Using technology to change a business isn't just an IT initiative, it requires a culture change.
Digital transformation. It’s the latest industry buzzword. Everyone is talking about it – and with good reason. It’s something that is affecting every single UK business.
Hoteliers are using artificial intelligence chatbots to act as a hotel concierges. Plumbers are using social media to advertise in front of the right audience. And retailers are using data to personalise their customers’ in-store and offline experiences. Businesses from every industry are looking at ways to use technology to change the way they do things for the better. The term digital transformation means something different to everyone.
One thing all these businesses have in common though is people. Seems obvious, right? But you’d be surprised at the number of people I meet that view digital transformation as an IT exercise rather than a cultural one that affects your people.
To experience successful change, particularly digital change, you need to build a culture that puts people at the heart of that change.
Involve people in decision making from the outset
For many businesses, decision making is centralised and is often the responsibility of managers, directors or owners. If they see an opportunity where technology can improve the customer experience or increase revenues, often they’ll go ahead and implement it. But after investing both time and money into the new CRM system, for example, they might find that the majority of people are still using the old version.
This is a classic case of resistance to change. The actual technology, in this example the CRM system, might not be wrong. It might have a range of fantastic features. The problem is the people you’re asking to adopt change – frontline sales professionals using it on a daily basis – find it difficult to use with customers. Perhaps they weren’t given an opportunity to share their feedback and any genuine concerns before the decision to invest was made. The problems could potentially have been avoided.
All too often change is implemented from the top and forced through. The change will be managed, but everyone else will be expected to simply get on with it.
If you really want to develop a cultural change and embed a new form of technology into a way of working, it’s vital that you involve your staff in the early stages of the change process. Garner their feedback and make them feel valued to improve the chances of them getting on board.
Establishing a “by the people, for the people” bottom-up feedback loop will give your people a voice and encourage them to get on board with the bigger digital transformation strategy.
Identify change agents to spread the word
Human beings are pack animals. It’s in our nature to follow those the loudest and the most persuasive. If you want to create a culture where people embrace digital transformation, you need to find advocates from across the business that will support and champion change.
But relevance is massively important here.
The best change agents can relate to those who are resistant to change. It’s going to be extremely difficult for someone who was born in the cloud and who considers a tablet to be a laptop to convince a member of Generation X, who grew up with a personal computer, to embrace a new form of technology. Finding someone in a similar demographic who has already accepted change is more likely to have a lasting impact.
Finding your unique change agents, who will articulate and reinforce your message, will help you embed cultural change and accelerate the overall process.
Provide context and help educate your people
One of the main reasons business change is unsuccessful is down to a lack of communication about “why” a change is happening. Without enough context, long-term change is unlikely to happen. Clearly communicating the purpose of what is going to happen and why it’s needed is an undervalued form of getting people buy-in.
People naturally fear the unknown. New technologies and new processes represent threats. Reports that suggest almost a third of jobs could potentially be at the risk of automation by 2030 fuel anxiety surrounding digital change. In most cases, you’re asking people to change what has become a habit. You could be ripping down tried and trusted methods that have stood for years.
It’s vital therefore that you communicate the reasons behind what you’re doing by explaining how technology will make their work life better.
Education plays a crucial role in helping them embrace digital transformation. In extreme cases, you could have employees that still think the cloud is something related to the weather. Their gap in knowledge is likely to make them anxious and, in turn, defensive. To gain their cooperation, you need both your management and HR team to continuously educate workers and create environments that proactively support them through change.
But technology moves at such an unprecedented rate that it’s difficult for your business to keep up. While you can provide training and support, you need to hire and motivate staff to be curious and willing enough to educate themselves and develop with you. A classroom-only learning approach won’t work for everyone as each individual learns in their own unique way.
Is your business ready for change?
Today’s successful businesses won’t be the ones that just view technology as a way to do the same things easier, faster or cheaper. They are the ones that use it to fundamentally change what they do for the better to reinvent their customer experience or to re-write their business model.
Businesses that will succeed with digital transformation are those that put people at the heart of change.
People are creatures of habit. Your leaders and managers need to work together to create a culture that removes fear and encourages employees to experiment and rethink the way they work. People need to be empowered and motivated to challenge everything that they do. Everyone has a big part to play in your own unique journey and you want everyone to continually learn and innovate.
In a world where technology is allowing businesses of all shapes and sizes to do amazing things, the worst thing you can have is a culture where your workforce isn’t open to change and accepts the status quo.