Digital Transformation

I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal about the need for companies to take into account what their employees’ needs are when rolling out new technologies. Many new technology initiatives fail because employees aren’t involved in the process at some level — whether it’s helping design a solution to their problems or providing regular feedback to their leadership teams on what’s working and what they need to be successful.

I believe that as companies undertake larger, organization-wide digital transformations, understanding this point becomes even more important. If a new technology isn’t what an employee wants or needs and doesn’t have the impact of improving everyday work lives or productivity, then your transformation is doomed from the start.

My company specializes in helping businesses support their information technology departments through various metrics, and I’ve seen that understanding your employees’ actual work experience is more significant than ever before. For too long, companies large and small assumed they knew what their employees needed and what their everyday work experiences were. Decisions were made without thinking about how employees would use a new technology or manage a new process. I’ve observed that when employees are unhappy with their experiences at work, they can become disengaged, which in turn can result in lower productivity and even push a valuable employee out the door.

Give your employees a voice.

In my experience, many leaders at the highest levels of a company often think that workplace technologies follow the pattern of the desktop operating system updates of old: The upgrade is pushed out to employees, and voila! You’ve improved their ability to get the job done.

However, this is inaccurate today. Sure, each workplace is different, but they’re all incredibly complex, with an ever-increasing amount of touchpoints important to employees (e.g., desktops, tablets, mobile phones, etc.) and software they’re supposed to use (e.g., sales tracking, customer management, time and attendance logging, etc.).

Capturing and understanding the employee voice is more important than ever before, especially given all of the different tools and technologies they’re expected to use daily. Below are my tips for how you can get started:

Gather input, both early and often.

Including employees’ voices can teach companies a lot about what the true digital employee experience is at their organizations. Before undertaking any sort of an upgrade or implementation, talk to employees and understand what their daily lives are like. Will this technology or solution improve their workplace experience? Why or why not?

This part is important. Do not assume that you’ll push out new technology and employees will quickly adapt and start using it. If they don’t want or think they need it, I’ve found that it often won’t be successful. If they’re forced to use something that worsens their employee experience, the repercussions can be dire in terms of engagement and retention.

Continue the input process.

Input must not stop at the early stages and pre-rollout of new technologies. Feedback should be continual. Consider the following example:

Let’s say that you’ve recently invested in faster networks and new laptops for all of your employees. You listened to what employees needed — a faster way to do their jobs — and have made what everyone agreed was a needed upgrade. But a couple of months down the line, you hear that employees are criticizing the IT team and saying the investments were worthless. As you investigate why, you learn that employees are still having difficulty completing tasks quickly. You determine that there is a restrictive security or compliance measure in place that is the real culprit, so you make the change.

Now, things are working as intended, and efficiency is on the rise. But you and your team lost two months of time before the problem was uncovered and corrected, and in that time, employee engagement and satisfaction fell, which might have led to a departure or two from the company.

If you had continually been tracking your employees’ experiences with the new computers, through regular feedback requests and back-end analyses (full disclosure: My company provides these types of analyses), you likely would have been able to see the issues quickly and, therefore, solve them before they affected morale and productivity. Regular information and input from those directly affected by the changes will help ensure success.

Remember: Digital transformation isn’t easy.

Industry research firm Gartner recently said that “a majority of digital workplace initiatives will fail to establish new ways of working.” From my perspective, this doesn’t have to be the case.

By involving your employees — the ones who will have to work with the technology every day and who simply have a better understanding of what’s needed to do their jobs — you make the transformation process one that’s being undertaken by a team, instead of one that’s being forced upon a certain part of the organization. Direct end-user employee information and feedback is key to a digital transformation being successful and repeatable.

Working with your employees and listening to their needs before acting sounds like an obvious best practice. All too often, however, company leaders assume they know what’s best and skip over this necessary step. The more companies understand exactly what their employees’ workplace experiences are, the more likely their digital transformation efforts are to succeed.

This article, written by Carsten Giese, Nexthink Field CTO, Central Europe, first appeared on Forbes on July 22, 2019.