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Putting people first: 4 steps for a successful digital transformation

These management strategies can help you empower employees and ensure an effective transition.

I often write about building agile workplace cultures because I believe it's a hallmark—if not the hallmark—of digital transformation success. It's also easier said than done. 

Technology is dramatically changing how we work, yet many employees fear technology. Some worry it will render their jobs obsolete, while others are uncomfortable learning new skills. If your company wishes to embrace the potential inherent in digital transformation, you must put the people who use technology first.

For any big change, planning is crucial to success. Use these four strategies to empower your team during a digital transformation, ensuring the most effective transition and a happier workplace for both employees and management.

1. Break the old routines

I know of countless companies that have made massive investments in CRM and collaboration software that are now barely used because their employees favor off-the-shelf apps like Slack or Google's productivity suite.

Why is this happening? Your expensive technologies will simply gather dust if your workers aren't willing to learn, change, and grow. The 9-to-5 grind—the old daily routine of punching in and out—is fading away in favor of flexibility, independence, and change. So if you're looking to build a culture of change, consider these strategies:

  • Invest in skills training. Digitally savvy organizations invest in human capital as they would any other ROI-delivering opportunity. Train existing employees and hire digitally motivated talent to breed excitement for digital change in the workplace.
  • Get HR on board. Invite HR specialists to implementation meetings instead of relying on IT, marketing, or tech leaders to handle cultural change within the organization. HR experts can help you develop educational programs, assuage fears about change, and build enterprise-appropriate incentives to encourage adoption.
  • Empower employees to do more. Workforce success stories at major brands like Zappos and Facebook show the importance of bottom-up business activities. Often people on the ground have brilliant ideas about streamlining workflows, providing a better customer experiences, or reaching strategic business outcomes. Technologically disrupted organizations build infrastructures made of independent workers focused on results rather than conventional workplace routines. 

2. Use new tools to improve your workflows

With so many vendors knocking at the door to sell this customer relationship management system and that collaboration suite, businesses quickly experience technology overload. You might see the possibilities in a pitch, but that doesn’t mean a tool will drive efficiency and results.

A strong discovery process takes a people-first approach. As an example, DHL Supply Chain, a division of Deutsche Post DHL Group, is currently testing augmented reality technology to streamline the process by which warehouse workers pick items to fulfill customer orders.

The company is equipping employees at one of its warehouses in Ohio with Vuzix smart glasses that show exactly where they should place picked items on a trolley. If successful, this initiative could simplify workflows, improve accuracy, and speed order fulfillment across numerous industries and marketplaces where DHL Supply Chain operates. Ultimately, a solution should support employee activities and business goals in a real, measurable way. 

3. Match technology with employee needs

Management may have one idea regarding technological change, but employees could have another. In the end, end users determine whether a new technology succeeds or fails. So find out what your end users need to work more effectively and efficiently. Which shadow IT solutions are millennial workers using? What problems do sales and marketing professionals cite year after year? End-user insights often mirror strategic business outcomes.

Most employees want increased mobility, access to user-friendly analytics tools, and the flexibility that comes with operating in the cloud. They will tend to embrace technologies that are easy to use, more amenable to frequent change, and highly flexible. 

Take, for example, the deployment of expense management solutions. For companies that have many employees on the road, tracking expenses can be a nightmare. Employees have even been known to not expense all of their spending while traveling because submitting for reimbursement is such a pain. However, there are tools that require only a simple photo of a receipt; the rest of the documentation process is automated.

It's a simple solution, but many companies still use software that requires a lot of manual work from their employees. This forces them to spend inordinate amounts of time managing expenses rather than being productive. 

4. Put people ahead of tools

When leaders empower their employees through education, communication, and choice, the hardest part of any transformative strategy—adoption—fades away. Interestingly, the primary challenges of digital transformation have not changed since the 1980s. Businesses continue to struggle with change management within the organization, not the efficacy of the tool in question. Change your business culture, and that problem disappears. recently reported on an Innotas survey that found that more than half of all companies have seen an IT project fail in the past 12 months. These failures are not technology-based but rather people-based. For instance, when a company seeks to move its employees onto a new collaboration platform, the considerations must extend beyond whether or not the platform meets the needs of the company. Many solutions will do that.

The real question is, do employees understand why they need to adopt the new platform? Does it truly improve their workflow? What will the learning curve look like for them? 

With a people-first strategy, the right technologies, and a focus on processes and goals, your organization can effectively manage risk and inspire employee engagement. It all starts with prioritizing human capital ahead of technology.

Managing digital transformation: Lessons for leaders

  • If you want a more agile workplace culture, start with skills training and empowering employees. Empowered employees will be much less resistant to change.
  • Don’t expect tools to drive results. Instead, use them to streamline workflows. Help your team understand how a new tool will help them do their jobs.

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.