HR Insights
November 19, 2020

Josh Bersin on leading digital transformation at your company

Global Industry Analyst, Josh Bersin, shares his perspectives on what you should focus on right now to lead digital transformation at your organization

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This year has exposed the cracks in our foundation and introduced a world of uncertainty. Many organizations were unprepared to adapt to constant change – or to support their people through it. 

We invited Global Industry Analyst, Josh Bersin, to INSIGHTS to share his perspectives on leading digital transformation within organizations to keep pace with change. Bersin is a recognized expert in the talent market, the dean of Josh Bersin Academy, a learning community for HR professionals, and a popular blogger and influencer with more than 800,000 followers.

When asked what organizations should focus on right now to be better prepared for the new market reality, Bersin was quick to point out that the pandemic has had a domino effect across the business world. 

“What seemed like a healthcare crisis in the early days of the pandemic actually turned into a [catalyst for] business transformation very quickly,” said Bersin.

He went on to explain how back in March he started engaging in a series of weekly conference calls with 400-500 HR professionals from around the world, who talked through the various phases of the pandemic response at their organizations. From those conversations, which he refers to as “The Big Reset” he discovered several key things that companies should focus on.

Here are the top three takeaways from his engaging INSIGHTS session, moderated by Jason Gurgal, Global Head of Solution Advisory at Ceridian.

WATCH NOW: Leading digital transformation at your company

#1 Supporting work from home

First on Bersin’s list was a topic that has had a lot of coverage over the past few months – remote work. He suggested that many companies surprised themselves by how quickly they were able to get the right technology in place to support remote working. The human side of long-term remote work – how it affects people, their families, and culture is more complex.

One thing Bersin recommended that organizations do to support remote work is provide as much clarity and focus as possible. “We have to be crystal clear [on] what’s important. We have to strip away the bureaucracy, the wasted time, the meetings that aren’t important. Give people the time to do the work they want to do.”

Another important priority should be psychological safety. Bersin argued that because organizations are facing a great deal of uncertainty, they need to rely on their people to bring problems to the forefront to be solved. And that requires a level of trust between leaders and their employees.

Bersin referenced Amy Edmonson, a professor at Harvard Business School, who first identified the concept of psychological safety, quoting her study of healthcare workers, which found that the teams with the best patient outcomes also had the highest number of problems cited. Digging deeper, Edmonson found that these teams didn’t have more problems – they were more willing to talk about problems.

“So I think that’s the other big area of working at home. It’s creating an environment where people can speak up,” said Bersin.

Learn more about working from home with our blog post Intentionally remote: Why this isn’t just a big experiment, according to GitLab

#2 Building a safe workplace

Another key insight Bersin shared was the importance of creating a safe workplace for the time when people return to work. He noted that this is happening a lot slower than originally anticipated, quoting a study of 100 U.S. executives conducted by McKinsey & Company back in June, where respondents indicated that they believed 88% of their workforce would be back on site by the end of the year.

Bersin suggested that organizations need to consider how people feel about going back to work, and what can be done to make them feel more comfortable. “As a workplace, if people do not feel safe, they’re not going to come in to work, or if they do come in, they’re going to be very hesitant to do a lot of heavy lifting.”

Figuring out what to do to ensure that people want to come back to the office is a huge project that requires both a technology investment and an understanding of health practices. Bersin referenced a large financial services company with 80 offices and 22,000 employees around the world that went to great lengths to ensure workplace safety and a sense of security. Efforts included allowing employees to book a private car for transportation and a desk to ensure space away from others, along with temperature checks, daily disinfection of the office, tracking employee interactions for contact tracing, and even a customized dashboard.

Bersin recommended organizations get specialized training to ensure they understand public health measures and how to apply them to the workplace.  He mentioned that the Josh Bersin Academy will be launching a course in a week called Public Health for the Workplace that’s designed to teach HR people about these basic practices and about public health.

#3 Creating a new model for leadership

The third major takeaway that Bersin shared was that the pandemic has given way to a new mode of leading organizations and workforces. He argued that most CEOs realized early on in the pandemic that they needed to step up and take care of their people if they wanted their organizations to survive it.

Learn more about leadership during the pandemic with our blog post Leading through COVID-19

And the workforce noticed. “People see a change: A more empathetic, caring, flexible, generous leader in most companies,” said Bersin. He referenced a recent study he conducted with DDI, a global leadership development and human resources consulting firm, which found that in 70-80% of the companies studied, perceived leadership capabilities are the highest they’ve been in more than 15 years. Senior leaders are realizing that they don’t have a company without their people.

"It's been reinforced over and over again how in this situation, paying people well, being flexible and patient and forgiving and accommodating people's needs and their families, and making their work clearer so that they can get things done…is a new model of leadership – it certainly wasn't where we were last year."

WATCH NOW: Leading digital transformation at your company

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