When you’re focusing on digital transformation, it can be easy to put all of your effort into technology. After all, digital transformation can’t succeed without technology … right? Wrong. Digital transformation can’t succeed without people. And if you aren’t putting effort into encouraging, supporting and inspiring your people, any digital transformation your planning isn’t likely to get very far.

For digital transformation to succeed, your entire organization has to support the change. So, in this sense, digital transformation is 100% about people. But how do you get people to support digital transformation? We’ve talked about communication, leadership and building a digital culture, employee experience, customer experience and culture change, but this month, let’s get back to the basics of keeping your employees engaged in digital transformation: building trust; upskilling to build soft skills, particularly in your technical team; and showing appreciation. The bonus? All of these are particularly helpful techniques if you’re looking to build engagement in a burned-out, exhausted pandemic workforce, too.

Reinforce Employee Engagement by Building Trust

Deloitte found that engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave their organizations. In an ideal world, the executive team sets the priorities, and then directors and managers work with their teams to deliver results. How they achieve those results isn't as important as the fact that they are. In reality, many mid-level managers report tales of new initiatives or automated processes being micromanaged or stopped entirely by members of the executive team who haven’t been involved in planning.

No executive team wants to sit idly by while initiatives fail, but without giving your mid-level managers autonomy to exercise their judgment, you risk burning out and disengaging this crucial group in your organization. Essentially, your actions are telling them, “I don’t trust you to do good work without me” — which will leave your team frustrated and ready to pick up that call from a headhunter.

To build the environment where grassroots digital transformation can flourish, consider the following techniques to show trust in your team:

  • Help your team build good judgment. When you’re making decisions, talk them through with your team. By explaining the criteria you evaluated, the tradeoffs you assessed and the stakeholder opinions you considered, you’ll help your team understand decisions, and get a better view of what priorities matter to your organization.
  • Acknowledge that failure will happen, and that innovation won’t happen without it. As you gain more experience in your career, it’s easy to fall into the trap of “this won’t work here” or “we tried this once before and it failed.” Just because it didn’t work before doesn’t mean it won’t work now. Innovation can’t happen when it’s stifled from the top. Let your team make decisions on their own without micromanaging. You can always follow up with them individually to discuss their thoughts on how it went and to brainstorm — together! — ideas to continue to improve their skills.
  • Create a culture of trust. Reinforce the strengths of your team by recognizing achievements and wins in meetings, on the company intranet or newsletter, or at all-hands meetings. If you only focus on what went wrong or on nitpicking how things could be better, you’re creating an environment that will leave people disengaged, discouraged and defensive. Instead, publicly recognize success to showcase the leadership throughout your organization.

When you give trust, you don’t just empower your team, you also empower yourself as a leader — and you create a culture where employee engagement can flourish.

Related Article: What's Trust Got to Do With It?

Focus on Soft Skills

With digital transformation being more about people than technology, even technologists will need as many soft skills as hard skills. Author and consultant Wayne Eckerson first wrote about the idea of "purple people" in a blog post to point out the importance of mixing business and technology skills. Jim Wilson, a lead data engineer at insurance company XL Catlin, used the analogy of purple people to understand the importance of a mix of hard and soft skills:

“The business people, the actuaries, know what data they need and can define requirements, but typically don’t have the skill set to design a data architecture that gives them the data they need. Technology people typically don’t understand the business requirements, but they can design the data architectures. It’s like the people in IT speak blue, the people in business speak red, but we need people who speak purple in order to create an appropriate solution.”

A January 2020 LinkedIn study identified the five soft skills employees should have: creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability and emotional intelligence. These skills have been put to the test even more during the pandemic.

Soft skills are challenged by digital transformation, which requires tackling new tasks, working collaboratively with teams across the organization and thinking differently. Building these soft skills helps technical team members participate meaningfully in digital transformation strategic thinking and planning. For your organization, think about upskilling your existing team to focus on soft skills. It will help you retain current employees — while keeping your digital transformation initiative moving.

Related Article: What Skills Will Your Workforce Need for the Months Ahead?

Learning Opportunities

Show Appreciation for Your Employees

Employee appreciation is directly tied with job satisfaction, workplace happiness and employee morale. Showing employees that you care about them as people — not just about what they add to your bottom line — can also boost motivation, increase engagement, foster loyalty and increase productivity.

But appreciation goes beyond simply recognizing your employees with bonuses or raises at the end of the year. As Mike Robbins wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “If you focus solely on praising positive outcomes, on recognition, you miss out on lots of opportunities to connect with and support your team members — to appreciate them.”

Make sure to acknowledge employees’ worth as colleagues and humans:

Share the praise you’ve received from customers. People work harder when they know who they’re working for and why. If customers share how your work has positively impacted them, share it with your team! It will help them see the larger, positive impact their work has on the world.

Tell people what you appreciate about them. It’s easy to wait until someone’s retirement party to tell them what a positive impact they’ve made. Don’t wait. Telling your team members what you value about them because you appreciate them as people — not because it’s their work anniversary or you need something from them — is powerful. It’s an important way to build a culture of appreciation at your organization.

Walk the talk. Especially during the pandemic, it’s been easy to say that you value work/life balance. But are you actually showing that? Be sure you’re modeling good behavior for your team: not sending emails on weekends, respecting “in-office” hours if you’re all working remotely, and recognizing work getting done, not hours in the chair. Most of all, demonstrate that you appreciate the hard work your employees have put in keeping things going during a stressful and confusing time.

Digital transformation involves technology, but people are what enable your transformation to succeed. Technology enables digital transformation; your people bring the digital thinking, collaboration and adaptability to make it a reality. When you focus on supporting your team with the trust, skills and appreciation they need to know that they are just as important as technology, that’s when digital transformation can become a reality.

Related Article: What it Takes to Create Exceptional Employee Experiences

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