The Biggest Breakthrough of Our Time Might  Be Something We’ve Always Known

The acceleration of technology has come by way of its promise to work anywhere, anytime. Except, therein lies the problem.

With IoT growing, the rise of remote work, technological advances and the onset of a virtual world, many are left wondering and worrying: Will our skills match those needed in the future? How will more technology affect our mental health? Will the demands of work encroach upon our personal boundaries?

These are real concerns as we take our companies through the journey of digital transformation.

I’ve always believed our greatest success lies at the crossroad of humanity and technology. People-centered transformation, then, is perhaps our biggest and most important breakthrough yet to realize. It is harder than you think, in part, because of technology’s allure.

The “Work from Anywhere” Promise

We’ve all seen the ‘Work from anywhere’ promise baked into ads and website copy. The concept infers freedom and agility. The reality, however, sometimes has led to resistance to change, burnout and stress (cue the Great Resignation where 68.9 million quit their job in 2021). The idea of working from anywhere also has forced IT departments to rapidly configure and deploy devices, infrastructure and software which could support such a shift in a secure and productive way.

The solution involves the very person tasked with shaping technology policy: the CIO. Modern CIOs are looking beyond their tech stack to manage work expectations (does working from anywhere, anytime raise unhealthy expectations?), understanding technology’s impact on people (are people feeling greater loneliness?), and making sure people feel valued and encouraged to innovate (is there a culture of innovation?).

One analysis making sense of all this is Dell’s Breakthrough study, which surveyed 10,500 people. The global study explores people’s capacity for digital change and how businesses can build breakthrough transformation through both people and technology.

Big Takeaways Lead to Big Breakthroughs

Takeaway #1: Put people first and use tech as an enabler
According to the study, 41% of respondents say their employees are struggling with burnout or poor mental health. This is affecting their ability to do their work well and 69% of respondents worry they lack the skills needed for further digital transformation.
This is affecting their ability to do their work well. Digital transformation is also heavy on people’s minds with 69% of respondents worrying they lack the skills needed for further digital transformation. Putting people first means giving them technology that solves workforce pain points and listenting to their concerns without judgement. This is tech at its best – enabling people to innovate, to be curious and to solve problems.

Takeaway #2: Understand people requirements across the organization
The study also shows 67% believe their organization underestimates the people requirements when planning transformation programs. Digital transformation should be happening with employees, not to them. Especially as we’re moving into a different phase of the pandemic and a new way of working. Jen Felch, chief digital officer and CIO for Dell, emphasizes listening as an important skill for leaders: “Businesses should take advantage of this opportunity to listen to employees’ desire for ongoing flexibility and restructure work in ways that offer secure, equitable, productive, connected experiences from anywhere. From an IT perspective, a good takeaway is that we always need to stay current and be ready for anything. For example, to always remain secure in a flexible environment, businesses can’t regress to delaying tech upgrades for another day.”

Takeaway #3: Empathy matters
The reality is that many people feel undervalued and unseen. In Dell’s Breakthrough Study, 83% of respondents said their leaders overlook different perspectives or viewpoints.

I’ve seen organizations with company pages talking about their culture while in reality, people get penalized or ignored for making suggestions. Innovation prospers when people feel welcome to contribute in meaningful ways.

Dell advises applying empathy to “everything” – from prioritizing the end-user experience first, to thoughtful transformational change programs that drive purpose.

Takeaway #4: Build a culture of innovation and excitement for new technologies
As far as we’ve come with technology, it fails when people’s focus is less about innovating and more about politics. Dell’s study reveals that 60% of respondents say their organization’s culture restricts their ability to innovate; 61% are struggling with internal politics, a lack of clear communication and/or weak decision-making and governance; and 53% worry they’ll be shut out of the evolving digital world due to a lack of people with the right authority or vision to capitalize on the opportunity.

Why Dell Software Developers are Writing More Code

When we talk about people-centered transformation, you may wonder how that can be measured. The Dell Digital Way gives us a glimpse.

From the Breakthrough report: “Dell Technologies has also rethought its people, processes and technology with the Dell Digital Way and can attest to the power of putting empathy at the heart of digital transformation. The average software developer across the industry spends only a small part of their day writing code (less than 20%) and a lot of time working on administrative tasks. Three years into our journey of creating a world-class developer experience, our developers in Dell Digital, Dell’s IT organization, are now spending between 70% to 75% of their time writing functional code and using their innovative talents to introduce new solutions and add value to our company.” Felch talked about this in the recent Dell Tech World keynote as well.

CIO: Prepare for the Climb Ahead

Digital transformation reminds me of my climb up Mount Everest. Defying the mountain’s frigid temperatures, harrowing terrain and assault on everything my body had always known as “normal” were challenges I faced. My equipment alone did not sustain me. I trusted my expedition team, listened to my Sherpas, felt comfortable sharing my concerns and questions with others, and embraced my own sense of purpose.

Change is a tall mountain too. Technology alone is not enough. People must come first.

When we think of big technological feats, the metaverse or SpaceX might come to mind. The one I think is even bigger, though, is the role of the modern CIO as they journey through digital transformation. You, more than anyone, are influencing how people, data, processes and security converge to create real innovation.

The optimistic and empathetic CIO will be the difference-maker. They will inspire people to feel supported, prepared and excited to embrace the new waves of change to come.