Digital Transformation Starts with People: Here's How to Get Them On Board

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Tuesday, February 9, 2021

No digital transformation project can succeed unless users are fully bought-in. Here's how to ensure your staff are on board.

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Digital transformation is a step that every business will have to take sooner or later. In today's environment, no company can hope to compete effectively if it's still stuck using legacy technology and old-fashioned manual processes.

Yet it's a project that’ll often be approached with much trepidation, with many firms hoping to put it off for as long as possible, until they have no other choice. And it's easy to see why, given the failure rates of these initiatives.

While precise figures vary, between 60% and 80% of digital transformation initiatives fail, and McKinsey estimates around seven out of ten projects don't meet their key objectives.

These can also be hugely costly endeavors, with NTT estimating businesses spend $2.7 million (£2m) a year just in overhead expenses while IT teams lay the groundwork for these projects. Therefore, at a time when budgets are tight, failure is simply not an option for many firms. So what can you do to reduce your risk of an expensive failure?

Why your users should be top priority

While there are many reasons why such projects fail, they often come down to people. Whether it's board members who are unwilling to commit fully to projects or skeptical end-users refusing to adopt a new solution, if people aren't convinced by the scheme, they’ll never be able to use it to its full potential.

Indeed, McKinsey found a clear link between engaging workers in a digital transformation and the overall success of the project, and this applies at all levels of a business.

Its research revealed that among companies who'd reported successful projects, 83% had line managers visibly engaged with the project, while 73% made efforts to connect with frontline workers. Among other firms, these figures were only 57% and 46% respectively.

Getting user buy-in

The first step is to ensure users are bought into the project from the earliest stages. This has to start at the top. If the chief executive officers and other board members are enthusiastic about the project, this attitude will filter down to other employees.

What's more, this can help ensure the implementation team feels supported, meaning they can be freer to experiment and look for solutions that provide the best experience, rather than feeling pressured into delivering a quick-fix solution to meet time or budget requirements.

It also pays to have evangelists for the transformation at all levels of the company. Not only do these advocates work to increase interest and engagement with the project, they can also act as hubs to gather feedback and suggestions.

Communication is key

It's important not to focus efforts solely on the top of the business. For a digital transformation to work, everyone needs to feel involved with the project. This means frontline workers must have a say in how the project develops, what features would be most useful to them, and how they’ll integrate it into their day-to-day work.

This means keeping clear, two-way lines of communication open at all times. For the implementation team, this involves keeping users up-to-date on the progress of the project and explaining why key decisions have been made.

At the same time, it's vital that frontline users are able to provide feedback on what they think will work and any suggestions they may have, whether this is about features, user interface or any other input.

Making training work effectively

When the digital transformation is ready to be rolled out, the effectiveness of the user training program can make or break the project, so this shouldn't be tacked on as an afterthought.

Start planning early how you'll deliver this training, and conduct an audit of users to determine what method will work best. For some employees, a classroom-based approach where they’re walked through key features and functionality may not be engaging enough, while others may prefer the flexibility of online classes they can dip into in their own timeframe.

Setting up mentoring programs that allow your evangelists to work hands-on with more skeptical members of staff can also be beneficial, and can be an excellent way to get through to people who may have used the old way of doing things for many years.

Highlight the benefits

In truth, most employees aren't that interested in how much money a new system will save the company, or how it’ll help attract new customers. Ultimately, the question you're going to have to answer from many of your employees is: "What's in it for me?"

To put it another way, why should they abandon a way of working they may have become very familiar with over the years in favor of new, untested systems? This is often where even the most carefully-planned digital transformations can fail, as it doesn't matter how advanced the technology is if it doesn't achieve strong user adoption.

Therefore, focus your messaging on the tangible benefits users will be able to enjoy in their day-to-day work. Highlight time and effort saving features that’ll make people's lives easier. For instance, if a new process cuts out tedious manual data entry, make this one of the key points in your presentations.

Also, make sure it's tailored to the individual's role. If a new CRM system makes it easier to keep records of all consumer interactions in a single place, you'll need to make sure your customer service team knows about this. But if this benefit may not apply to other people elsewhere in the business, don't make it a priority when introducing them to the system.

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