Countless hours have gone into planning for digital transformation, yet global organizations still stumble when it comes to execution. It isn’t the faster, flexible and sophisticated technology getting in the way. Rather, it’s how these organizations approach digital transformation with their own employees. A successful digital transformation, perhaps ironically, is less about the tech and more about the people.
Getting employees from top to bottom to adopt a digital transformation mindset is critical to any plan, and it’s easily the most difficult part. It’s organization-wide. It strikes at the heart of a company’s culture. It requires a lot of people to change their relationships with technology. Getting employees to adjust to these changes — as any business leader knows — is very difficult to do.
How do you drive change and unite employees from diverse backgrounds? How do you create a culture that will embrace change and stimulate innovation, all while trying to maintain a positive employee experience?
The solution centers around employee engagement.
Digital transformation already focuses on the customer experience, but the employee experience must be a priority. Employees want to learn and work in an adaptive culture where new technology ideas can be encouraged and integrated.
Here are four ways to influence digital transformation from the ground up, starting with your most valuable business asset: employees.
1. Aim to align values company-wide.
Know how to speak to your company’s values and how a digital transformation aligns with them. When you have a clear company vision speaking to your employees’ sense of values, you create an environment for a smooth transformation. This type of ideal alignment of values can not only increase productivity but also spark innovation. Digital transformation necessitates both, especially when an organizational change is involved.
When employees feel they can get behind their company’s mission statement, they become invested in their work and want to do more. Often, being more invested in both work and the workplace means employees are more willing to cross over self-imposed barriers to change.
For example, employees may initially work for a company for free catered lunches, yearly stipends or generous stock options (or all of the above), but what keeps them at a company are the values they have in common with their employer. Just as consumers prefer doing business with companies advocating for causes they care about, employees look for shared values. Respect for these mutual principles can encourage employees to feel more inclined to commit to the company’s digital transformation decisions.
2. Create a narrative for digital transformation.
Hollywood agents advocating for new movie ideas always have an elevator pitch in mind. It’s simple concept: a single sentence that describes the whole movie. It’s clear and concise. Digital transformation can happen almost as fast as rumors make their way through an organization. But, in the case of digital transformation, it’s critical everyone in the organization knows and agrees on the vision, goals and roadmap for that change. The elevator speech moves beyond just a checkpoint or hallway conversation. Instead, it becomes the internal brand narrative from start to finish — and, hopefully, it’ll spread like wildfire through word of mouth.
3. Ride the learning curve.
The journey to digital transformation is complicated. The technology initiatives alone can bore some employees to sleep. Couple potential disinterest with internal marketing plans, employee engagement programs and other company-led initiatives, and you can be sure most employees will lose interest before you even get started.
Training will be a critical factor in generating excitement and educating the organization about digital transformation. Familiarize yourself with the makeup of your employees. Who are they? What do they care about? How do they prefer to learn? For example, millennials are likely to learn differently than other employees. Their desire to learn and grow professionally is a key factor in retention. Training programs and consistent, ongoing communication are necessary to ensure that all employees are feeling challenged and supported.
4. Start small, but finish strong.
The pressures of digital transformation are constant. Expectations and deadlines ramp up quickly. It’s natural to want to push ahead, tweak as the project unfolds, or cut corners. These can be costly mistakes. Consider how fast things are changing right now, even for your employees. Is it wise to overwork your team to complete a revised deadline only to discover the end goal has become outdated?
Challenge yourself as a leader. Put a plan together with measurable goals and hold yourself accountable. Make changes and revise purposefully. Avoid siloing conversations or projects among experience levels, job functions or business units. Inspire and welcome 360-degree feedback. Don’t be surprised if other departments take notice of your team’s fresh, cohesive thinking, collaboration, efficiency and progress and begin to replicate it.
As mentioned, ground-level changes within the organization send most business leaders on a stressful, nail-biting frenzy. Overhauling your company’s performance through new digital platforms takes vision, patience and technical expertise, but the most critical factor is employee buy-in.
Digital transformation isn’t optional for most organizations. It’s a foundational shift that’s making the business world more competitive, more agile and — for those who don’t invest in their digital IQ — more vulnerable. The risks of struggling in the move to digital are too high. It’s time to invest in a cultural shift.
This post originally posted on Forbes.