How to Get Employees On Board With Digital Transformation


These days, any company that has not already made digital transformation a normal part of its operations is falling behind. The pace of technology means your members are going to expect the same ease and speed of transactions at your organization that they experience elsewhere. Failure to provide that says your organization isn’t keeping up. So digital transformation is inevitable. But, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Anything called a “transformation” means a lot of change. The C-Suite, especially the CEO, have to help everyone in the organization manage that change.

Human beings really struggle with change. When you introduce a new technology or change a process, people who currently feel competent and confident about their jobs suddenly must learn new skills. This introduces the risk of mistakes, failure, appearing incompetent. They are doubly concerned because new technology often streamlines operations in such a way that it makes certain tasks or roles redundant; people fear they will lose their jobs. They are also afraid that the transformation of the organization will mean they don’t fit anymore.

Consequently, in most digital transformations, there are both intentional and unintentional resistors. Intentional resistors are likely to complain openly, possibly become territorial over information and processes they consider part of their fiefdoms. The unintentional resistors might just unconsciously sabotage progress by consistently reverting to old habits, or failing to apprehend new skills. No one has bad intentions, they’re just fighting against something that makes them feel uncomfortable. But that’s a big part of the job of the C-Suite champions: making it clear to employees that this transition will be uncomfortable—for everyone. But it still needs to happen.

The C-suite has to walk a fine line between trying to calm employees’ anxiety and push the project forward. Ultimately everyone must decide whether they are going to move forward with the organization or leave. Nothing can make a digital transformation easy. But some things will make it easier.

1. The C-Suite Must Champion the Change

This is the most critical factor for success. The CEO must be the one to introduce the idea of digital transformation and must hold other executives and management accountable for constructive assistance in making it succeed. Involve executives, especially the Executive Vice President, in the discussion of what each department needs, and how long they think it will take to get there. Let them become the champions for the digital transformation in their departments. The toughest job for the CEO will often be pushing the initiatives forward when resistance comes, or when implementation doesn’t go smoothly. It will be the CEO’s job to hold firm, insisting that the change is necessary for the organization’s success and employees are expected to support that success.

2. Begin With a Roadmap

A digital roadmap is a one-page document explaining where you want to go and how you plan to get there, including timelines. No two organizations are the same in terms of how they want to implement digital transformation, what kind of investment they’re willing to make, or how fast they think they can do it. But as long as everyone has a sense for what’s going to happen and when, they have an opportunity to prepare for the changes as they go.

The roadmap includes Basecamps, places you’re trying to reach, that serve as mile markers for your progress. For example, your first Basecamp might be a connected website and mobile app. To reach Basecamp 1, you will need integration in the cloud, a data management platform, integration with external partners, and with your mobile app to make sure all functionality is available wherever the customer is. Basecamp 1 might have a planned outcome of increasing website leads by 50 percent, mobile downloads by 75 percent, and funded loans by 15 percent over one year. Give the company 15 to 18 months to complete each Basecamp journey and be sure to celebrate those deployments company-wide.

3. Involve Employees in Reaching Organizational Goals

Research shows that when people are invited to help support change they are less resistant. A key in this is enlisting the help of employees to make sure that as the company transforms digitally it retains its core identity. One thing employees fear is that, “we will no longer be the same organization.” Enlist their help in protecting the valuable culture—say of service or customer relationship—and ensure that the digitization enhances this value, rather than diminishes it.

4. Recruit Beta Teams

You’re nearing the date for your first Basecamp and you’re ready to deploy the new technologies and processes. But wait: If you roll something out to the whole team and problems arise, it will only increase resistance and anxiety about the change. We’ve tried this before and we know it’s a bad idea. Instead, recruit Beta teams.

Some people in your organization are going to be excited about the changes, eager to learn new skills, and enthusiastic about deploying the new systems. Appoint these employees as members of your Beta teams. These employees will spend a few weeks testing each new technology or process to iron out the kinks before you onboard the rest of the team. Beta leaders should be experts in the area where the change is being implemented so they can predict problems and troubleshoot solutions. Let them test out the new systems and iterate improvements before you unveil them to the rest of the department.

5. Hire a Partner to Help

Digital transformation occurs through a set of processes and skill sets that are rarely inherent in an organization or required for daily operations. It’s best to hire an outside company to oversee the process. An external digital transformation company has dealt with the variety of problems and opportunities that can arise. There’s no need for the C-suite to reinvent the wheel while also working to operate a company and help move it forward.

Despite all your best efforts, and working hard to help bring everyone in the company along, some people will still resist. Some will make the rollout more challenging than it would have been anyway. Change is harder for some people than for others. Prepare managers to recognize signs of resistance and give them strategies for helping people move forward. If certain employees can’t, be prepared to act.

We live in a world of perpetual change. Digital transformation today is not an event, it’s a necessity without which organizations will struggle to recruit talent, maintain a competitive financial position, and serve customers in the way they are accustomed. It’s uncomfortable, but sometimes reality is uncomfortable.