Keeping Your Digital Transformation on the Rails
So your digital transformation is underway! With excitement and trepidation, employees hear about the coming changes. Through surveys and managerial feedback, they’ve said they’re up to the task. Everything seems ready: The road map, the change plan and the collaboration among IT, HR and all the various teams are humming along smoothly. “We’re going to do this, and it will be successful in advancing the company,” you say to yourself. “Our employees are all-in.”
Sand in the Gears
Suddenly, it seems someone has thrown sand into the smooth-running gears of change. Some groups seem obstinate while others are apathetic to the cause. New “shiny things” pop up daily to turn employees’ focus away. You thought they were bought in, but somehow that’s no longer the case. More communications are distributed about the importance of the transformation. More resources are aligned with the program. You launch training sessions. You have meetings with executives about the cause.
To meet roadmap deadlines, someone made a major mistake. You’ve left out certain groups or teams. You narrowed the focus. You’ve worked harder to reach specific teams and hoped for the best with those you don’t have enough resources to manage. You bet there’s going to be sand in the gears.
Now your approach has swung from too broad to too selective. Your key audience and the very group you set out to benefit — the broad employee base — begins retreating. They’ve heard about the transformation through the grapevine, as employees often do. But they figure the coming changes are not as crucial as you’re trying to communicate because workmates in partner teams — those you didn’t have enough resources to manage — aren’t aware of them. What a conundrum. It sounded less complicated on paper.
This kind of scenario plays out time and again, especially in large global corporations. In order for employees to understand and accept the “journey,” as many call it, the employee viewpoint must be part of the calculations from the beginning. There are so many identities to consider — field and sales, shop floor, call center, engineering and the many others that make up the population unique to each enterprise. For the global organizations I’ve worked in, this is an immense target.
The answer may lie in looking at the transformation through a different lens. The rails of the digital workplace are like a rollercoaster that roars through the corporate environment.
Generally, internally focused transformation plans take on the personality of Six Flags’ Runaway Mine Train — a mild, family-friendly rollercoaster designed for everyone to ride. But often, the transformation rapidly morphs into something more like Kingda Ka. To safeguard the journey, visualize it. Divide your “passengers” into three major groups: the executives who drive the transformation from the front car of the coaster, middle management in the middle car and the employees who engage from behind.
The executives in the front car can see everything ahead and know what to expect. They’re ducking and leaning before the next obstacle or strategy approaches. It may be coming fast, but they can see it coming — whatever “it” is. They’re able to anticipate the action because they know and expect what is heading toward them.
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Middle management is closely aligned with and can see the executives in front of them. As middle-car passengers, they read and hear the signs that the execs give off. They lean when the execs lean; they duck when the execs duck. They’re in the know because they are close to those leading what is to come. They ride these wild rails while managing the delicate balancing act of business as usual.
Then there’s the back car. As a kid, I always queued up for the back. The ride was more raucous than the front. It’is rougher and the experience is different. The signals are last minute. You whip left and right to try to maintain your balance. Your head snaps back as that next drop happens. You’re fundamentally at the mercy of the rapid, twisting rails.
These last car passengers, buffeted about, are your employees. They have so much come toward them during the day, they don’t really have time to see ahead. They move along handling the day’s work as usual. Suddenly, there’s a customer problem, or an accounting issue, or a sick child that needs to be picked up or any number of predicaments demanding immediate attention. Their daily ride becomes bumpy, a distortion outside of the norm. It’s onerous.
Employees want to avoid the transformation coaster’s head-snapping twists and dives. Rather than embrace new ways of working, new tools and processes or new applications, they prefer to maintain balance by sidestepping the change and unexpected turns that transformations present. It’s a completely human reaction. When this happens, digital integrations, new platform introductions and process improvements all fall off to-do lists. It only takes a moment for your employee base to lose ground with the transformation experience because maintaining business as usual work — that daily steadiness — is their top priority.
So with your next transformation project, consider adding a visualization exercise to your planning: The rollercoaster. It’s simple yet instinctual. Where are people sitting and what will their assorted experiences be like? For employees, the ride certainly isn’t smooth. You want to avoid stomach flips and random head snaps. Curves will come from seemingly out of nowhere, so how can you better prepare them? If you understand the experiences from where everyone seated, you’re bound to prepare more completely for a positive experience.
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About the Author
Suzanne Vitale is a corporate communications professional whose love for uniting people with technology ignites her passion for digital transformation. Over the course of her career, she has worked in corporate branding, marketing, operations and communications capacities in the US and abroad for global organizations including Deloitte, Motorola, IBM, Munich Re Group and Prudential.