Andy Whitmore
Andy Whitmore 22 December 2023

Why Employee Engagement is Crucial for Digital Transformation Success

Effective employee engagement campaigns can help improve the odds of successful digital transformation by more than two and a half times, according to a new study examining why 70 per cent of digital transformations fail to reach their objectives.

Failed digital transformation projects can cost businesses trillions of dollars in wasted investment but there are a number of organisations bucking this trend - and vital lessons can be learned.

According to Oxford University and Saïd Business School putting humans at the centre can improve the odds of success by more than two and a half times, while Prosci’s stats showed that organisations with a thorough change management strategy are six times more likely to meet or exceed their digital transformation objectives. 

At 438 we decided to investigate this further.  

While most organisations focus on the customer experience, our study shows the value of giving the same level of attention to the employee experience in digital transformation.

Because the one thing that many organisations just don’t realise? Digital transformation - the process by which organisations embed new technologies with the goal of increasing efficiency, improving agility and unlocking new value for employees, customers and shareholders - isn’t really about technology at all. It’s about people.

And from our experience, all too often organisations focus on the digital part of digital transformation at the expense of the transformation part.

Many companies we speak to also, not only fail to budget for business-critical employee engagement campaigns, but simply don’t know where to start. A lack of central ownership for implementing the new technology frequently doesn’t exist, but falls into silos and departments to navigate through.  

I believe that there are three critical areas that must be aligned to successfully achieve a balance between technology and an organisation’s talent to reach a DX programme’s objectives.

The power of three

Just as a stool needs three solid legs to be sturdy enough to withstand pressure, there are three key areas that must be aligned to successfully steer your organisation towards digital transformation success; community, emotion and consensus.

The power of community

Too often, user groups are engaged to create a business case, then pushed to one side to pick up with again once the project is ready to go.

Not only does this provide inefficient feedback for the development process, but failing to build a strong community who are consistently activating and rousing involvement within the organisation shuts down communication with those who have the most influence to drive advocacy.

Conversely, projects that prioritise frequent and open communication from day one often garner followers stepping forward voluntarily to support the project – building advocacy from the very beginning.

Building a community first is a powerful strategy for building long term resilience. By working to focus a project around its users from the outset; integrating incentives, and of course specific messaging that speaks to feelings of inclusion and agency, organisations can prompt users to get on board from the get-go.

Half of the respondents in high-performing transformations said it was this shared vision that energised and inspired them to go the extra mile (versus 29 percent of respondents in low-performing transformations).

Think of this in contrast to hoping that a loud launch campaign, followed by senior stakeholders pushing and promoting – first politely but eventually with ultimatums – will be enough to drive successful adoption. Well, would it get you on board...?

But don’t run before you can walk. For digital transformation to become easier, we must introduce it gradually, creating space for different groups of people within the organisation to not only process new ways of doing things, but to feel competent and confident in employing them.

Emotion – the key to meaningful engagement

While businesses overwhelmingly express digital transformation in ways that seek to influence the conscious part of our brain rather than the subconscious which drives 95 percent of decisions, this is a fundamental error. Because when there’s a lot of detail to be considered often over a long period of time, emotional communication becomes MORE important not less.

Studies have shown that leaders who appeal to their teams on an emotional level - building, empowering, collaborating, leading, caring, and inspiring - are 260 percent more likely to be successful at transformations than those who don’t.

This supports the notion that all the technology in the world is meaningless if leaders don’t change the culture and equip people to adapt to new business models.

It also reveals that the complex factors that can influence a transformation’s success or failure are rooted in emotion and leaders must invest at the outset to be empathetic to these at an individual level before they can build a collective and compelling ‘why’.

Winning consensus through the art of storytelling

Aligning your organisation around digital transformation takes more than data.

To truly achieve digital transformation, you need your employees to believe in your company’s goals and commit to achieving them. You need to tell a story that they can relate to, which explains how your new strategy will improve business, what’s at stake if it fails, how the change is within their reach, and crucially, what’s in it for them.

The reason that stories are so powerful is because they generate emotion, and most people make decisions emotionally. The London School of Business found that people retain only 5 percent to 10 percent of information if it consists of statistics alone. But, when they hear a story, that figure jumps to a massive 65 percent to 70 percent.

Leading digital transformation is all about seeing and creating a brighter and better future. It can’t be created by technology, and it won’t be enabled by software. It requires open communication between you and your employees, a dedication to a common purpose and a culture of innovation.

Digital transformation isn’t about technology, it’s about people. And when employees understand where their company is headed, how they contribute to that larger purpose, and how they’ll benefit, they’re much more likely to be engaged.

Earl K. Miller
Earl K. Miller

<a href="">Earl K. Miller</a>

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