How to engage employees through a digital transformation

Digital transformation is a journey that most large organizations these days are embarking on, but too often without their best assets on board: frontline employees.

Digital transformation is a top-to-bottom process of rethinking your business and determining the best culture, processes and technology to meet the needs of your customers.

It doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t automatically kick in when new technologies are brought into the enterprise. If anything, many organizations are feeling the backlash of high expectations and lackluster implementation.

One 2016 industry survey, for example, found that 66 percent of companies surveys indicated that not meeting their digital transformation objectives would impact revenue within six months, and only 18 percent expressed confidence they could meet these goals.

From our experience of working with clients across several different industries, digital transformations do not fail not due to a lack of technology, but because those who directly serve your customers or conduct the work to make your products are not engaged in the process. They merely become the recipients of new tools or processes that are dictated to them by “those people sitting in the ivory tower.”

How can I succeed in our digital transformation program?

To be successful, you need the full participation and engagement of everyone in your company, from the boardroom to the front line. It’s especially important to involve those who are directly charged with producing or bringing products and services to your customers. Without this insight, you will be missing out on a lot of valuable information and advocates for adoption.

Where successful transformation efforts are being achieved, inclusion of frontline staff is a contributing factor. A surveyfrom early 2017 by McKinsey & Company found that companies successfully undergoing digital transformations were much more likely to report visibly engaged frontline staff: 73 percent compared with 46 percent of all other respondents.

This is confirmed by a new study conducted by Forbes Insights, which finds that 43 percent of executives in organizations with high levels of digitally empowered frontline staff report excellent progress in their digital transformation efforts, versus 21 percent of executives with few digitally empowered workers.

4 steps to engaging people in the digital transformation program

The role of frontline staff in digital transformation takes many forms, depending on industry and job roles. However, there are some generic principles that you can apply to further enabling involvement.

Here are four ways to better integrate frontline staff into your digital transformation process:

1. Rethink the role of frontline staff

To succeed with digital transformation, organizations need to capture and leverage the decisions and actions of frontline staff. These are the things that move organizations forward, define the customer experience and translate strategy into daily activities and tasks.The path to true digital transformation will require a rethinking of not only technology investments, but also of the roles and responsibilities of frontline staff. To help your employees succeed in today’s competitive economy, frontline staff require greater autonomy, information sharing, decision-making power and training. Technology enables these capabilities.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Communicate progress early and often to ensure there is a collective understanding of how the program is tracking. “Show, don’t tell progress to the front line,” say Dana Maor and the authors of the McKinsey transformation study. The risk, they observe, is that frontline staff “will see only the individual pain and not the aggregate gain. Communicating clearly and creatively in a way that stimulates dialogue around the transformation’s ambition and progress, further increases the chances of success.

3. Connect the organization

Make use of familiar tools that break down barriers and allow anyone to share an idea from the frontline to the boardroom. Creative digital approaches to engaging employees include enterprise social networks such as Yammer and live-feedback tools such as interactive town hall sessions. Ultimately, a more connected organization is a more productive one, enabling all employees to turn their ideas into actions.

4. Leverage data from interactions

Preparing and enabling frontline staff participation in digital transformation requires a strategy that involves training, technology, autonomy and information sharing. Digitally empowering frontline staff enables organizations to benefit from their unique role as the first touch point with customers, the first touch point with products or services, and authentic brand advocate. The data and insights from their every interaction represent tremendous potential for innovation and growth.


Written by Rav Punia for CW Magazine