Seven out of every eight companies that start a digital transformation project ultimately fail. There’s plenty of speculation about why, from lack of CEO sponsorship to talent deficits, and undoubtedly every failed project involves a variety of missteps.
Still, there’s an underlying problem that often gets overlooked when we’re talking about organizational readiness. Here it is:
The success or failure of any new venture depends on the readiness and commitment of the people implementing it.
Sure, you may have the right budget, the right hardware and software, the right organizational processes, and the right training programs. You might have an airtight business case. You might have sign-off from every executive in your company. But if you don’t have buy-in from your employees, it will be an uphill battle that ends in failure 84 percent of the time.
So how do you assess your workforce to make sure they will jump on board with an innovation?
Positive Change Starts With Asking the Right Questions
You’ll need to ask some probing questions to determine what your employees’ needs are before launching a new project. We can divide these questions into three categories:
1) What are their frustrations?
2) What are their non-negotiables?
3) What are their concerns?
Sounds simple, I know. But the truth is that many companies miss the boat here, often because executives and project leads can’t answer these questions for their employees accurately. So it’s worth the time to look at each of these more closely.
Question 1: What are their frustrations?
Hang-ups and inefficiencies may be the motivating factor behind digital innovation in the first place, but employee frustrations aren’t always the same as executive frustrations. In almost every company we talk to, we can find at least one thing that makes employees want to throw their computers off the roof. Here are some common reasons employees are frustrated with the tech they use at work:
One study found that 9 in 10 workers say they don’t have the latest technology available to them at work. Of course, the goal isn’t to have the latest and greatest of everything all the time. But you should endeavor to give employees the most efficient tools to do their jobs. Usability is vital to adoption, and that’s especially true when your employees are used to having user-centric technology in their off-hours.
Even if you don’t have the most modern interface or mobile app, your tech works if it helps employees do their jobs efficiently. But when your technology makes it hard to serve customers quickly or prevents users from finding the information they need, frustration escalates. We have one client where we found some people were using an ancient, unsupported version of call-center software because their current version was so slow.
Lack of Training
While younger workers are most often frustrated by the slow pace of innovation, older workers often struggle to learn new tools while still trying to meet performance expectations. Some workers will need more training than others. Include that training in your cost analysis before you move forward with new technology.
A mobile app may give your employees the ability to perform certain tasks on the go, but be sure you still allow room for them to unplug. Set reasonable expectations for availability and use your tech to support your employees rather than driving them too hard. Don’t expect them to respond instantly at all hours just because they can, unless you both agree that it’s part of the job
Question 2: What are their non-negotiables?
Non-negotiables are the things your employees need to do their jobs—the things they absolutely can’t live without. Your team members know their jobs best, and their feedback will be essential to developing your technology requirements. Let’s take a look at some things that may go on that list:
Access to Necessary Information
Being able to find the data you need when you need it is foundational to productivity at work. Look for places where your employees’ jobs could be streamlined by a more efficient data storage and reporting solution.
The tech your employees use should perform necessary functions reliably and effectively. Take note of each step in each process to be sure new tech doesn’t create more work to accomplish the same tasks. (If you don’t, you’ll probably find employees who default to Excel spreadsheets to do their work. It happens all the time.)
Which parts of the system need to integrate with which other parts? Employees do their jobs better when they can access everything they need in one system. Better technology integration can increase both job satisfaction and engagement.
No matter how wonderful your tech is, there will always be snags. Insufficient support not only creates bottlenecks in workflow, but also undermines employee morale. Don’t leave your employees to fend for themselves. Make sure IT is responsive to needs and proactive in avoiding ongoing problems.
Question 3: What are their concerns?
Anytime you launch a new software project, there will always be some level of concern about how the new system will affect day-to-day work. Some employees can adopt a new set of behaviors and processes quickly, while others will need more time for training, questions, and experimentation. Successful projects start with listening to employee concerns and addressing them sufficiently so that your team feels confident in their ability to use the new system. Here are some questions to keep in mind:
What are their expectations for digital innovation?
Do they feel positively about the company and its approach to change? Do they feel supported in their work environment? What do they hope the new tech will accomplish?
What other changes are they dealing with?
Are they learning new processes? Adjusting to a new manager?
Are they tech savvy?
Some employees will struggle with the idea of new software simply because it’s new. Be willing to invest in extra training for these individuals so that they will feel confident through the transition. Don’t expect everyone to be a power user—instead, make it simple for anyone to do their basic work in the system.
Do they use the technology you have now effectively?
Do team members store data where they should, or do they have private caches of data squirrelled away in filing cabinets or unconnected spreadsheets?
Will new technology require additional steps in standard processes?
When tech innovation requires employees to add steps to a process, it may be perceived as burdensome rather than helpful. In these cases you’ll need to make a strong case for the benefits of the technology and train employees how to use it most efficiently.
Bonus Question 4: Are Your Employees Ready for Change?
Once you know the answers to the three questions above, you’ll need to address a fourth issue: How open is your team to change? Any change—but especially technological change—will require a new set of actions and behaviors. (This is why change management is such an important field.) Your employees will need to adapt expectations as they adjust to the new way of doing things.
Launching a new software product or instituting a machine learning tool can boost productivity and improve outcomes, but only if your employees use it as intended. That’s most likely to happen if you involve them in the innovation process. Top companies make this an integral part of their organizational culture by prioritizing employee input and encouraging employees to participate in change.
Getting feedback from your team, creating focus groups to talk about needs and requirements, encouraging suggestions and ideas (and acting on them), and promoting cross-training and collaboration are all good ways to empower your team members. The key in all these scenarios is that employees not only have opportunities to express their opinions and ideas but also that they see them implemented where it makes sense.
At the beginning of this article, we quoted a startling statistic: 7 out of 8 companies fail at digital transformation. So how can you beat the odds? No matter how much updating your technology needs, take the time to talk with the people on the front lines who use your system to serve customers, manage inventory, or run reports. Give them the tools they need to do their jobs more efficiently and the support they need to feel confident, and you’ll be in a great position to design a project that works both for your organization and your workforce.