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Why employee engagement matters in digital transformation

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Wichy)

In an increasingly connected world, where IoT is influencing organisations in almost every sector, and the flexibility and agile benefits of the cloud are available to even the smallest businesses, digital transformation is arguably something that all organisations need to embrace in order to avoid being left behind. No more so with an ever-increasing skills shortage and shrinking pool of highly-skilled individuals.

There is evidently a desire to embrace technology; whether it’s a sentiment shared across entire organisations is still to be discussed. However, a recent report conducted by Cisco found that a significant majority of business leaders (80 per cent) want to see technology become an integral part of service delivery, boost productivity and making the UK competitive with its more industrious European neighbours.

While it is in part a technological challenge, it is also a very human challenge. Comprehensively communicating the process of digital transformation to every staff member within your organisation is essential if the initiative is to truly benefit your business. Indeed, without this, the project may even end up damaging your business.

Roadblocks to innovation

Ultimately technology is used by people, and success is directly correlated with employees being motivated to meet business objectives. Certainly, plenty of hardware and software runs automatically in the background, requiring manual intervention rarely if ever, and only then from a select number of staff members. However, every element of your technology infrastructure plays a role in helping your staff do their jobs, even if they do not engage with it directly. And of course, plenty of devices and software applications are used directly by employees.

This means that for a technology deployment to deliver the best possible return on investment, you need to ensure that your staff are using that technology properly and harnessing its full potential. They need to be making full use of all its functionality; untapped functions are not cost-effective and it doesn’t set a precedent for future innovation.

Additionally, much of the focus of successful digital transformation projects is either about solving existing operational problems or inefficiencies, or accessing business intelligence that previously went unharnessed. For both areas, you need the input of your staff before embarking on a project of transformation to best understand where you can drive improvements.

As such, a failure to adequately engage with your employees either before you begin a process of digital transformation, or once you have deployed the technology in question, can drastically reduce the benefits your business could gain from digital transformation.

Fears and false perceptions

Your staff can also play a more direct role in diminishing the benefits of digital transformation if they are actively resistant to the initiative in the first place. Many workers are understandably sceptical about the benefits of certain digital technologies, believing them to be a threat to jobs. Robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), for example, may be being perceived as being replacements for workers. Such fears can easily translate into a lack of engagement with new technologies, or even an active refusal to use them as intended.

To mitigate this problem, it is important for every staff member, no matter how junior, to genuinely understand how the technology in question is intended to improve their role and responsibilities. They need to feel secure in their positions, and to understand that digital transformation is intended to bolster and enhance those positions, rather than threaten them. Once again, this requires a process of employee engagement – a process of internal communication and marketing. 

Principles of internal communication

Your exact internal communications strategy to support a digital transformation programme will depend, of course, on the scale of your organisation and the exact technology you are deploying. However, some broad principles remain the same.

First, your communications programme needs to begin long before your actual technology deployment. In most cases, it should start with a programme of employee outreach and feedback, allowing staff to actively participate in the shaping of the digital transformation strategy. Which tasks take up too much of their time? What information would they want access to? How do they think digital technology could make their jobs easier? The benefits of this collaborative approach are twofold: they help shape a more beneficial and business-focused procurement process; and they get employees actively engaged from the outset.

Next, whilst the deployment is taking place, communications should generally take a ‘little and often’ approach rather than a single blanket announcement. The nuances of new hardware or software deployment can rarely be thoroughly communicated in a single statement; most employees benefit from a staggered approach. Emails are no substitute for face-to-face dialogue, but it is often useful to supplement a meeting or announcement with materials that staff members can read and digest in their own time. For really large-scale technology deployments, a purpose-build intranet or microsite can be necessary. For smaller ones, a series of meetings or workshops, plus a series of emails, may be more appropriate. The key is communicate to staff what is being deployed, why it is being deployed, and how it will affect each individual employee – which may mean tailoring the communication to different staff groups.

Then, once the new technology is in place, it is vital to run a comprehensive programme of training, to ensure that every employee thoroughly understands not just how to use their new hardware or software, but how to optimise them. Don’t be afraid to lean on your technology vendor for this; at Kirona, we offer regular ‘health checks’ with our customers’ workforces to make sure that there are no issues or misuse of the system.

Digital transformation can take your organisation to the next level, but it is vital to remember that it is a human process as much as it is a technological one. Involve your staff from the outset, and you have a far greater chance of reaping the rewards.

Neil Harvey, chief technology officer, Kirona (opens in new tab)
Image source: Shutterstock/Wichy

Neil Harvey is chief technology officer and founding director of for field service management specialist Kirona. He is responsible for Kirona’s overall product strategy, design and architecture, along with support and technical service