Cultural and behavioural challenges are the most significant self-reported barrier to digital effectiveness.
If your organisation is serious about building an effective digital workplace, it needs to be willing to invest in cultivating a digital culture. If not, it will significantly undermine all the effort and resources you put in, and limit the positive outcomes that come out of it, potentially reflecting poorly on you and your team.
If your existing culture is resistant to digital, they will eventually ignore it in favour of existing processes and tools. Some employees may embrace digital change, but they might not have the skills or your organisation might not have provided them with the strategies, initiatives and operating models necessary to realise the full potential that digital platforms offer.
Attitudes, values, behaviours, skills, capabilities, processes and all the other ingrained elements of your existing company culture won’t change overnight, but it can evolve.
Here are the formal and informal processes and structures you need to address to foster a digital culture; one that is agile and can adjust to changing employee and customer needs as new technology emerges and is adopted by your organisation.
Change agents and innovative teams
If you look around your organisation, there will be certain employees who stand out as innovators - the ones who like to challenge the status quo and question existing processes. You will also find others who are the go to people in your organisation, the ones that others look to for information, and with respect.
Identify and involve these change agents, aka evangelist, who are influencers in your organisation, and those who are innovators. They in turn, will help speed up the feedback process to ensure you create the digital business you want, while also getting employees organisation-wide on board, respectively.
They motivate others and use their respectability to encourage them to see the value in your digital project.
You can amplify the effects of this strategy by bringing these people together. For example, creating physical gatherings like lunch and learns during the various phases of the project or asking them to spread the word about your launch using a range of initiatives from word of mouth through to internal ads.
Remember, to get them to link everything back to how this change can benefit employees. For example, if you're looking to move from paper forms to online forms with automated workflows, emphasise how much faster approvals will now be.
Creating and communicating formal processes
New policies, procedures and guidelines must be introduced to formalise the new way of doing things and set explicit standards and best practices. There should be clear procedures addressing security, sensitive data, legal, risk and public relations issues.
In other areas, in terms of day-to-day use, it is a good idea to encourage flexibility, particularly for digital communication tools that encourage collaboration and creativity. Your focus should be on letting them know what to expect, what really can’t be done as it presents a security or PR problem and the possibilities of what they can do.
You might even start with having your change agents and innovators put together the first policies and guidelines, to cultivate the culture of transparency, collaboration and openness that is needed to experience the benefits of the digital workplace. Then refine it as needed. Once the project is launched, encourage all employees to submit their ideas for how processes can be refined and new ways of getting better and faster outcomes from the existing technology. You can provide incentives to encourage this behaviour such as paid lunches, personal development training or simply highlighting the best ideas on the intranet or other shared communication platform.
Equally as important is the need to clearly communicate this to employees and ensure they understand what is expected of them moving forward. Internal communications should start long before launch and should never be few and far in between.
Provide speedy, consistent, clear communication throughout the project, particularly in relation to delays or significant changes - ideally company wide, or at least to the right people. Highlight the benefits to employees, and where possible, have employees tell their personal stories or communicate the stories on their behalf.
This will help prepare employees for the new technology, instead of ‘blind sighting’ them with an end technology they are unfamiliar with that differs from their expectations.
Involving executives and management
With any large shift in the way an organisation operates, 100% buy-in is required from senior management and executives. They need to model the desired behaviours and actions. That means going beyond words!
They should take an active role in convincing employees of the benefits and value of new technologies through
- developing their own competencies and skills to use it
- holding peers accountable
- providing consistent communication
- ensuring it is being adopted
- listening and addressing employee concerns
Involving all levels of leadership
Responsibility and accountability for the success of digital projects shouldn’t just be reserved for executives, but all levels involved such as regional managers or department and team managers. These middle managers play a crucial role in turning the vision from executives into specific outcomes for employees, particularly those based in different locations. They need to commit to actioning their areas of responsibility.
They can monitor and improve how well individuals or teams are adopting the new technology by:
- enforcing new policies on a day-to-day basis
- offering guidance
- encouraging feedback and transparent discussions
- providing conflict resolution when the technology inevitably hits a few speed bumps to optimum performance
- rewarding positive behaviours
Then during launch, these middle managers can offer a clear line of accountability from frontline employees through to the CEO.
Just as teams and departments shouldn’t be working in silos, digital workplace success requires a holistic understanding of the how technology implementation affects all employees.
