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Don’t forget the human



In 2016, on a whirlwind tour of Europe, my husband and I found ourselves at a McDonald’s in Lake Como, Italy. We expected to walk in, declare to a cashier we need two meals, and after a few minutes we would walk out with sustenance. Instead, we were faced with a digital self-service kiosk and a guest relations person who could not speak much English. Our first thought was: “This is too complicated, let’s go,” but then the reality hit that there were no other options for food around, so we had to make this work.

I was reminded of this moment when Daniel Padiachy of McDonald’s spoke about their digital transformation journey in South Africa, and it further reinforced my opinion that humans are mostly regulated by fear when it comes to change. Our natural position is to keep the status quo, and treat any potential change as a threat. If nothing else, the advent of digital requires change across the people, process and technology spectrums. It is for this reason that we cannot ignore the importance of establishing the case for change, and then convincing the organisation to not only embrace it, but to help make it happen.

Our story ended well. We placed our order without issue, made payment and received our food within minutes. The seamless transaction and experience converted us, and we became unpaid ambassadors for embracing digital in McDonald’s. However, lots of testing and failure would have gone into creating this seamless experience. How many times did the teams have to ideate and iterate? How many times did they come close to giving up? What kept them going? Finally, how did they rally their organisation to support the concept?

All of these questions bring me back to the important role employees, customers and consumers play in the digital transformation journey of Heineken South Africa. It is not possible for us to achieve success without taking into account the need for human connection and validation of our stakeholders. Is the transformation happening TO them, or WITH them? It is for this reason that we have adopted agile practices, embraced design-thinking methods and encouraged cross-functional collaboration to gain velocity on our transformation journey.

Our product design processes are customer-centered to ensure we add value, not just technology. Our company culture is transforming to embrace innovation and testing, build tolerance for failure and to truly foster entrepreneurship. The result is teams that are autonomous and engaged, which translates into benefits for the organisation and its customers.

What will set employers apart in this new era is our ability to reinvent ourselves: competencies such as resilience, critical thinking, creativity and curiosity have become invaluable. At senior leadership level, there needs to be the willingness to try new things and explore new options. We need to accept that we do not hold all the answers, and allow our employees autonomy in innovation and decision-making within certain guardrails. In order to embed digital into the DNA of the organisation, a radical mind shift is required and in some cases, a radical culture shift.

As we move forward on our various journeys to adopt digital technologies and transform our organisations, let us never forget who we are doing it for, and who will help us get there: humans!

Natalie Jantjies is director of digital transformation at Heineken South Africa

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