Digital transformation is a popular term, but it’s really about people.
2020 has either forced or encouraged companies and teams to implement new digital tools and strategies at a rate of knots since the pandemic began. The rapid changes might cause employees to feel digital transformation fatigue.
By Juuso Hämäläinen
This stems from various sources but ultimately the main reason is organisations trying and doing too much without establishing the necessary strategic foundations. Additionally, they often tend to focus on output rather than outcomes, which can leave employees and end-users exasperated due to poor experience and satisfaction levels.
There are a few key questions that companies should ask themselves when planning on implementing new digital strategies to avoid digital transformation fatigue.
Are we giving this transformation enough time?
As many transformations are done quite some time after the ideal moment, there is often haste from the management to get the transformation done immediately. Keep in mind that the first two months will be probably occupied by just tackling all the different problems and bugs the tool or process has.
For organisations to make good decisions on prioritisation, good measurement is in need.
In many cases, employees are expected to master new digital tools almost instantly. Remember to allocate time for training and in-person support. The capability to learn new tools is not dependent on age, level of education, or any other personal indicator.
Are we prioritising this change?
More often than not, companies are trying to implement several big changes and tools at the same time. This is even more evident in the Covid-19 world when many companies had to start using digital tools that were not at least in active use prior to the pandemic. The pandemic might have also had a significant impact on other parts of the company’s normal processes.
Look at tasks and prioritise – some tasks and projects from the ‘old normal’ should be reassessed as they don’t necessarily fit into the new mold and ways of working. Make sure you communicate clearly to your employees which are the vital tasks that need to be done and what they can happily ignore for now. For organisations to make good decisions on prioritisation, good measurement is in need. Organisations often don’t use any metrics that are specifically addressing IT-implementations. Companies sometimes use business metrics, pulses, and an array of different surveys.
During the transformation, surveys often give bad results for managers. They avoid this bad news because there is a strange idea that results should always be good. Remember that bad results are sometimes a sign that things are changing.
Is the overall balance right for the employees?
During the pandemic, we should remember that it’s not just the work in itself that is facing digital and other really significant changes. People might suffer from a lack of relatedness – working alone or working and taking care of children at the same time has been a reality for many.
Also, not being able to satisfy group membership needs at the home office might have a huge impact on people’s mental health and overall satisfaction of their position within the company. There are pressure points from multiple avenues: simultaneous demands of creativity, group spirit, and suffocating work environments that don’t provide autonomy are something that many might suffer through their computer screens.
Talk with your employees several times a week. Phone calls, group chats about wellbeing, purpose, and clarity go a long way to aiding this. Show trust and respect to employees’ work experience and home situation, even if you don’t exactly know what is happening – managers should give up unnecessary control and focus on trust, collaboration, and end results.
Can we explain the value of the transformation clearly enough?
We have all been in a situation where the company management has clearly expressed the value of the digital transformation – two years after the initial transformation has taken place. Change fatigue stems from uncertainty and a lack of clarity around the strategic intent and implementation of the program. Too often, digitalisation and new tools are being taken into the company without proper project planning and thinking about how the benefits will be explained to the employees.
Have a deep-dive into the thinking of the value proposition narrative before the new digital tool is implemented.
Start by finding out if the management and leadership teams are aligned on the transformation’s strategic intent and outcomes. If not, then you need to go back to the drawing board. This should ideally map out clear target business outcomes as well as the impact of the transformation to the people, processes, and tools of what’s happening and how it will affect them.
Many workers might feel that they should be doing their ‘actual job’ instead of learning how to navigate with something that they are not sure will benefit them. Be ready to present to each role the necessities of the new tool, and avoid explaining it so that it sounds like the company is the only one that will benefit from it. Incentives for the employees should be clearly stated before the change starts.
The Lippitt framework from 1978 can help you analyse the change from different perspectives and understand why people are getting fatigued. Do they understand the vision behind the change? If not, they’re going to be confused.
Do they have the skills to perform it? If not, they will be anxious. Do they have the incentives to perform well? If not, they will resist. Do they have enough resources, such as time and money? If not, they will be frustrated. If there’s no plan, they will just keep running endlessly on a treadmill without a destination.
Are we working with people’s needs in mind first?
Digital transformation actually has nothing to do with being more digital – it’s a change in the behaviours of your employees, end-users, and customers. It’s the human factor in all digitisation processes and especially in change. When planning on a digital change, management needs to have a clear image of the impact that the tool or transformation will have on the company. But what will be the impact on the people in the organisation?
It is often thought that going digital automatically solves organisational efficiency problems. The mindset is that digital is faster and better, so there is not enough thought placed on how it affects people. The social fabric and organisational dynamics should always be a part of the implementation plan. How will roles change and will there be power shifts? What are people expected to do more of (or less) after the implementation?
Is the task being digitalised meaningful for people? Is the transformation actually removing something meaningful from work? When carefully considered, these questions can help to mitigate the feeling of burnout and provide assurances that combat feelings of insecurity regarding the future for employees.
Take a strong people focus instead of process focus – managers should listen and help their employees a lot more than usual. After all, tools don’t have feelings and feel fatigue, but people do.
Juuso Hämäläinen is founder and CEO at Tangible Growth