As companies attempt the transition to being digital-first, firms that help create a more welcoming and useful employee experience will come out as winners. --DEBRA JENKINS
The latest numbers from Deloitte are in –some 51 percent of companies are currently undertaking some form of digital-first transformation. This is the future, but not everyone is getting there at the same time. Firms that are able to get the digital-first transition right – especially with regard to the employee experience – have the potential to create a competitive advantage for themselves.
A big part of getting the transition right involves thoughtfully bringing staff along on the journey. It’s not enough to simply purchase the latest tools and expect that they’ll fit into the organization. Instead, there must be deliberate effort to overcome obstacles and grow cross functionality among employees. In the paragraphs ahead, the ways to overcome key obstacles and build that needed cross functionality will be discussed.
OVERCOMING OBSTACLES TO THE DIGITAL FIRST EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCE
One of the biggest obstacles in creating a successful digital-first experience for employees is education. Too many firms load up on digital tools but don’t set aside time to ensure everyone on the team understands what the tools are, how they’re meant to be used, and why these tools are needed. As a result, departments come along at different speeds, employees cling to solutions they know vs. the organizational standards, and silos of performance and operations can develop.
To prevent this, according to research from MIT’s Sloan School of Management, firms need to make time to educate employees around digital-first investments. It’s not a good experience for employees to feel left out or in the dark, especially when new tools impact how work is done. Workshops or individual training opportunities on the use of new tools should be available. Further, managers need to be ready to address workflow impacts and how shifts in processes will influence team goals and performance expectations.
This extra communication layered on top of training can prevent the kinds of frustration and disengagement that leads to attrition. It can also help prevent departments from adopting new technologies at dramatically different speeds and becoming unable to work effectively as a cohesive whole.
By making the training a priority and communicating extensively around the changes, firms can foster a more positive “we’re all moving forward together” attitude among staff, creating a better experience for employees. Nurturing this mindset also helps with recruitment and team development, since workers entering the organization or moving between departments will be able to see that the company is committed to fostering change and open to new approaches.
GROWING CROSS FUNCTIONALITY IN A DIGITAL FIRST ENVIRONMENT
In addition to training on new tools, firms also have a responsibility to help break down internal silos and get employees working cross functionally. Being digital first isn’t confined to one business function, such as marketing or sales, nor are there groups within the company which are going to be exempted from the digital transformation of the world. Thus, it is in everyone’s best interests to be able to work in a cross functional way.
According to research from MIT’s Sloan School of Management, modeling cross-functional behavior needs to start at the top. Employees need to see their leaders successfully making the digital first transition, which means that senior management should have a good plan in place for their own digital transitions before rolling such tools out to the broader teams. Ideally, new tools and workflows will be tested first by senior staff, ironed out, and then rolled out to the other parts of the organization. Why test at the top first? Employees have a better experience when they are being inspired by management rather than pushing out on their own and hoping management improves.
Another important task is to create psychological safety for teams as they experiment across different business functions. Digital tools blur boundaries, and individuals and teams should know that it’s okay to push those limits to make the most of the digital tools. By encouraging people to take risks and play with the tools, more of the organization will embrace the full capabilities of the digital first model without worrying about breaking the system, getting in trouble, or upsetting internal alliances.
The generation of workers coming up is effortlessly digitally native in ways that are still being understood by modern corporations. Firms who are moving to a digital first framework owe it to themselves and to their future workers to make the work environment as welcoming and useful as possible. Growing the ability to be digital first in more areas and with more people helps make this happen.
It’s not enough to simply adopt a new technology. Everyone in the organization needs to understand the new tech and be comfortable using it. There’s no place for pockets of non-digital behaviors and no profitability in leaving groups of employees behind on the journey to a digital first workplace. Instead, investing in thoughtful and intentional training sessions to upskill the entire organization will lead to the best results.
This advanced training and communication will also help to break down internal silos and leverage team members’ cross-functionally. Where there’s comfort with the tools and permission to flow with the task across old dividing lines, the employee experience improves (as does the organizational efficiency). At the end of the day, firms who have made this move will benefit from the extra energy and optionality that being digital first brings, and by putting in the effort now, these same companies will be well positioned to win talent and market share in the future.