Your Secret Weapon for Successful Digital Transformation? Get Employees on Board.

Liz Alton

For nearly a decade, companies have been discussing their digital transformation. And in the past year, the pandemic and the rapid shift to remote work dramatically accelerated many companies’ digital transformations. In fact, McKinsey notes that years of digital transformation were consolidated into just a few months. Now, as companies consider the best way forward into the next few years, digital transformation is in the spotlight. One of the most important aspects that makes digital transformation successful is employee adoption. Here are some ways to get employees on board and ready for your plans.

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Share the Larger Context of Your Vision

Employees are much more likely to become excited and work with you on digital transformation initiatives if they understand what you are trying to accomplish. In the words of Simon Sinek, it’s critical to know your why. This goes for the executive team signing off on a digital transformation, the IT team that’s implementing it, and the employees you’re asking to adjust their processes. Help employees understand what you’re trying to accomplish with your digital transformation by answering concerns like:

  • How it will improve the customer experience
  • How it will make employees’ jobs easier
  • What the overall benefit is to the company: grow, achieve, or become more profitable
  • How the changes will improve the company’s impact

As Deloitte notes, business and technology strategy have become inextricably combined. The choices companies make for technology growth can create opportunities or constrain a growth period. By highlighting how your technology choices make it easier to implement your company strategy, you can foster greater employee buy-in.

Give Stakeholders a Voice in the Transformation

Transformations that are dictated from the top down can be the hardest to get buy-in for. It’s easier to get employees engaged when you give them a voice in how a digital transformation is designed or how it will unfold. Consider asking employees to weigh in on the pain points they’re dealing with. What technologies, processes, or organizational demands do they struggle with? Are there processes that could benefit from being digitized or streamlined?

For example, when a retail company recently asked employees for feedback, the biggest pain point they cited was needing real-time information to answer customers’ questions. Asking a customer to follow them back to a terminal and then wait while they searched for inventory information wasn’t efficient. Instead, employees wanted to be armed with tablets that had real-time availability data. Because their input was critical to this investment, associates were eager to implement the new system and the transformation was a significant success.

By showcasing where employee feedback has been used to select specific tools, prioritize investment, or even just test and support the rollout for new technologies, there’s a greater sense of buy-in and engagement that can help drive your digital transformation’s success.

Invest in Training

One of the greatest barriers to adopting new technology is a lack of knowledge. Employees may be concerned that they don’t understand how to use the new system or device. Others may be concerned that new technologies will create unnecessary work or can slow down the well-honed processes that they’ve developed after months or years on the job. Overcome these objections with targeted training designed to help your employees confidently make the most of new systems.

A common mistake companies often make is providing a demo of how software or a technology works and then deeming that to be sufficient training. Demos do play an important role in helping familiarize your team with new technologies. But it’s important to significantly invest in training so employees understand what resources are at their disposal, how best to use them, and what steps they should take to make the most of them. When considering training, here are some best practices to remember:

  • Address a variety of needs. Different types of users—and people who use the system with different frequencies—may require slightly different perspectives.
  • Tap into a variety of opportunities to help users learn. Some may benefit from real-time or in-person instruction, while others may prefer self-paced video, audio, or written references.
  • Have office hours or a support person available to answer questions, revisit key parts of the training, and ease the transition during the first few weeks of using a system. Dedicating a resource to answering questions as they pop up can help eliminate frustration and smooth out the transition to a new system.

Have a Rollout Plan

Design a rollout and deployment plan that allows for support and transition time while your team adapts to new technologies. Not all technologies have a hands-on component, but this is especially critical for those that do, or those that have behind-the-scenes solutions that might directly impact mission-critical processes. In addition to training, your rollout plan should also incorporate hands-on guidance and feedback sessions throughout the first few days or weeks of using the new solution. A few options to consider include:

  • Stay connected throughout the deployment. Ten-minute stand-ups or quick email check-ins can help you keep a pulse on how things are going, head off problems before they become larger issues, and identify individuals or teams that might need additional support or training.
  • Reward success stories. If an employee has a big win or the technology has enabled a success story, share it. Capture the lessons learned that other employees might be able to benefit from. The more you can showcase technology tools transforming your workplace, employee experience, and customer offerings for the better, the more successful you’ll be.
  • Conduct more formal assessments such as surveys, interviews, focus groups, or town hall discussions to understand how your digital transformation is affecting employees. Often, a digital transformation is a work in progress, and ongoing feedback gives you a chance to refine what you’re doing.

Demonstrate Strong Leadership

While digital transformation from the top down is often not well received, executives and leaders set the tone for how it’s embraced. Think about the way your attitudes, language, and adoption of new technologies set the standard in your business, and look for options to model the kind of response you want. Consider the following ideas:

  • Be optimistic about the value of new technology and digital transformation. Find positive ways to frame investments, from improving the employee experience to offering something new.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of being present. Attend trainings, personally introduce speakers who will be discussing the changes, and provide the signals that this process matters. Reach out to your direct reports and underscore the importance of taking part in these events.
  • Be knowledgeable about digital transformation. Depending on your role and organization, this might mean participating in trainings or simply doing the research and being able to speak to the strategic importance of key aspects of digital transformation.

Planning your digital transformation requires more than investing in hardware or choosing new software products or devices. It’s important to remember that employee engagement and adoption is the X-factor in any new technology initiative. Improve your team’s success and drive a high-impact digital transformation initiative by focusing on employee engagement.

Communicating your mission, giving teams a voice in the workplace transformation, and having a well-developed training and rollout plan can all increase employees’ willingness to help make your digital transformation a success.

Liz Alton is a B2B technology and digital marketing writer and content strategist. She has worked with a variety of brands including Google, Twitter, Adobe, Oracle, and HP, and written for publications including Forbes. She is a regular contributor to Connected, Connection’s official blog.