How can tech leaders take people with them on their digital transformation journey?

Roland Emmans, technology sector head at HSBC UK Commercial Banking, explains how tech leaders take people with them on their digital transformation journey.

People don’t like change, or so we’re often led to believe. With the technological revolution of the last ten months, how can businesses make sure that their people engage and join them on their digital transformation journeys? More than two thirds of all digital transformation fail1 and in most cases that’s because organisations force change onto their people rather than involving them in the process and evolving new systems around the feedback they receive.

Ultimately, human beings are very simple and respond to three things:

  • What benefits them
  • What interests them
  • What hurts them

It’s essential that technology leaders understand that digital change can very often be seen as a threat and it can be hard for people, especially when it’s happening all of the time. Whether it’s an automated process replacing something that has long been completed manually, or something technical that employees may be worried about adapting their skills to. From the conversations we’ve been having with customers we know there has been a huge level of technological change in recent months with many firms accelerating four or five years’ worth of digital transformation all at once.

From ways of working, to evolving software and new working practices we’ve all experienced huge change during the pandemic for a prolonged period of time. It’s said that it takes six weeks to form a habit and we’re well beyond that at this stage, so as technological change becomes permanent rather than temporary it’s critical to keep people focused on the future and not looking back to the past. To an extent the large amount of change in the last year has raised people’s tolerance but many businesses are still in the middle of this digital transformation. They are becoming increasingly focused on their ‘new normal’ and delivering permanent tech strategy transformation for the future to deliver long-term sustainability and success. There are several things to consider to do deliver these strategies effectively.

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Demonstrate a vision

In my view the most important thing is to sell a vision to people. Leaders need to make it personal for their employees, make it clear that by introducing this new digital tool their life will become easier and their productivity more efficient. Leaders can look to do this by winning hearts and minds through demonstrations and simple, clear communication. If, for example, a business is introducing a new collaborative tool they need to make it clear how

that will benefit employees. Will it reduce email traffic? Make instant communication more effective? Or free up more time in their day to focus on other priorities? Demonstrating these benefits will help to put people in the right mind-set from the start.

It’s also important to ask for instant feedback on transformational change programmes. Ensuring people are involved from the start will promote engagement throughout the process and help leaders to understand how their employees feel about the change and impacts within their teams. Identify champions AND advocates Digital change champions are nothing new but are critical to support the roll out of digital transformation at the frontline of a business. These people can answer frequently asked questions, provide an additional avenue of communication to leaders and encourage employees to make best use of the new tools being made available to them. It’s also essential that senior figureheads become change champions adopting the new tools quickly.

Demonstrating understanding of new tools from the top will have an impact on wider behavioural change and encourage employees to engage with the transformation. In addition, leaders should look to identify the digital change advocates within their teams. These people wouldn’t be ‘appointed’, so to speak, but are the most engaged employees who are eager to learn and adopt the changes quickly for their own benefit. Identifying and engaging with these individuals will help leaders to find success stories and good examples to promote more to those less convinced by the changes. Be flexible

We’re increasingly seeing, and becoming more used to, iterative change when it comes to technology, particularly with software. As an example, when Apple update their mobile devices to a new iOS it is often swiftly followed by further updates where bugs and kinks in the software are ironed out. People are becoming more used to this approach and understand that new endeavours may encounter teething problems.

It’s important to be transparent on this, communicate well and don’t over promise on resolutions while solving issues as quickly as possible. A more iterative approach also lends itself to two-way communication and will keep employees engaged. Think of it like the tide slowly coming in rather than a tidal wave of change all at once — it’s much easier for many people to adapt to. We’re also seeing a rise in tools that will help businesses measure engagement. Whether that’s through pop up widgets that run quick surveys on a daily or weekly basis or monitoring apps that provide aggregates of sentiment on how employees are feeling.

To sum up, I would say that tech leaders need to make sure that transformational change is something that their people are involved in, not something that is done to them. They should remember that programmes of digital transformation rarely go smoothly, but the ability to adapt and engage with people will give them the best chance of success, making a meaningful difference to the long-term future of their business.

Written by Roland Emmans, technology sector head, HSBC UK Commercial Banking

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