Overlooking Employee Engagement Can Lead to Digital Mediocrity

Buy-in from management to undergo urgent digital transformation (DX): CHECK!

Development of a clear plan to “fail fast, learn and iterate fast”: CHECK!

A clear roadmap for DX to align with business strategies and IT capabilities: CHECK!

Customer obsession mindset hammered into place: CHECK!

Sufficient internal and outsourced talent pools to cope with the big plan: CHECK!

It looks like your company is ready to pull out all the stops to embark on a year-long DX journey. Or is it really ready?

If management truly believes that the rank-and-file employees are paid to do whatever is best for the company despite months or years of inconvenience, in-depth training, and thankless sacrifice, it maybe be prudent to put their grand DX plans on hold.

Before All Hell Breaks Loose

As any employee who survived a "simple" ERP revamp or migration would tell you, a lot of inconveniences, mindset-shifting and months of friction and overtime are involved with any DX initiative. Even in a progressive DX implementation, many of the less motivated staff would question the point of it all, develop invisible silos against other stakeholder departments; pack up and leave; engage in pushback tactics; or just go through the motions and cover up potential pitfalls in their plain sight to let management learn a lesson.

Add job insecurity at the thought of post-DX efficiency, the trend toward lean organizations, and the easy mobility of talented staff, and you can see why companies are often ill-prepared.  

The results are high staff turnover, low employee morale, massive post-DX talent churn, and increased costs of hiring and training new staff and third-party contractors to address workforce disruptions. By the time these occur, corporate mediocrity would have gone digital too.

Employee Engagement Starts Early

Customer obsession needs to begin in the pre-DX workplace. The very people who work in your company are the “customers” management should obsess over first. Every DX plan should take employee engagement factor into account.

“To prepare staff for the impact of emerging technologies, communication is crucial between the employees as well as the different departments. Also, creating training for the staff can help them understand those emerging technologies,” said Jonathan Aufray, co-founder and chief executive officer, Growth Hackers.

DX surveys show that legacy cultural and organizational problems are harder to uproot than outdated technology.

Lack of employee engagement (or disenchantment) could well be a salient cause underlying cultural resistance and organizational problems; leaders should not leave it as an afterthought but place it near the top of their priorities when crafting the DX masterplan.

“This is a challenge for any enterprise undergoing such transformation, especially for companies in traditional industries,” said Ma Qing, executive vice president and head of Human Resources, Siemens Greater China.

That is why he emphasizes the importance of employee self-driven motivation and learning – to build and maintain a strong and sustainable digital talent base pre and post DX.

Ma Qing and Siemens’ HR team are doing everything they can to diversify and modularize learning and make learning fun and rewarding. In addition to constantly enriching the company's learning platform, Siemens also works with external learning partners to provide employees with the best possible learning resources.

The mindset of risk-taking is also not easy to teach before DX, and it does not come automatically after DX. Incentives and not penalties should be given to people so that they are willing to take the risk. It will result in creating the right culture for an organization.

In an executive forum organized by CIO Academy Asia, “Game Changers: Tech Trends for 2019”, Eugene Yeo, group chief information officer at Singapore's fiber-broadband upstart MyRepublic, felt that it was hard to get a person with all the skillsets that an organization needed. Hence, he was willing to train the employee if he or she was not afraid of failure and was willing to take a risk.

Avoid Quick-and-Dirty Fixes

Despite constant reinforcement of the importance of employee engagement from studies and surveys, some companies have chosen easier workarounds to achieve a semblance of a coherent, driven workforce.

Their methods include staged attrition of older employees; disingenuous promises of carrots in exchange for staff compliance; outsourcing of as many job functions as legally possible; and many other subtle modes of workforce intimidation. The list may sound draconian, but if it brings short-term results, that is what most management-level teams need for buying time before they move to another organization amidst the chaos.

On a positive note, management that obtains employee buy-in and succeeds in motivating them to break old cultural habits and foster new and improved mindsets can look forward to hidden cost savings (instead of hidden costs) and greater commitment to prioritizing agility and risk-taking. This and many other cascading benefits of improved internal communications and stability can act as a multiplier effect to DX.