Delivering great digital employee experiences requires careful thought. Yet most organisations are guilty of informing employees (outside of the core team) of new digital workplace technologies after deployment. Most of the time, they've heard some vague information here and there, but don’t quite understand why it’s important for them and don’t have any interest in it. It also isolates new digital hires and their projects from the rest of the company.
Successful digital transformation requires both technology and people. You need to prepare your workplace for employee experience changes. Explain the key stages in the process and the outcomes expected at each stage. Let everyone know when different groups of people will become involved to help them mentally prepare.
Also involve as many employees as possible from across the organisation in the research, scoping, design and testing of the project. At the end of the day, these employees will be the end users who determine the success or failure of the project. Gathering their continual feedback and input not only ensures it meets their needs, but increases the chances that they become advocates who will help you drive adoption post launch.
Training programs not only equip employees with the right skills and competencies to use the new technologies, but also help to cultivate positive attitudes and alignment with goals. They clarify new role descriptions for existing staff, particularly those from traditional job functions, so they understand how they fit in with this new digital business. You will deal with employees who have different skills, coupled with different levels of digital literacy, so training shouldn’t just stop at formal programs. Individual coaching ensures everyone gets up to speed and prepared them to make faster decisions in this new environment.
This training can involve:
- online resource sections such user guides, FAQs, supporting documentation that is accessible anywhere, anytime
- face-to-face or online training, possibly divided by digital literacy and/or department (each department may have different needs for the same technology)
- programs that teach employees the necessary skills to use the new technology, but also enables them to see how it actually benefits them, compared to their previous processes
- providing a forum or online space where employees can discuss with experts and each other, particularly any concerns or struggles
- planing for continuous training and learning
From the start all through to launch and beyond, you should drum up support. Continuously remind employees how it adds value to the organisation and individuals - freeing up their time, reducing work friction, increasing sales and so on. Some key strategies include:
- involving employees from different areas and levels of management, particularly those who are happy to contribute detailed feedback and suggestions
- communicating each stage of the process and the key outcomes
- encouraging continuous feedback to test and report back with real case scenarios. This not only ensures the finished project meets the needs of your employees, it gives them confidence in the project and a feeling of being valued for contributing to its success and having that feedback taken on board.
Don’t expect employees to just ‘get it’. Give them breathing room to adopt it at a pace they’re comfortable with, or they may feel resentful for being ‘forced’ to adopt the new technology before they’ve really understood it.
The by-product of this is a deeper sense of involvement in the journey among employees.
Incentivise and empower employees
The incentive structure should reflect your new digital business. Incentives can make all the difference, particularly for those who are resistant to change. Monetary incentives are the most obvious.
But non-monetary incentives can be just as powerful (if not more so).
For example, when Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology designed their staff intranet, they introduced an element of gamification to improve adoption rates. They chose the name Polly after running a naming competition among staff members. They also ran a competition on with Polly (based on the New Zealand native bird the Kākāpō) hidden around the intranet in areas that they wanted to introduce and get their staff to engage with. They dressed Polly in a ‘Where’s Wally’ hat and called the competition ‘Where’s Polly’ and gave out prizes. This was really successful for teaching staff about the new functionality and for user adoption and engagement.
You’ve also probably seen the Facebook or Twitter posts from happy Zappos customers, sharing their stories of how the Zappos team went above and beyond to help them or sent them a free gift. Customer service is at the heart of Zappos, and in order to encourage their employees to adopt the same ethos, employees are allocated budget to use at their discretion to delight customers. They also require non-customer facing employees to offer customer service support for part of their work day, so all employees understand what customer service means.
For this to work, you need to understand what makes your employees tick. What motivates them? What do they care about? It can directly or indirectly be related to their work.
Bottom up, not just top down
The journey to implementing any new digital technology will never be smooth. Even months or years after launch, there will always be improvements to be made down the line to ensure the technology is as effective as it should be. In most cases, projects will launch in phases.
Furthermore, regardless of how well your intentions are and how well you have tried to meet the needs of your employees, there will always be kinks to iron out. This is why continuously, detailed feedback on your project from end users is incredibly valuable.
Make it very clear that you welcome their engagement. You can even go as far as asking them to try and ‘break’ the system. And just as importantly, highlight the contributions of these employees.
You’re putting in time, resources and in most cases, your reputation, on implementing these new technologies and engaging in digital transformation in your workplace.
Make sure you give it the best chance to succeed and truly make a difference by putting in place strategies to foster a digital culture that embraces the technology and understands how to leverage it to become more efficient and effective.