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Voyage of discovery

Article by Alan Walker

Alan Walker, co-founder of Udder, a fast-growing consulting business that focuses on helping HR leaders realise the benefits of using modern technology to augment their human-powered expertise, creativity and decision-making explains why transformation without discovery is set up to fail …

From Captain James Cook’s HMS Discovery to the Space Shuttle Discovery – the word “discovery” has been synonymous with exploration, research, and – to no surprise – the discovery of things that have changed the way we see the world (and our place in the wider solar system).
Now, I’m not suggesting that digital transformation is the same as setting out to discover new lands or space travel – but the discovery stage is still something that, for me, is the most important part of that journey.
If done well, you’ll not only have a smoother journey, but the destination will be far better. 
What is discovery?
What do I mean by “discovery” as it applies to digital transformation? An article I read recently summarised it as: “Discovery is identifying organisational problems that can be addressed”.
I think that’s a decent definition, but I think we should go a little further.
For us, as a company, discovery starts with understanding the business problems that need to (and can) be solved by the functional area we’re supporting.
But it then goes beyond identifying problem areas and looks at opportunity areas, where improvement, enhancement or optimisation of technology (or ways of working) can make a far more meaningful difference to a business’s performance.
How should you approach discovery?
In my experience, identifying problems is something that our clients are all great at.
One recent example was in an HR Digital Transformation Discovery workshop we were running, where the topic had gotten on to onboarding new employees.
The client quickly identified their problem was that their onboarding process was very manual – lots of emails flying around, forms being sent for completion, documents being chased. A genuine problem that could be fixed easily through relatively simple automation. Low-hanging fruit, you might say.
But what’s the real benefit of that?
Yes, automation could bring consistency and speed – and probably free up some resources – but the value-add would be relatively limited. Some money would be saved, adding a tiny percentage  to the business’s bottom line, and a little capacity would be created in their HR admin team.
But does the CEO, CFO or shareholders care about any of that? Nope. And if they don’t care, do you think it’ll be easy to secure money or support for any changes you want to make? Again, a big nope.
Thinking about the “Why?”
The real opportunity area – in this case – came from looking at the onboarding experience, not just the process. To paraphrase Simon Sinek (yes, I’ll add to that overuse) – we started with “Why?”. Why does your company have an onboarding process for new employees?
The first answers were around the need for compliance. Contracts being signed, references secured, background checks completed, policies read and agreed.
Then we got into logistics. New laptops, security passes, setting up user accounts. All important, no doubt – but nothing different from any other organisation. Putting aside the debate about what is/isn’t onboarding – all very valid points. Things that could be done better. But doing those things faster or more efficiently wasn’t going to improve how many products or services that business sold (not significantly, anyway). Nor did it get us to the true “Why?”.
So we pushed, challenged, and asked some “What?” questions: What about the experience? What about engagement? What if your onboarding programme improved retention? What if all of the above significantly impacted your business’s bottom line?
And that’s when the penny dropped. A bright spark in the room answered the “Why?”. The business had an onboarding process to ensure new employees hit the ground running, settled in quickly, and understood the business – so they could quickly add value.
Why was that important? The sooner someone can add value to their business – and by value, it was implied that this meant directly or indirectly adding to the growth of the business – the sooner the investment in that individual starts paying off.
How you approach discovery matters
Once this client had identified a genuine opportunity, understanding what needed to change, identifying the budget they needed, the expected ROI, and even building a roadmap for that change became much easier. It helped them prioritise improvements and – equally importantly – build the business case for change in a way that the C-Suite not only understood but, more importantly, fully bought into.
Not only did this allow them to make those low-hanging fruit changes, as they were easily built in as part of their roadmap, but it empowered them to deliver a more strategically valuable transformation of how they delivered onboarding  – an impact that directly added to their organisation’s bottom line, which should be the ultimate destination for any good HR team.
And the CEO loved them for it.

    Alan Walker is co-founder of Udder, a fast-growing consulting business that focuses on helping HR leaders to realise the benefits of using modern technology to augment their human-powered expertise and decision-making. He believes by using Design & Product thinking to formulate their HR technology roadmap, and an agile approach to deliver against it, CHROs and HRDs can create a continuously evolving employee experience that drives better organisational performance.

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