Real Leaders

4 Strategies to Better Support Employees Through Digital Transformation

A man seated on steps using a digital tablet.

Digital transformation has quickly become a “must” for all businesses — but many companies are misunderstanding the concept.

Many think of digital transformation as a group initiative to move away from outdated processes and rethink their use of digital solutions, and they’re not wrong. But that answer is shortsighted: What you’re trying to accomplish is a foundational change in the ways that people work. Failing to account for this component when attempting to implement digital transformation can pose serious problems down the line.

Take the average employee. When asked, they’ll more than likely say change isn’t a big deal. In fact, they welcome the idea of it. However, if you were to read between the lines, what most people mean is that they like it when other people change or when processes become more efficient, but it doesn’t actually affect how they accomplish their work. It’s uncomfortable — if not unsettling — to stray from the “traditional” ways in which you conduct work each day, which is what you’re ultimately asking of your team.

Managing organizational change associated with any digital transformation effort must factor in the people who will be using the technology. Otherwise, the chances that these efforts will be met with resistance increase exponentially and may be abandoned altogether. It is for this reason that a change management plan should be at the center of your organizational planning for digital transformation. This approach places your employees at the forefront of considerations, ensuring that the change is both seamless and painless for internal staff.

Factors to Consider in Your Change Management Plan

To avoid getting overwhelmed with your plan, start by focusing on individual aspects and considerations. One aspect that must be part of any change management plan is the ever-growing popularity of remote work options. Remote work has become the norm — largely out of necessity, but also out of demand. After the past couple of years, many people prefer the option of at least a hybrid work model and will gladly consider a move to another organization if those needs aren’t met. At last count, 55% of workers now want greater flexibility with their schedules.

Of course, this doesn’t mean your entire workforce should go remote. Certain responsibilities are best left in the physical office space. Before you get too far into the organizational planning for digital transformation, it’s important to pin down which roles require face-to-face interactions and communicate those needs throughout the company.

The move to remote work has also changed the way people collaborate. At one time, digital collaboration entailed working on a document and then emailing it to another party. Now, it’s gotten to the point where you can store a document in the cloud and multiple people can be working on it at the same time — all the while discussing those changes via a Zoom meeting in real time. Consider what you want collaboration to look like, both in terms of teams and overall company culture, at the end of your digital transformation journey.

Finally, don’t forget about automation growth. It’s a trend that’s gaining traction, and you should factor in how automation and AI will change the way in which teams will conduct business each day. Automation and AI are becoming integrated with the expectations of how employees function. It makes everyone more efficient, allowing team members to put more energy toward higher-level tasks.

Tactics for Better Managing Organizational Change

Managing organizational change is no small feat. You must enter into an initiative with a well-developed digital business transformation strategy. While what that strategy looks like will vary from one organization to the next, certain tactics will always be important— and that often includes the following:

1. Understand the ‘why.’

To drive any change management plan, it’s key to understand the “why.” This is the North Star guiding the company on the digital journey, so be sure you can clearly explain the benefits and solutions of implementing digital transformation. Start by defining the business outcome you’re trying to deliver. Work up a concrete description that you can use as part of your communication plan, emphasizing why you’re doing what you’re doing.

2. Answer employees’ essential questions.

At this point, you’ll have the “why” reasoning laid out, but you still need to answer the rest of employees’ questions. Employees often want further details relating to the “what,” “when,” and “how” prior to implementing digital transformation — and especially the “who” it will affect the most. Connect those specific elements to the desired business outcome and then give employees the opportunity to ask questions. Remember, change is uncomfortable. Lead with empathy; open communication can help to quell many concerns.

3. Listen to your employees’ feedback.

Once you explain what you’re trying to accomplish and open the floor to questions, you need to listen to what your employees are saying and implement practical changes using this feedback. You’ll likely find that their suggestions hold a great deal of weight for making the process more efficient. Besides, taking suggestions has a way of getting employees on board with your digital business transformation strategy. Instead of feeling like side characters to a decision from leadership, they become active participants in the process.

In one of my most successful change implementations, the team was initially opposed to the proposed change: Most of their jobs would change dramatically. I asked the project manager to conduct meetings to collect objections without giving any pushback (this took a lot of discipline). Then, she circulated the tabulated objections to ensure they were all described accurately, and the implementation team set developed a mitigation strategy, with metrics, for each and every objection. We pulled the team back together and went through the objections with mitigations, and the team had no choice but to agree that if the metrics indicated the objections had been mitigated, the change would be successful. Once they had been heard, the team pitched in to put the mitigation plan into effect, and with a lot of hard work, we found success (and had the measurements to prove it!).

4. Provide time to process the change.

There will always be a human element to any change. As your business implements digital transformation, give people the room to think about what will happen. They need time to digest the information presented to them. Even after employees have asked their questions and voiced their concerns, they need time to think and accept how their work will change. If need be, encourage team members to carve out some time in their schedules to think through the things that are happening rapidly. It’s something that I started doing about 10 years ago. The habit’s not exclusive to digital transformation, but I made a conscious decision to put time on my calendar outside of meetings to digest information.

Change is inevitable. How people go about doing their work isn’t immune. However, you can make the process much more efficient and painless by taking into account more than just the technology involved in digital transformation. You must factor that human element into the equation to ensure success.

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