HR Leads Business

Dec 20, 2018 | Ginny Engholm

Communicating Change During Digital Transformation

With the rapid pace of innovation, digital transformation can feel like a never-ending cycle for employees. New technologies and systems mean that our work lives are constantly evolving, and all that change can feel like chaos.

“Employees expect a higher level of transparency and authenticity,” says Mark Stelzner, founder and managing principal at the HR consulting firm Inflexion Advisors. To meet this need, he says, companies need to do more to communicate their vision for digital transformation to their employees. According to one study, only 37 percent of employees agreed that their company had a well-defined strategy and action plan to achieve their digital vision.

When it comes to digital transformation, the big mistake companies make is not communicating enough. “An honest, candid and overt acknowledgment of the tectonic shift is foundational to strong and sustainable adoption,” Stelzner says.

Change is inevitable. Here’s how business leaders can get digital change right by communicating effectively with employees.

Focus on What Change Means for Your Employees

Too many companies focus only on their bottom line rather than how digital change will affect their employees. “There is a natural tendency to communicate what the transformation means to the organization, function or business unit,” Stelzner says. “Instead, we would advocate for an employee-centric point of view inclusive of demonstrable examples, common personas and immediate benefits.”

Daniel Newman, principal analyst and founding partner at Futurum Research + Analysis, says that creating an employee-centric view starts at the top. “Companies are too focused on technology and not focused enough on culture and leadership,” he says. “We researched this extensively and found that most companies weren't struggling to adapt to change because of a lack of access to technology, but rather a weak culture that couldn't adopt new ideas and implement new technologies effectively.”

“Meaningful digital transformation has to start with the CEO,” he says. “You can delegate the operations but you can't delegate vision and culture. When the board and senior leaders are driving the change through participation and clear strategy, the buy-in filters more successfully throughout the organization.”

Deal with Anxiety Head-On

Anxiety about change is natural. A 2018 study by Microsoft says that half of employees are afraid of the changes that digital disruption will bring to their workplace.

But left unchecked, that anxiety can get in the way of digital transformation. “During periods of material change, fear, conjecture and misinformation can undermine the value offered by digital transformation,” Stelzner says. “An iterative approach to communication can eliminate noise, drive alignment and assist HR and other executives in maintaining a single source of truth.”

Embrace Disruption

We tend to fear disruption in the workplace and seek to avoid it, but Stelzner says business leaders need to embrace digital change. “Digital transformation requires digital disruption. In many organizations, digital change may be a material leap from the current state, and the status quo is therefore no longer applicable to this new world order.”

As Newman says, “Chaos is the new normal. Change will never get slower, and if you start to think of chaos in different terms like ‘agile,’ then suddenly you realize that a constant state of change is just part of the DNA of today's successful organizations.”

Make sure you involve your employees in this change. “Employees should have a voice in the transformation itself. Invite them in early, find your advocates, embrace your detractors and put employees at the center of all of your experiences,” Stelzner says.