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Getting Back To Human

John Gillardi, Executive Director, Ernst & Young LLP

John Gillardi, Executive Director, Ernst & Young LLP

The race is on for businesses to fully leverage digital technologies to transform the way they generate revenue and operate. We have seen digital disrupting everything from taxicabs to travel agents in our everyday lives, and these consumer disruptions are making their way into the enterprise. Technology startups, along with well-established tech companies, offer innovations for the enterprise with the promise of enhanced efficiency, cost savings and revenue growth. Without the buzz of Madison Avenue or viral new apps, how will the enterprise get the word out to realize the “real” bang for their buck? How will you act as an accountable venture capitalist for your own company to get the value out of these new technologies? 

"For any innovation to succeed, all employees must recognize, explore and fully utilize it, which makes direct experience one of the most essential elements of adaptation"

The term “implementation” in the context of digital refers to a set of activities focused on moving data and processes to a magical place we call the cloud. Information technology (IT) pros take care of implementing operational enhancements by adopting new software, configuring and aligning it with other systems, and checking for bugs and other problems. Companies also rely on IT departments to develop new services that help them differentiate in the marketplace. As IT is weaving its magic, responsible leaders must address the other side of the implementation coin: activation. Activation is the secret sauce to a successful digital transformation and incorporates the most important ingredient—your people. Activation incorporates traditional change, behavior change and consumer marketing techniques to ready the workforce for a technology-related implementation.

While IT and business leadership are engaged and inspired to enable these new services and capabilities, the users do not always feel the same. Organizations that do not embrace new technologies may earn a reputation as laggards finding it difficult to attract and retain talent. A workforce lacking diversity across the generations may impede the business’s ability to adapt to change in a rapidly evolving world. New ways of working with fresh tools can inspire a workforce to generate innovative ideas and positive change, like the way a home remodel can breathe new life into an old space.

Users are the consumers of these technology advancements and are vital to the digital transformation, so it is only appropriate that companies invest in activation much like they market the newest smart-phone-to-beat-all-smart-phones. Today’s signal-to-noise ratio is so great, users often miss minor upgrades or tools that are already available to improve their workday—functions as simple as one-click screen sharing or mobile video conferencing. That same distortion, with far more dire consequences, applies when new systems are implemented because the stakes are higher and supported by real dollars. With each new system nearing the go-live date, it’s tough for companies to break through every employee’s urge to delete those new system informational emails from a corporate mailbox that look like spam. Is there a different approach? 

Corporate cultures are as different as the cultures that tourists experience when traveling abroad, and we must find the best communication channels and feedback systems that work “when in Rome” and in the office. The goal is to deliver a message of purpose that solves a problem for the users and the company as a whole, creates an understanding of why this advancement is good for them and inspires users with the promise that it will help the company succeed. They need to know it will be easy to learn, use and, when appropriate, to get their customers to adapt. It is difficult to think about behavior change, organizational change and internal marketing when in the throes of a large project, but too many companies and too many digital programs fail to reach their potential when activation is ignored.

For any innovation to succeed, all employees must recognize, explore and fully utilize it, which makes direct experience one of the most essential elements of adaptation. Convincing users to try, practice and shift habits is critical. As each person gains comfort with a new system, they will be inspired to take advantage of all the improvements that it offers. Enhanced productivity and new experiences help to develop talent and build careers, freeing the worker to focus on innovative ideas and solutions.

To get there, each activation requires the establishment of a brand that will create an enticing reason to try it. Creative and lively approaches can draw attention to something as simple as a single-click change. For more extensive changes, a viral and somewhat entertaining video can be offered to ease the pain on the user. In today’s busy workplace, most employees do not have time to go through a formal training session. Instead of answering emails and chatting with others during often dry webinars, why not entertain and teach at the same time?

Even more successful is the option of engaging early-adoption users as change agents who will teach and support with leading practices and success stories, creating a viral buzz. A30-day challenge may also help establish new habits through small tasks across teams. Each set of challenges encourage specific behaviors, which creates momentum with sustained behavior shifts. The practice of drawing on employee’s insights brings together neuroscience, behavior change, consumer marketing techniques and technology, which is at the heart of a digital program activation. Continuous activation will reinforce behavior by frequently engaging users through events, challenges, internal communities and refresher trainings to help them achieve increasing value over time.

Technology does not take humans out of the equation; rather, by taking over more mechanical tasks it helps elevate the role of employees and increase their productivity to make human qualities—like judgment, creativity and insightfulness—more important than ever. When rolling out innovative technology, consider this: electricity was once new technology and was met with fear and skepticism, but now we cannot imagine a world without it. We certainly wouldn’t run an office without it. The time has come to focus and invest in activation programs to reduce business risk, protect our reputations and help our employees “get back to human.”