laughing woman used to typify an engaged employee
PHOTO: Frank Busch

Work is radically evolving in the 21st century, with software set to disrupt most traditional industries in the next five to 10 years. Anyone who has ever led a transformation initiative knows that change is hard, but digital transformation is even harder. Whether it’s the scope of change, the adoption of technology or the reorganization of legacy business units, digital transformation affects people, process and technology, making it difficult to get employees to adapt to and embrace change. McKinsey found that organizations with fewer than 100 employees are 2.7 times more likely to report a successful digital transformation than those with more than 50,000 employees.

For this reason, it’s imperative for organizations to get employees excited about the opportunities that digital transformation brings. One way to do this is to put the employee experience at the center of your digital workplace strategy. To do this, you must encourage employees to share their ideas to ensure that innovation isn’t being hidden under layers of bureaucracy. By fostering an environment of creativity and innovation, you’ll improve your employee experience — and support your digital workplace.

Build a Shared Purpose

To drive successful digital transformation, your entire organization — from your leadership team to your front-line customer service agents — should be moving in the same direction. Your vision is what provides you with the language to communicate your objectives because it provides focus on how you’ll achieve your goals.

If you’re currently struggling to articulate why digital transformation matters for your business, you aren’t alone. Consider the following questions:

  • Why does your company exist, or in other words, what is your mission? What are the values your organization lives by?
  • Do all employees understand your company’s mission and values? Do they demonstrate them in their day-to-day work?
  • Do you have company-wide goals? More importantly, do all employees know what those goals are?
  • Do you have the resources, knowledge and ideas to innovate to meet market needs, or are you at risk of being disrupted by smaller, more nimble, digital competitors?

If your company has a mission statement, values and goals that are aligned with digital transformation — then great! If not, it’s time to gain employee buy-in and start creating the strategic framework for these assets. Remember, your mission and goals don’t have to be complex, but they do have to motivate your team to go beyond what they’ve always done to provide a better customer experience.

Related Article: Digital Transformation Will Stall if You Don't Prepare Your Employees

Reconsider Your Leadership Strategy

study published in HR Dive found that poor leadership and uncertain direction of the company are the largest drivers of employee burnout. This burnout is often a result of unclear communication of a company’s direction and vision — meaning, when employees don’t understand where the company is headed and how they contribute to that larger purpose, they’re much more likely to become disengaged.

With that in mind, it’s important to communicate why employees should care about digital transformation and what the benefit is for them to adopt these changes. It seems simple, yet the answers to this question are often confusing or unappealing — particularly from the employee’s viewpoint. Consider the following when you’re thinking through how to position your initiative:

  • Appeal: How much do I desire this offer? E.g., What’s in it for me?
  • Exclusivity: Where else can I get this offer? E.g., Is someone else offering me this? Is this only something you can do?
  • Credibility: Can I trust your claims? E.g., What’s the likelihood this will work? Am I going to waste my political capital supporting you?
  • Clarity: What are you actually offering? E.g., Do I understand what you are trying to do? Is it clear? Have you explained it to me?

You can begin this process by openly engaging the organization. Talk about change and make it personal by sharing success stories from various business units. One way to do this — in the words of Stephen Covey — is to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This means don’t say what you want to say, but rather understand what your audience wants to hear and consider their perspective when you’re communicating.

Related Article: 3 Ways to Change Company Culture to Support Digital Transformation

Create a Culture of Innovation

It is important that you don’t just pass down new ideas from the top down. Work with employees to create strategies and key initiatives to show you value their ideas and skills.

Consider Google’s famous Googlettes initiative. The initiative was coined, “the start-up within the start-up,” as a way to generate new business ideas internally. Googlettes spawned Gmail, which changed webmail forever. As the first true landmark service to emerge from Google since its search engine debuted in 1998, Gmail didn’t just blow away competition, it completely changed the game as the first major cloud-based app that was able to replace PC software.

“If you’re far enough ahead that people can’t figure out if you’re joking, you know you’ve innovated,” said Georges Harik, who was responsible for most of Google’s new products when Gmail was created.

The same can be said of Post-Its. 3M’s Art Fry, then a new product development researcher, suggested using adhesive on the back of paper so they could be stuck and removed without leaving residue, but management didn’t see the value in the product. The product was shelved for years even though it was popular within the company. However, the internal team believed in it and continued to send samples to companies to see if it would gain traction. To management’s surprise, 90% of companies given samples re-ordered the product.

As a leader, you need to think outside the box and actively resist being trapped into “the way things have always been done.” The more you believe in the people around you and incorporate their ideas into your vision, the more they'll believe in your ideas and incorporate them into their work habits.

Listening to your team is a must if you want to build this kind of relationship. When you’re trying to build a culture of innovation, genuine listening is a valuable step because it builds relationships, ensures understanding and resolves conflicts. Encourage people to speak up, especially if they don't often voice their opinions.

Leading digital transformation is all about seeing and creating a brighter and better future. It won’t be created by technology and it won’t be enabled by software. It requires open communication between you and your employees, a dedication to a common purpose and willingness to allow employees to innovate. With this culture in place, your digital transformation will take root and thrive.

Related Article: How to Design an Effective Digital Innovation Campaign