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September 24, 2021

The Role of Communication in Digital Transformation

Digital transformation. Despite the fact that every staffing and recruiting firm is knee-deep in it – even if they don’t know it – it remains intimidating to many.

While its name might seem to suggest otherwise, you don’t necessarily need to be a tech aficionado, or indeed have any form of IT background, to hold the reins of your company’s digital transformation efforts. What you do need is the right mindset; one of a tinkerer, a problem solver, and a people person. You should also bring a deep understanding of staffing, you should find comfort uncomfortable, and you should be intrigued by the possibilities of technology.

This is something that Silicon Valley has recognized for a while now. Google and Apple are increasingly filling technical roles with liberal arts graduates, understanding that while the technical, linear mind is ideal for certain job roles, the creative problem solver can be extremely useful for others. In staffing, many marketers have shown themselves to be perfectly capable CIOs, as they’ve worked with the real-world application of technology and data for years.

No matter your background, the fact remains that digital transformation is a big job. So let’s take a look at how any professional tasked with pushing the process forward might do exactly that.

Bringing teams to the table

Digital transformation is a group effort, and an organization needs to bring all its teams together to form a strategy. If technology decisions are siloed within recruiting, marketing, technology, finance, or operations departments, the solutions won’t integrate, and your efforts will be dead on arrival.

“The conversation is half the battle,” says Kate Rutherford, Senior Digital Transformation Manager at Loyal Source. “Sometimes in corporations, IT sits in this little bubble, marketing is in this bubble, recruitment is in this bubble, and nobody talks to each other. You’ve got to open those doors of communication.”

Whenever a new piece of technology will impact a department, team, or individual, no matter how slight that impact might be, they need to be brought into the conversation.

Ensuring everyone plays their role

Perhaps the most important form of digital transformation communication is between the non-technical and technical teams. Recruiting and marketing are great at identifying problems and finding potential solutions, while technical teams are great at ensuring things like compliance, security, and integration are covered.

Non-technical teams can tend to be impatient. They know what they want, and they want it now. Technical teams, meanwhile, play a vital role in holding the bridle, ensuring things like PII and GDPR are taken care of.

Even a Senior Digital Transformation Manager like Rutherford relies heavily on her technical team to ensure all I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed. “We might be ready to go live with a new tool, but our CSO comes down and says ‘does that meet federal compliance standards?’ I’ll reply with ‘I don't know, I was just solving a problem for my team!’ It’s not my job to know the technical stuff, but it needs to be someone’s job.”

Generally speaking, the responsibility of technical teams is to keep an organization safe, and the responsibility of non-technical teams is to push the organization forward. By communicating and collaborating well on digital transformation, your firm can ensure that both boxes are ticked.

The job of ensuring everyone is on the same digital transformation page, and that all these responsibilities are being met, should be placed on a specific set of shoulders – a fact that is seeing Director of Digital Transformation roles becoming ever more common.

Doing it right, doing it now

Note that we have so far described bringing people into the digital transformation, as opposed to putting the strategy/idea out. There’s a reason for that.

Historically a common approach to technical innovation was to put an idea to a jury, whether through long RFP processes or giant steering committees. But this is no longer the way things are done, and for good reason: the evolution of technology has accelerated to the point that these dated approaches can no longer keep up.

Modern innovation demands a sense of urgency. 2020 taught us that we can implement brand-new technologies incredibly fast. Now that everyone knows it’s possible, failing to do so will see hesitant firms falling behind. Clunky collaboration processes need to be replaced by nimble ones – those that bring stakeholders in when necessary and continually push the process forward, but that also ensure security and compliance risks are considered and mitigated.

Making people OK with change

People don’t like change. There’s fear and discomfort in the new and unknown. So how do you make people more open to change?

Step into your team’s shoes. There needs to be a good reason, perhaps even an incentive, for someone to change their ways. If a change seems arbitrary, if it can’t be easily explained or justified, you’re going to have a hard time implementing it.

You should frame any change as a solution to a problem – as like any change management plan – ideally one that your team has brought up. This can be an effective starting point for your digital transformation strategy: focus on issues identified by your team, and use technology to secure some easy wins. This will help you to develop a level of trust, making future changes far easier to sell.

“Where possible, ensure any new process takes the place of an old one so that your team doesn’t feel as though they’re lumped with extra work,” advises Rutherford. “Ensure there are checks and balances, ways to track the success of any new change. Offer top-down support, and act on signs that things aren’t going as well as they could be: perhaps your team could benefit from additional training, cheat sheets, or shadow sessions.”

 

You can't have tech adoption without change management

 

If you’re communicating well with your team and listening to their problems, you’re already more than halfway to getting people comfortable with change. If you’re offering solutions, listening to their feedback, and providing ongoing support, you’re 90% there.

Hold a digital transformation town hall, even if you already feel like you know the problems you need to fix and the solutions you think will fix them. This process makes people feel heard, which in turn makes them more likely to buy-in. You should then set a clear roadmap describing the path forward to ensure people don’t feel like they’re walking into the unknown. Describe:

  • How a new process or tool works
  • How you’ll track its success
  • The results you expect to see
  • How you’ll hold users to account in terms of its implementation

The importance of retraining

Solid implementation is critical – but the successful implementation of a new technology or process is but the first step in a longer journey.

SaaS solutions regularly update with new features and functionality. To get all that you can from your technology investment, you need to upskill your team, training them on new features and enhancements at regular intervals – every 90 days should be the minimum. At a business level, this is a simple matter of maximizing the return on your investment.

‘But I don’t have time!’ comes the predictable reply. Happily, you don’t need much time. It doesn’t have to fall on your shoulders to keep abreast of updates and create training materials – you can leave a lot of that work to your vendors. They’ll be excited to share the latest and greatest product features, and the best of them will offer structured training that your team can use to familiarize themselves with updates.

Retraining doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You might be surprised to see just how helpful your vendors are and how much training they’re willing to provide. If you expect of your vendors what your customers are expecting of you, you’ll perform, they’ll perform, and you’ll enjoy a return that far exceeds your investment.

Likewise, if you invest time and effort into developing a thorough approach to digital transformation, you can expect that to pay serious dividends too.