Some things never change. Digital transformation has been around in one form or another for 30 years, yet still only about a third of digital transformation projects succeed. You would think by now that enough organisations will have picked over enough bones of enough failed projects to know what to do differently next time around. So why does it keep happening?
There have been plenty of surveys published where business leaders have bemoaned a lack of board vision, or budget, or understanding of the technology, or trying to implement the wrong technology. But one of the most consistent reasons for the crash and burn of yet another digital transformation project is the lack of employee skills to exploit the potential of the new technologies, and employee understanding as to why it’s all happening in the first place.
Now we’re getting to the root of the problem. Digital transformation is nothing less than a total re-imagining of the organisation,and most business leaders do get that. But what they all have in common is not their desire or appetite to make the change. It’s that they all made the mistake of starting in the wrong place. They start with shiny new technology, then try to shoe-horn their people into it. A kind of retrofitting of employees and customers into a new world not of their making. It’s hardly surprising that they meet with resistance.
Don’t start from here
Picture the scene: You’re standing at the podium in a crowded auditorium announcing your new digital transformation program to a room full of employees from all levels. You talk about all the new technology your organisation is about to embrace. You use language like “moving to the cloud” and “developing AI capabilities” and “customer centricity”. Then you wax lyrical about the size of the financial investment being made, part of which is going to be spent on an army of external consultants who are going to use their substantial knowledge of digital transformation “best practices” to implement this substantial change program and guide the organisation towards its technological new dawn.
By the time your last PowerPoint slide has popped up on the screen you’re probably feeling quite pleased with yourself and looking forward to receiving the warm congratulations of your peers and colleagues.
But think for a moment about what’s happening in the audience. When you said cloud and AI ,they heard “I’m being replaced by a machine.” When you said external consultants, they heard “outsiders”. When you said best practices, they heard “a stranger telling me how to do my job.”
Most of all they’re hearing the word change and battening down the mental hatches, envisaging months of disruption and unexplained variations to their working practices.
Congratulations. You’ve not only sounded the death-knell for your digital transformation project, you’ve also single-handedly killed off employee morale.
The point of digital transformation is for people and technology to co-exist
Smart business leaders recognise that for digital transformation to succeed they need to think about how technology and people can work together. They start by asking questions such as: “How can we make it easier for customers to buy from us?” and use their employees’ intimate insider knowledge to map out the business goals.
They recognise that if their people lack the right mindset to change and the legacy business processes are flawed to begin with, then digital transformation will only magnify the problems. So they engage those employees from Day One and give them ownership of the design.
Then they explore how to harness the power of technology to create a leaner operation, take over the boring and repetitive tasks, and free people up to focus on the more complex responsibilities, learn new marketable skills, and to look for ways to add value for customers.
The primary role of technology in any digital transformation initiative is to augment and empower employees to improve their performance and design new ways of adding value to the customer experience. People don’t mind if a machine takes over the everyday tasks – especially if they’ve had a hand in choosing which tasks to relinquish - because it frees them up to focus on interactions and solving problems. This in turn makes them more productive, collaborative, creative, and satisfied.
Let your customers do the talking
Don’t make the mistake of believing that the implementation of one single tool or app will improve the customer experience on its own. Some of the most successful digital transformation projects started with an acknowledgement of changing customer expectations and paying close attention to customer and employee feedback. Once the goal had been identified, the organisations then made small-scale improvements at different points in the customer lifecycle, with the effect that the customer experience evolved to be the best-in-class over time, driven by in-depth input from their customers.
Many digital transformation initiatives arise from pain points, a changing market or industry, or new imperatives in the customer experience. But digital transformation is as much a human transformation as a technological one. Mis-manage the human side of the equation and all you’re doing is fostering a culture of fear of change. Instead, look on digital transformation as an opportunity for employees to share in the evolution of the business while upgrading their expertise.
Start with the fundamentals and get the human part right first. You can change the mindset of employees on Day One by letting them share and contribute to the vision before you decide on the technology. That way they’ll have a stake in the project, and you’ll be much more likely to succeed.
If you’re interested in discovering how digital transformation can work in your business, get in touch today.