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Using employee engagement to power digital transformation

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/gpointstudio)

Digital transformation has become one of the biggest business priorities in recent years, with IDC estimating that $2.3 trillion will be spent by 2023 – more than half of all IT spending. However, organisations tend to focus on the technological aspect of digitalisation and overlook their human workforce – the heart of any business. This is a common mistake which is easily solved by focusing their efforts around engaging with their employees.

Why digital transformation projects run aground

Digital transformation means different things to different organisations, but what such initiatives generally have in common is the integration of digital technology with the aims of making the business more efficient and agile. These are important factors in today’s cutthroat economy. On the one hand customers now expect prices to be as competitive as possible and service to be instantaneous. On the other there are challenging factors including rising costs of materials, employees, premises and taxes. This means that any streamlining an organisation can achieve in its processes to help employees do their jobs more effectively, while reducing overheads is a considerable advantage.

Done correctly, digital transformation can achieve these goals and more, which is why boardroom executives across the globe are champing at the bit to introduce it to their organisations. However, they often do this with little thought as to what the impact digital transformation will have on their staff. Unfortunately, it is all too commonplace that employees have new technologies foisted upon them by management and expected to get on and use it. 

The drawbacks of such an approach are numerous, including that the solution might be the wrong fit for the company, lack the required functionality, or is unable to integrate with existing internal and third-party systems. 

One of the biggest issues is that the introduction of a new system or way of working does not have employee buy-in. People generally like their own ways of doing things and are likely to resist change that they feel is out of their control. Sure, they will start to use a new platform, but if they have not been properly trained in how to use it and all the benefits is can offer, then they are very rapidly likely to fall back on to old, tried and tested solutions they know and trust. From the employees’ point of view, nothing has been gained and some credibility in management has been lost, so such actions could put a digital transformation project in jeopardy. 

Getting employees on board

Success or failure of a digital transformation project hinges principally on whether or not employees are on board with the process. Research from McKinsey shows that a staggering 70 per cent of digital transformations fail, primarily due to lack of engagement.  

From the get-go, senior managers need to communicate their plans for digital transformation with employees and develop a strategy for this. Ideally this should be done through a central focal point such as a workplace portal, as presents front and centre to all employees what is happening and allows them to easily respond to and give thoughts on any updates. It also enables managers to track what has been communicated, who has seen it and who has responded.

A digital transformation evangelist should be appointed who is able to act as a conduit for two-way communication between staff and senior management. This is a role ideally suited to the CIO as they are likely to be already used to communicating IT issues to the board and managers.

Then they should look to treat the implementation of digital transformation in a similar way to the development and launch of any other customer-focussed product. This should start with talking to staff to find out how they currently do things, this should explore ways of working, the products they use, and who else they need to collaborate with. This last point is critical as different departments across an organisation will need to work together, such as finance and HR, or R&D and production. This information should be at the forefront of executives’ minds to ensure they are compatible with what is already in place and will continue to be used. If the new system can be aligned to support (rather than replace) existing staff processes, then there is a much greater chance of their buy-in and therefore success.

Armed with this information, organisations can then research the market to find those solutions that would best fit their requirements and expectations. Many vendors will offer trial periods for their products enabling key figures in the organisation to test out their product and feedback their experiences to whoever is in charge of the digital transformation. 

Once a product has been selected, this needs to be communicated to employees along with when the solution will go live. Before the launch employees should be told of the benefits the solution will offer them along with training on how to use the system. Depending on the size of the organisation, this can be done as a whole or department by department.

Finally, once the system is up and running users should be able to feedback how the new system is affecting their job, along with what improvements could be made and any issues they might be facing. Any queries need to be quickly responded to by managers, otherwise employees could end up resorting to their own ways.

Engagement is the key

As can be seen, a two-way flow of information between those responsible for implementing digital transformation and those that will be using it is essential. Gathering such evidence from hundreds or even thousands of employees can be a challenge. If an organisation simply relies on recorded conversations and emails to find out what employees think, then that is a lot of disparate data that needs to be collated and analysed. There also the danger that concerns might get misreported or not reported at all by time-constrained employees for whom writing an email or attending an internal meeting is a burden they could do without.

Conversely, being able to let all employees know what is happening with a project can be a challenge. Emails can be missed and meetings can be avoided.

Organisations should therefore look to solutions that provide employees with a portal to all the information that they need about any major project. These platforms should be able to easily integrate with other relevant solutions, such as Microsoft Office, video services and survey tools to enable different media to be used in communicating issues. In this way, staff and managers will be able to more clearly understand what each other are thinking to ensure that digital transformation is a success. 

Workplace platforms not only help communicate digital transformation to employees but can be used to facilitate it too. Connecting the different, often siloed, departments within an organisation, such as HR and finance through a combined portal will empower them to more easily communicate and share resources with each other. This approach will not only make things easier for the workforce but will also provide decision makers with a valuable, unified source of data from across the organisation. 

Digital transformation looks to improve the processes within an organisation. However, this is not achieved by deploying technology alone. By ensuring quality communication and engagement, an organisation can ensure that digital transformation is a success thanks to the synergy of staff and progressive tech.

James Whelan, Avantus