They’re not buying it.
They hear the words the executives say about digital transformation but, unconsciously, they aren’t buying it. They read the periodic communiques from the management team about the various transformation initiatives that have been launched but the messaging doesn’t really stick. They may even take the time to read industry material that describes the urgency for companies to transform the way they operate and go to market but most of it gets sucked into the swirling dark matter of their mind. They attend the town halls and nod approvingly when each VP reviews their plan for the coming year, but they’re also thinking, obsessing, about that deadline that looms this Friday for their own project. They are as close to being riveted as one can get in a corporate setting when their dynamic and engaging CEO artfully tells a story for why the company needs to evolve but they can’t get past the fact they never see her at any other time than these town halls.
Then they go back to their desks.
If they are individual contributors they might first quickly check their Facebook feed to see what they missed before jumping onto the fileserver to locate that document they were looking at yesterday, the one that describes the steps they’re supposed to take when they want to requisition a new territory report. Then they go to lunch.
If they are a manager they might go back to their desk and make a quick note to include a brief reference to the town hall content in the next staff meeting scheduled for next week. Then they’ll quickly open the email app and start working through the backlog while munching a sandwich they brought from home.
The digital transformation messaging they heard in the town hall was both interesting and a little nerve-racking but at the same time it was abstract. If you asked them, they wouldn’t use the word skeptical or cynical about the prospects of the digital transformation initiative being successful or even mattering. Instead they might say this sentence, “I don’t see it affecting the way I work any time soon.” Or this, “I’m glad the execs are the ones who have to worry about that. I have my own set of projects I need to focus on.”
Can a company’s digital transformation initiative succeed if frontline employees don’t buy into it, or if they don’t even understand it at all? Can sheer will of the management team, on its own, drive the initiative towards eventual success? What are the odds that redesigned processes will accurately reflect intimate knowledge of the customer if their creation excludes the involvement of people within the company with whom the customer most frequently interacts?
Bubbles can be beautiful… in bathtubs and kitchen sinks, or when blown by a child through a ring. Management bubbles, though, can be deadly to business.
Communication is critical and we can see from the example at the beginning that the company is doing some of the right things. The missing piece, though, is their ability to ensure a sustained and clear flow of communication from top to bottom and, almost more importantly once the initiative is launched, from bottom to top.
So how can a company ensure its digital transformation initiative is both clearly understood at every level while being inclusive of every level at the same time? The same way any other successful company transformation has happened in the past: by practicing good, transparent, consistent, fair, and respectful management. By understanding that to be digitally transformed it means the entire company must be transformed. Each layer. Each process. Each person. Each partner.
Communication is the key enabler. Its power lies in its relevance for the listener. If you want the buy-in of your employees, make transformation mean something for them, for their daily work, for their hour to hour work, for the way they see themselves making a meaningful contribution to the company’s success.
I’ll close with this thought on communication. It is my gift to you, the reader. This post is exactly 700 words in length. Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, as mentioned in this article, was the same length.
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