How to take a people-centric approach to digital transformation

Change is tough. Most of us are creatures of habit, and we all know that habits are hard to break. When a change is forced upon us, say from an employer, there’s even less likelihood that we’ll enjoy it.

In shift-based, ‘deskless’ workplaces, change is even trickier to navigate. People work odd hours, teams are rarely in the same place at the same time, and HR and other support functions may be based far from the frontline.

However, it’s not just employers of deskless workers who struggle. It’s disconcerting to consider that research from the likes of McKinsey & Company, Gartner and others shows that up to 70% of all change initiatives fail. And according to Boston Consulting Group, only 30% of companies navigate digital transformation successfully. Why?

While there is a never-ending list of potential change management processes and ‘must-do’ steps, it’s apparent that something is missing from many change initiatives. A study from EY in partnership with Oxford University sought to uncover what exactly makes some transformation projects thrive and others fall flat.

The study found:

  • 85% of senior leaders have been involved in two or more major transformations in the last five years alone. Two-thirds (67%) of those leaders said they have experienced at least one underperforming transformation during this time.

  • 52% of respondents in high-performing transformations said that employees were assigned clear roles and responsibilities, and 49% said that decision-making authority was delegated in a clear and appropriate way across the organisation (versus 29% in low-performing transformations).

  • Negative emotions among workers increase by 25% in successful transformations but by more than 130% during under-performing transformations.

  • However, by focusing on ‘people-centred’ transformation, the study found that the likelihood of a successful outcome increased 2.6 times to 73%.

People-centred transformation

It isn’t the lack of resources or budget that result in change initiative failures; rather, it’s human behaviour. Behaviour that does not support the intended transformation – i.e. resistance, scepticism and lack of buy-in from employees and managers – is often the deciding factor. For example, it’s not unusual for organisations to underestimate the following:

  • The role of managers. The ‘meat in the sandwich’ between the frontline and senior leaders are the mid-level managers. This is especially the case in deskless workplaces where employees may be working variable hours with different team mates, and sometimes in different locations. Managers are vital for engagement. However, in many change initiatives managers are neglected. Not enough time is spent in building understanding about the change initiative or the potential benefits of that change. Mid-level managers often struggle to translate change to their team members and this can result in unhappy employees.

  • Change fatigue. After more than three years of dramatic change in both their personal and working lives, many frontline workers are tired. The last thing they need or want is yet another change. If the impact of change on employees is not assessed, it can lead to more cases of anxiety and stress – and people will simply walk away.

  • The psychological impact of change. Human beings are complex; some people are more open-minded and enthusiastic about technology adoption than others. It’s therefore critical to factor in the psychological component of change. Successful change management involves inciting positive feelings about the change and establishing the ‘what’s in it for me’ (WIIFM) factor.

The role of communication during change

A key component of ‘human-centric’ digital transformation is communication, which plays a huge role in achieving buy-in from employees and other stakeholders. Part of this is about creating psychological safety and confidence in the tools being adopted – and the key to that is not just support and training, but transparency and two-way feedback. Celebrating the smaller milestones achieved along the way, in addition to being upfront about any setbacks or delays, can make a huge difference to change outcomes.

Leaders should be continuously sharing information across the organisation so that everyone affected feels like a part of the ongoing journey. Also remember that frontline workers have daily contact with customers and may be the first to notice new issues. If they can share their observations and insights, it benefits the whole organisation.

When it comes to change initiatives, it’s critical to use communication as workers move through the typical stages of a change journey: Awareness, Understanding, Acceptance and Commitment.

4 ways to bring deskless workers along on the change journey

Here are some tips for ensuring communication is embedded in your change strategy for deskless workplaces:

1. Identify change agents

These workers are keen, engaged and influential. They are always asking for new technology and putting forward new ways to complete work tasks more efficiently. If you can adopt these ‘contagion influencers’ their excitement can be used to ‘rally the troops’ and build positive momentum for the change.

