Stop talking about digital transformation. Talk to your people.

If you’ve been avoiding all news for the past three years (I’m jealous, by the way), we’re undergoing a crazy pace of change in almost every major part of our business and personal lives. A lot of this change is driven by technology, but some of it is because of slicker business strategies.

This digital current is swift-moving, and a lot of businesses are trying to jump onboard the ‘digital transformation’ ship before they get stranded. Of course, businesses are less like a ship, and more like a collection of different-sized magnets. Trying to get everyone to move in the same direction can be tricky if you don’t align everything right.

See, while our technologies and marketing strategies have been getting better, company cultures haven’t kept pace and that’s a big problem when your business is trying to adapt to a competitive digital landscape.

Poor communication is the biggest blocker to business transformation

Bold claim, I know, and I really only have my own observations and experience to back me up.

I worked within a large organisation undergoing an ambitious digital transformation programme that would essentially cut out all paper-based applications and processing. No more files, trolleys, cabinets, and meticulous labelling for offsite storage. This is a good thing, so everyone should really want to pull together for this, right? They’ll all be eager and excited to hear about the programme’s progress.

I can tell you’re already shaking your head.

My role put me in contact with a good number of on-the-ground employees and I would casually ask them about their workload and how much time they could commit to reading the daily business news. Bosses felt it was important for employees to keep up to date on developments themselves. But almost everyone I spoke to was struggling to balance the routine work tasks and emails with the new systems and procedures they had to learn. They didn’t have time to read every news item. They filtered the news by what was relevant to them at the time. Truthfully, they were more worried about what wasn’t being said. Like, would they still have the job they’d had for 25 years?

That doesn’t really sound like an aligned environment. You’d be forgiven for thinking this is an anomaly.

But 86% of executives, employees and educators flag ineffective communication as a major reason for failure in the workplace. Technology isn’t the problem. Human connection is.

Stop thinking people are robots and robots are people

Everyone knows (even if it isn’t true) that marketing and technology teams get the biggest share of the pie for campaigns and projects. They make the shiny stuff and then make people want the shiny stuff. They’ve got analytics and ROI. They get to attribute any bumps in the numbers to their direct efforts. They get to come up with new ideas every day. Some of them even win awards.

But what about the other teams?

The call centres, number crunchers, filers, capturers, paper pushers, and miracle makers. The unsung backbone that keeps the business standing upright day after day, long after projects and campaigns have ended and been forgotten.

They’re expected to know all the processes, procedures, and yes, the daily business news. That’s how bosses measure their performance. They ‘follow the established procedure within the appropriate time to an expected standard‘.

They don’t win the business awards, but without them, there would be no business. So why do so many businesses treat them like robots clocking in and out? Or worse, expenses they’re hoping to cut once the real robots roll in?

Hungry employees can outrun hippos

Who do you think is better at getting fed? A pack of Labradors or a herd of sheep?

When I worked for the most innovative bank in South Africa, the eBucks CEO was Lezanne Human. I loved working for eBucks. It was exciting, collaborative, challenging, and engaging. Our employee satisfaction was well over 85% for the first four years I worked there. I put it down to Lezanne’s meticulous attention to hiring and maintaining a hungry company culture.

Not all of us are fortunate to work for a great company, but those of us who have can point out why other companies aren’t quite getting it right.

Everyone gets a voice.

At eBucks, it didn’t matter if you were a junior call centre agent or a seasoned manager, everyone was encouraged to contribute ideas and engage with people on different levels. From company-wide quarterly town halls and bi-annual brainstorming workshops to yearly coffee meetups with executives and random colleagues. The hierarchy was flattened, and we were encouraged to get out of our chairs and go speak to people.

The first time your little idea gets accepted and rolled out, you get hungry. The hungrier you get, the more ideas you come up with. The more ideas you come up with, the easier it gets to come up with more and more. And once you’re an idea-generating machine, you’re invested.

Once you’re invested, you want success. You pull together. You align. No one opinion rules them all, so it’s more likely you’ll succeed (or learn something valuable so you can succeed the next time).

You can’t align without those connections.

You can’t be customer-centric if you’re not employee-centric

While some Stakeholders (or HIPPOs) are realising that becoming customer or user-centric is profitable, there are still too many who:

  • don’t see the value in effective communication and never prioritise it
  • think everyone’s a good-enough communicator and don’t invest in any kind of strategy for it
  • present a ‘cool’ external brand that is not in line with their actual culture (like every brand that says they are ‘diverse’ and ‘inclusive’ but aren’t)
  • spend a bunch of money on customer-facing communications but skimp when engaging with employees (why do employees still need to read 5,000 words of boring ‘mandatory’ gobbledygook?)

Mostly though, if communications inside a business are poor, then communications outside of it are probably just as bad. Well-crafted, customer-centric content saves money and improves the online reputation and findability of brands. Doing the same inside the business almost guarantees that the customer experience will be consistent at every touchpoint. That’s the power of a shared language. That’s how you transform a business. Not with binary code and fancy hardware. But with human connections and the power of clear communication.

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