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Including the people in your transformation

Jan. 2, 2020

Developing an employee-first strategy during periods of change. 

By Keith Kitani, CEO of GuideSpark

Despite implementing the most innovative technologies, cutting-edge robotics and automation, digital workflows and paperless systems, some of the world’s most well-run, otherwise successful companies have failed to recognize that technology doesn’t transform the business, people do. And, without the buy-in and adoption of new systems and methodologies among the workforce, it’s virtually impossible for any digital transformation effort to be successful.

GuideSpark's Keith Kitani

While it’s true that digital transformation can drive major gains in efficiency, production output and overall business growth, it requires the investment and commitment of the people who will use these digital tools in order to succeed. Here’s how manufacturers can achieve successful digital transformation with a people-first strategy:

1) Understand their points of view. Most manufacturing industries have a long-tenured workforce; decades-long employment is quite common. Add to this the potential for labor-relations issues, with union representation accustomed to fighting to keep members’ jobs. In this environment, any talk of digitization and automation can be interpreted as job loss. While eliminating some roles and reskilling or retraining employees may be unavoidable, be sure to carefully understand and consider your employees’ perspective on the proposed change. If they fear they’ll lose the job they’ve held for 20+ years, their first instinct will be to resist the change, even if it’s beneficial for them. Make sure you consider these perspectives carefully as you prepare a communication plan.

2) Focus on the why. Too often organizations get caught up in implementing the change, and overlook explaining to the workforce why it matters. Lacking this context, employees are resistant to get onboard, and more likely to be suspicious. Instead, explain clearly how the initiative will benefit the business and them as individuals. Communicate why their participation matters—it is vital to the success and survival of the company. When employees understand the why, they’re more willing to participate and may even have great ideas to share that can streamline the process.

3) Empower managers. Front-line managers are key to driving change in manufacturing organizations and ensuring their alignment is critical. In many cases, these direct supervisors are the only interaction production teams have with leadership, so they must be equipped to coach employees and answer questions in line with company goals, objectives and key messages. Because of their one-on-one role with employees, managers are also in a unique position to observe and reward performance. Giving managers autonomy and control in compensation and other incentives can substantially increase employee satisfaction and change-readiness.

4) Tailor the message. Each employee approaches change differently based on their role, age, length of employment and even their individual learning style. That means a one-size fits all approach will not work, and it’s why 75% of companies struggle to get the right information to the right people. To overcome this hurdle, you must tailor the digital-transformation message for different audiences to meet them where they are in their role and journey. Even the channels you choose matter: younger employees expect digital, interactive experiences, where older, less-tech-inclined staff may be intimidated by that approach. Use the right language and the right medium to reach each audience.

5) Invest in communication. Failure to invest in a communications plan is a major mistake in any digital-transformation effort. Becoming a change-ready organization is a long-term process that extends far beyond a single announcement. It demands ongoing, two-way communication to create a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement. Building this into your digital-transformation plan from the beginning is a vital foundation to any successful implementation.

6) Use communication data to learn and iterate. It’s impossible to completely predict people transformation, so start with best practices, measure engagement and then iterate. Communication doesn’t have to be based on “feel” only anymore.  

7) Prepare for a journey. People transformations take time, usually much longer than system or process transformations. Each audience may need a slightly different communication journey to engage, so you need to be ready for the long haul.

Embarking on a digital-transformation journey is a massive, complex undertaking for manufacturers. With so much on the line, it’s imperative to have your entire team onboard to ensure the smoothest possible process. By establishing a firm foundation with a culture that is change-ready, your organization can be prepared to tackle the obstacles and opportunities that await. There are sure to be many.