Just behind these change agents are your early adopters. They show enthusiasm but aren’t necessarily first in line when it comes to tech adoption. It can be useful to hold focus groups once they have been introduced to the new tech to discuss any questions they have or challenges they’re facing. The feedback can help inform the rollout to the rest of the team.

2. Identify ‘tech sceptics’ – and convince them that change can be beneficial

At the other extreme, some people will resist change with all their might. They will only come onboard if they are repeatedly pushed and incentivised to do so. You could try to:

  • Clarify how they stand to benefit from the new tech. For example, time savings, greater flexibility, better work-life balance. Remember, every employee is different but the ‘what’s in it for me’ (WIIFIM) factor should never be downplayed.

  • Involve these individuals from the start and encourage them to provide their feedback – that means there’s no way for them to claim “I wasn’t involved” or “You didn’t listen to me!”

  • Offer more support. These workers may need a bit more handholding and one-on-one sessions. Their reluctance might simply come down to fear of doing the wrong thing.

  • Be empathetic. You may be asking seasoned professionals to give up the way they’ve previously undertaken tasks. A little bit of empathy can go a long way.

  • Make it fun. Consider a gamification approach whereby employees accumulate points, gain financial incentives or achieve new levels of ‘status’ as they undertake training or help their peers.

By getting to know your employees, actively listening, challenging perceptions and ultimately gaining their trust, it’s possible your laggards might become change champions.

3. Use multiple channels for communication and feedback

Deskless workers may not have access to laptops or PCs – but they do invariably use mobile phones, so your communication strategy should focus on mobile-friendly communication. Notifications, updates, rewards and recognition to mark milestones, training and more can be delivered via mobile devices. SMS updates can convey information in a timely manner, while social channels can be used to celebrate successes. However, important information can also be conveyed in one-on-one or group in-person meetings. And yes, posters and information pinned to the noticeboard in common areas still have a place.

Sentiment can be gathered through employee pulse surveys or workshops. However, while 84% of surveyed leaders in deskless workplaces say their company has channels in place for collecting feedback, only 24% said their company asks them for feedback. This is important to keep in mind when it comes to tech rollouts – user feedback is gold. The same survey found that traditional communication channels such as email are still being used for deskless workers, but not everyone will be checking emails regularly.[1]

4. Treat change as a journey, not a destination

Most tech rollouts will take a phased approach, with participants having to complete the preceding phase before moving to the next. This structured approach ensures everyone is onboard, and also allows everyone to move forward together, even if some may require extra support or training. Most change programs will encounter unexpected delays or challenges. Perhaps mistakes will be made. These should be treated as learning opportunities and worked into the change program further down the track.

Technology implementation is also never ‘set and forget’. There are always new users, refresher courses to run, new features to learn about. Committing to a marathon rather than a sprint to a clearly defined finish line is best.

Keen to know more? Download our whitepaper on how a human-centric approach to digital transformations can produce better outcomes.

How Humanforce can help

Selecting the right technology at the right time and choosing the right vendor will undoubtedly have a major impact on how successful a tech implementation project is. The methodology and approach taken by Humanforce is based on increasing the rate of adoption of the new system and embedding your standard procedures into the Humanforce solution.

The most critical aspect is the people involved in the project and ensuring that engagement of key stakeholders is sustained throughout the implementation and even beyond the timeframe of the project. Human-centred design is fundamental to our approach. We aim to understand your business, your goals, and your processes to ensure the change is well-managed and the system configuration delivers a high-quality solution. We are happy to assist with change management design and advice.

About Humanforce

Humanforce is a leading provider of composable, best-of-breed workforce management, payroll and wellbeing solutions that simplify onboarding, scheduling, time & attendance, pay, employee engagement, and communication for frontline workforces. Founded in 2002, Humanforce has a 1700-strong customer base and over half a million users across a wide range of industries, including aged care, child care, hospitality, retail, local government and more. Today, we have offices across Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.

Our vision is to make work easier and life better by focusing on the needs and fulfilment of frontline workers and the efficiency and optimisation of businesses.

To find out how we can help your organisation, contact us or schedule a demo.

[1] The deskless report, Nudge, 2021