As Workday Rising Europe comes to an end in Milan, we wanted to share several recaps of inspiring sessions that took place on Wednesday and Thursday, as well as some photos from throughout the conference. Thank you to all members of our community who joined us, and we look forward to seeing you again next year!

People Are at the Center of Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is often bandied about in the business world, but how does it actually play out in organizations? An executive panel at Workday Rising Europe tackled this topic, and the message was that digital transformation is about more than investing in innovative technology. It’s also about investing in people. 

“Probably the most important thing we see is the cultural change required to make all of this happen,” said Ismail Amla, chief growth officer at Capita, during the panel discussion. “If we look at the common success factors of people who have done this well, they treated this as a cultural and change program rather than a technology and implementation program.”

For a multinational company like Airbus, agility in the context of digital transformation is multifaceted. It’s about looking at how the company benefits from new trends, technologies, and opportunities, while also working with the realities of human nature, said Mikaël Butterbach, senior vice president of competence management, employment and learning at Airbus. 

Team leadership plays a huge role in navigating that complexity. In addition to investing in leadership education, Airbus created a structure where teams feel empowered and leaders can test out different management practices.

“We believe that we can’t impose from the top,” Butterbach said, adding that you have to remove barriers in the organization and trust your colleagues.

In financial services, the highly regulated nature of the industry is sometimes used as an excuse for the lack of agility, said Ebrahim Samodien, chief information officer of Absa Bank. But companies can no longer afford to spend months preparing a business case or years on a project. If they do, they’ll miss out on opportunities while competitors already have their product on the market. 

The financial services industry must be more agile in terms of thinking and needs to establish a culture and processes to promote agility, Samodien said. For example, Absa Bank promotes hackathons, not only as sprint-like events but also as a way of working for the entire organization.

“When we talk about agile ways of working, it’s not a technology focus, it’s a business focus,” Samodien said. 

Collaboration Among the CFO, CHRO, and CIO

Many companies are under pressure to successfully complete their digital transformation efforts, but that’s not possible unless functional leaders work closely together, said Philip Carter, chief analyst for the European region at IDC, at the Executive Programme at Workday Rising Europe on Wednesday. “Finance, HR, and IT have to be in lockstep,” Carter said.

Ashley Goldsmith, Sheri Rhodes, and Robynne Sisco discussed how they collaborate.

Joining Carter on stage were three Workday executives who shared insights on their collaboration: Chief People Officer Ashley Goldsmith, Chief Information Officer Sheri Rhodes, and Co-President and CFO Robynne Sisco.

“Our job is to support nearly 12,000 employees at Workday. Everything we do has the potential to have a positive or a negative impact on our culture and our employee base, so it’s really important we are in lock step on our decisions,” Sisco said.

Their tips for other executives included:

Centralize your finance and HR data. “HR and finance often can’t even agree how many people you have in your company. You can’t have anything more than a basic conversation when that happens,” said Sisco. Because HR and finance data is in the same system at Workday, “rather than fight over that data, we can analyze it together and learn what we can do differently,” she said.

Work together to engage employees. Goldsmith gave the example of a very short, anonymous survey at Workday that’s sent to employees every Friday, that gets a pulse on their feelings and experiences as an employee at that point in time. The survey came about following close collaboration with HR and IT. “In the face of really rapid change, how are we ensuring our employees stay connected?” Goldsmith said. The survey “is a gift that keeps on giving; we have almost one million data points from it that we can marry to other data. Our goal is to give employees the best experience possible, and keep them energized and motivated, so we can continue to attract and keep the best people.”

Make listening key to collaboration. From the CIO perspective, the best way to support the business and employees is to be an active listener when collaborating with HR, finance, and other teams as well, said Rhodes. She said IT should also have a mindset that’s focused on organizational agility. “Agility is hugely important from an IT perspective,” she said. “Having empathy, and understanding our customers’ pain points, is key to building great solutions.” 

Digital Transformation: It’s Not Just About Technology

To succeed in digital transformation projects requires a clear understanding of the business need and how the project will impact employees, according to a business strategy keynote at Workday Rising Europe. Moderated by Jens Krueger, CTO, EMEA at Workday, the panel exhorted attendees to think through these questions and understand that digital transformation isn’t a thing to complete, but a new way of working. 

Asked about why adopting technology is so critical, Richard Bye, vice president of global HR services at BP, talked about the nature of the challenges facing the business. “We’ll have to try to find those new solutions—it’s a mindset we have to develop, as much as a technology. How do you solve a problem that hasn’t been solved yet?”

For projects that impact employees, teams must understand the employees who will be using technology and be thoughtful about rolling out solutions. It’s also important to recognize that change is both necessary and hard. As Robert Bloor, group financial controller, Equiniti Group plc, said, “You have to be very attentive to what the underlying needs for an individual employee are, and be disruptive to your own workforce in the right way.” 

Bye also emphasized that digital impacts the skill sets required across the organization, including the “producers”—the employees creating digital projects for fellow employees. BP, he said, is asking, “How do you organize around skills and the kind of work you need to get done?

Whatever structure you have, it isn’t right for everything you need to get done, and it’s going to need to change in the future.”

As Krueger put it, “You need to be an agile organization to adapt to changes coming from both customers and technology. It’s an ongoing process; it never stops.” 

Tips for Women in Technology

Across the globe, women still comprise less than 20 percent of technology leaders. Given this, how can women advance in their own technology careers?

Those questions were central during a business strategy keynote at Workday Rising Europe. The panel featured Lyn Grobler, group CIO at Hyperion Insurance Group, and Chin Yin Ong, head of people at Grab, a Singapore-based transportation network company.

Among the takeaways:

Don’t buy into myths. “Being in the tech world has helped me abolish some of the myths, such as men are more methodical, technical, and logical than women,” said Ong. Women can be all of those things, and should proceed with confidence that they are capable of those skills. At the same time, she added, a lot of women are good at bringing a human touch, “and can be good at understanding the fear and insecurity behind an issue in order to solve the problem.”

Don’t try to do everything. All three female executives said they have two children, and have had to make sacrifices in both their work and personal lives. If you’re looking to rise to the higher ranks of a company, “don’t fool yourself,” said Grobler. “You can choose from everything, but you can’t be the best at everything.” For Grobler, that’s meant having to miss some of her kids’ events. To help include her, her husband has sometimes videotaped ones she has missed so they can watch as a family on the weekend. At the same time, make sure you truly prioritize tasks at work so that you can preserve your personal time and needs, she said.

Push yourself. “If you feel that feeling of coasting and you’re not stepping outside your comfort zone, then it’s time to move on to the next thing and do something bigger,” said Grobler. Ong added that it’s important to take risks. “You have to keep challenging yourself. You’ll have fears but you will overcome them,” said Ong.

That’s it from Workday Rising Europe! But before we go, here are some additional highlights from the week, in pictures.

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