What is a People-Centric Digital Transformation Culture?

Sheila Burkett // Culture
Visualization of a chain linking together using a variety of colors

What is my ultimate vision of the future? I dream of the day when …

  • Every organization is successful because the people who work in the organization are thriving in their jobs and lives. 
  • Leaders prioritize the well-being, development, and growth of everyone: employees, peers, and customers, alike. 
  • The top leader is seen as an enabler who communicates with transparency, empathy, and compassion. 
  • Teams work together looking for ways to leverage technology to optimize operations, create value, and experiment with curiosity.

Many organizations are working toward this vision of a people-centric digital transformation culture. What is it though?

What is a People-Centric Work Environment?

The simplest way to define a people-centric work environment is a place where everyone is valued, feels valued, and is invested in everyone’s success. The whole team must engage with compassion and empathy, with concern about each other's physical, mental, and emotional well-being. When people aren’t showing up as their best selves, rather than being angry with them, our first question should be, “Are you ok? You don’t seem to be your best self today.”

A people-centric culture is an inclusive environment in which different perspectives are celebrated and discrimination is not tolerated. Open lines of communication exist with management and employees; all voices are heard and considered. Employees are involved daily in making key decisions and confidently execute and hold themselves accountable for the results. Trust for employees and teams is demonstrated by giving them autonomy, responsibility, and accountability for the success and failures of the organization. 

Workplaces that provide career development, training, and learning that help employees grow professionally and personally understand the importance of a holistic approach to the human experience. The focus is on creating an equitable approach to what an individual needs to be successful and working together to make sure the employee achieves that success long-term. 

Creating and maintaining this type of work environment isn’t easy – it takes years to cultivate the right people, systems, and policies to support it. One or two wrong steps can erode trust and employee satisfaction. If you believe in this direction, don’t give up. Acknowledge the failures, communicate actions taken to fix the situation, and continue doing the work to create a culture for people to thrive.

What Do You Need to Do to Be a People-Centric Leader?

If you want to build a people-centric work environment, your leadership team must embrace being people-centered leaders. You have to believe that your employees (yes, this includes your leaders) are the key to organizational success. You must be committed to creating an environment where employees feel valued, heard, and empowered. They, in turn, will do what it takes to provide this environment to your clients.

The number one priority as a people-centric leader is having empathy and compassion for your employees. You have to be willing to trust every employee, no matter their level, education, responsibilities, or experience. It is your responsibility to get to know your employees – what drives them, as well as their knowledge, skills, abilities, maturity, and experiences. When you are with your employees, you should be the one listening, not them. 

Do not underestimate the importance of recognizing and appreciating your employees’ work (even if it is what they get paid to do and what is expected). Encouraging your employees to take risks, fulfill their responsibilities, and hold themselves accountable for their actions is key. Develop an open communication channel in which employees are not afraid to say what they think and aren’t waiting for the “boss” or “authority figure” to share their ideas. 

Becoming a people-centric leader takes work and some deprogramming. Developing self-awareness, understanding your strengths, and acknowledging the areas that trigger you are key steps in becoming a better people leader. Openingly sharing with your team members your self-improvement journey helps them see you as an authentic, trustworthy leader rather than an untouchable leader who is out for their own success.

Taking a People-Centric Approach to Digital Transformation?

 2021 study on Global Digital Transformation by the Boston Consulting Group revealed that only 35% of respondents achieved their digital transformation objectives. They cite these success factors:

  1. Integrated strategy with clear transformation goals
  2. Leadership commitment from top to bottom 
  3. Deployment of high-caliber talent
  4. An agile governance mindset that drives broader adoption
  5. Effective monitoring of progress 
  6. Business-led modular technology and data platform

Many companies found issues with teams not being able to work effectively together, teams working in silos, and measurements that promote win-lose outcomes and turf wars. How will a people-centric approach combat those factors impeding success? Let’s explore a few ways people-centric digital transformation can lead to the long-term changes you want to happen.

  1. People-centric leaders include all stakeholders when setting goals, and creating alignment from top to bottom. These leaders create a picture of success for all people impacted and encourage collaboration and problem-solving throughout the organization. I always say that you know you have clear alignment from top to bottom when everyone questions work being done that doesn’t support the long-term goals.
  2. When a work environment is focused on its people, it is easy to gain alignment, from top to bottom, on what needs to be done. Open communication, combined with leaders who listen, gives organizations the ability to identify misalignment and ensure everyone is committed to the organization’s efforts.
  3. Having the right people in the right seats, coupled with a people-centric work environment, gives small-to-medium businesses the ability to attract the talent needed for success. This includes finding the right partners to help you successfully implement key projects and technologies.
  4. Leaders who put people first and create a transparent and open communication environment can adjust as needed to help others accept new technologies, systems, and processes.
  5. Cultures with high trust and delegated decision-making have a high-accountability environment. Employees focus on achieving the organization’s goals, and leaders communicate what needs to be done when progress is off track.
  6. By understanding what people need and how they work, leaders can incorporate the amount of change employees can absorb into their plans. Keeping projects modular and introducing change incrementally enables the adoption of new technologies more quickly.

Where Are You on This Journey?

We would love to know more about your digital transformation journey. Take a moment to let us know.


The keys to a successful digital transformation | McKinsey

Performance and Innovation Are the Rewards of Digital Transformation | Boston Consulting Group

Meet the Author: Sheila Burkett

Sheila Burkett, Co-Founder and CEO of Spry Digital, is a networker, mentor, collaborator, philanthropist, and community leader. Her passion is helping women and people of color succeed in technology, in business, and as humans. In every facet of business and community, Sheila is a champion for helping people feel like they belong and can thrive.

She is happily married and a proud mom of three amazing men and two dynamic daughters-in-law. In her spare time, she can be found reading, gardening, and shopping for antiques. Most recently, she has been honored as a 2024 St. Louis Titan 100, 2023 St. Louis Titan 100 and 2022 YWCA Leader of Distinction.