it is yearly” and it
could even become monthly as the pandemic progresses, says Balvinder Powar, a Madridbased leadership trainer.
While “start-ups can pivot more rapidly to digitisation”, says Jane Sparrow, founder of The
Culture Builders, a UK-based consultancy that specialises in changing culture and
performance, teams in established corporations can adopt the same approach.
Jane Sparrow, founder of The Culture Builders, a UK-based consultancy, helped Lane Crawford staff to share ‘good, small achievements’
Prof Wingard agrees. Big organisations can create “micro pods” to test ideas across their
companies, he says.
This approach improves communication and helps to discover which new products might
work. Mr Powar, a member of Mapfre’s open innovation board, had experience of this at
the insurance company where he helped to set up a hub in Spain “to find new ways to
access a younger population and find new products”. “It has been successful,” he says.

3. Company culture in a remote setting
Maintaining company culture when most staff are working from home can be challenging
as employees need to ensure they are still visible, to develop their careers.
Lane Crawford, a luxury retailer in Hong Kong and China, is one organisation Ms Sparrow
has worked with that has supported its staff and culture from the start of the pandemic.
“This company is way ahead in terms of their response. They paid massive attention to
their people,” she says.
Staff at the company were not comfortable talking about their successes, says Ms Sparrow,
so she helped them to introduce “trophy” stories, where employees share their “good, small
achievements”. This initiative “has been dialled up” as it helped staff improve their
visibility while working remotely.
4. Improving diversity
The Black Lives Matter protests galvanised many corporates to tackle the lack of diversity
within their organisations.
But some groups “haven’t waited for something to go wrong before they got to grips with
diversity”, says Femi Otitoju, founder of the Challenge Consultancy in the UK, which has
trained staff in large companies on initiatives such as inclusive leadership.
Femi Otitoju on diversity: ‘Companies should be responding because their customers are looking for it’
Steps that companies can take include hiring people at the top, into leadership and board
teams; committing to a cause and implementing an objective performance culture, says
Prof Wingard.

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Customers are also looking for change. Prof Wingard highlights Nike’s advertising
campaign featuring tennis player Serena Williams, which “attracts people of colour, gender
and millennials”.
Companies reap the benefits of a diverse workforce, with “people who feel like they
belong”, says Ms Otitoju. “They bring their life experience and are more likely to think
differently to those that have come through the same old routes and think same old, same
Diverse businesses are also “less likely to make mistakes that are going to upset the
community because you have checks and balances inside,” she says. “So you have an edge
because you have people who think differently.”
5. Talent
Even though thousands of people face losing their jobs in the pandemic and the labour
market is “askew”, leadership experts are optimistic it will improve. “This is a new era
where we have to adapt to massive change and you have to get the right talent on board,”
says Mr Powar.
Employers often face a choice in terms of hiring talented staff. They could either continue
to identify future skills and invest in people, or employ fewer full time. Companies that
engage in the gig economy “save on benefit cost but you don’t have culture for creative
input”, says Prof Wingard. Whereas if you invest in people “you need a strategy of training
people that is always looking forward”.
Meanwhile, employees are going to have to take responsibility for learning skills. But he
warns “the future of work is a talent war” because by 2025 Generation Z and millennials
will make up the bulk of the workforce and “companies will have to give them what they