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The Modern Manager’s Digital Transformation Playbook

The Modern Manager’s Digital Transformation Playbook

By Tamara Rosin

A practical guide to leading your team through digital change.

Who’s supposed to lead digital transformation? Run this question through Google and you’ll find dozens of articles making this assertion: CEOs need to step up to the plate. 

In the past, all broad-scale tech projects were considered the CIO’s domain. But the rising importance of digital capabilities to the overall business strategy means CEOs need to take a lead role in designing and executing digital transformation.

But if you’re a manager, department head, or team lead, you know this view doesn’t exactly represent what digital transformation looks like on the ground. 

While CEOs must take greater responsibility in designing the digital transformation vision, it is managers who bring this vision to life, and ultimately influence its success. 

Unfortunately, there is little attention paid to the immensely important role mid-managers play in turning these ambitions into reality — and even fewer resources to support them.

To help you with this responsibility, we’ve prepared a complete digital transformation playbook filled with practical tips to achieve success. 

Digital transformation failure: What’s really to blame?

Leading employees through digital transformation is no easy task. You only need to look at the dismal success rates to understand just how elusive achieving digital transformation goals can transformation playbook

A mere 16% of digital transformations have helped organizations boost performance and sustain improvements in the long term, according to McKinsey’s 2018 Global Survey on digital transformation.

Even tech companies don’t fare so well. Just 26% achieved long-term performance improvements via digital transformation.

The importance of a well-planned and resourced digital transformation strategy is widely understood. That’s usually not the problem. It’s being unprepared for the post-implementation challenges that arise — the human component — that stifles success. 

This is why you, managers, are so critical! 

Dive Deeper: Digital Transformation 2.0 — What’s holding you back?

Managers play an essential role in digital transformation outcomes

As managers, you are the ones who actually guide the individual employees through the strategy, and it is employees’ collective power that sways the success of the transformation one way or the other.  

The need for effective managers becomes even more critical at the enterprise level. According to McKinsey, organizations with 50,000 or more employees are nearly three times less likely to report a successful digital transformation, compared to those with 100 or less. 

So, what can you do to ensure you’re team contributes to success? Check out these tips in our digital transformation playbook to stay on the right track.

The complete digital transformation playbook for managers

Here are five tactical tips on managing employees during digital change. 

1. Empower employees

In order to achieve the behavioral and cultural shifts necessary to carry out digital transformation, you must empower employees to embrace change and take ownership of their part in it.

Your team members’ workflows, responsibilities, and maybe even the definition of their roles are subject to change under digital transformation. Leaving them out of the loop will not help you. Instead, it will probably result in:

You can empower employees by asking for their input on how new digital tools should be used, allowing for greater autonomy, and providing enough resources so they can try new things on a meaningful level.

2. Become an expert communicator

The C-suite is responsible for establishing a clear vision and sense of urgency around the need for change. It’s up to you to reinforce this message to each individual transformation

Clear, honest, and authentic communication is fundamental to quelling resistance and ensuring your team is aligned on that vision. You should be able to fully explain what is changing, why, and where the organization aims to go.

It’s easy to tell yourself, I’ll be super open and communicative. But unless you create a formal infrastructure that encourages employees to speak up and out, it’s unlikely much will change. Open feedback loops, start routine meetings dedicated to answering questions, and remind employees your inbox (and door) is always open.

Remember, communication goes both ways. You have a lot to learn from your employees, too. 

Encourage them to be candid about their experiences undergoing change, ask for their feedback, and encourage them to contribute new ideas. This will not only support your efforts to empower them, but it will also help you keep a pulse on their needs. 

3. Make training seamless and effective

If you highlight one section of this digital transformation playbook, let it be this one. 

Giving your team proper training is essential to making sure they perform at the highest level and with minimal stress.

Traditional methods of training, such as in-person classroom sessions, webinars, and demonstrations by more experienced employees are unable to cover the breadth of content employees need to learn on enterprise software. 

Instead, digital solutions that enable contextual learning are far better equipped. Such tools provide tailored on-screen guidance and walk users through processes step-by-step, so they can complete any task with ease, even if it’s for the first time. Contextual learning eliminates the need to pull employees away from their work. Instead, they learn “in the flow of work.”

4. Provide self-service support

Onboarding is not the only challenging part of learning to use new software. For most employees, the need for additional support will arise frequently. digital transformation playbook

Based on your employees’ feedback — their challenges, frustrations, and suggestions — provide digital tools that help them overcome usability problems and make important information easily accessible. 

Solutions that enable self-service help users resolve issues and figure out how to complete tasks on their own. Self-service is critical for maintaining productivity and accuracy, not to mention drastically reducing reliance on IT support staff. 

Beyond these benefits, providing adequate support helps protect the employee experience, which is most vulnerable during periods of change. 

When your employees face an unfamiliar interface, they probably feel some stress, confusion, and frustration. This is natural — it takes time to get acclimated to new systems and workflows. But if you don’t provide a remedy for these negative feelings, they will fester, incite resistance, and lead to burnout.   

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5. Develop key skills and capabilities

Technical skills and experience will always be important qualifications, but employees need a wider skill set in the digital era. 

During digital transformation, employees who live within the confines of their job description will not take you far. In order to contribute to the broader digital strategies, employees need to develop the following skills and capabilities:

  • Business acumen so they understand what the business is trying to accomplish and how their role fits into the bigger picture
  • Cross-functional skills to ensure employees can fill gaps, work collaboratively, and break down silos that slow down change
  • Soft skills, including agility, adaptability, and problem-solving. Employees must also be enthusiastic about trying new things and demonstrate perseverance in the face of failure.
  • Digital dexterity so employees can more easily integrate new digital tools into their workflows 

As the manager, it’s your responsibility to provide your team with the right opportunities and resources to help develop these key skills. On top of that, you may identify the need to assign new responsibilities and even create new roles altogether to better align with strategic goals. 

Lead digital transformation success on the ground

The impact of managers on overall digital transformation success cannot be overstated. While CEOs and CIOs might build this vision, it’s managers who guide employees through the journey.

So far, success has proved difficult to attain. But with the tips outlined in this digital transformation playbook, you’ll be far better positioned to ensure the human component of digital change is covered.

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Tamara Rosin
Tamara’s unique perspective on the impact of digital trends on business strategy has elevated her voice to the leading edge of the digital transformation discussion. She is adept at untangling the complexities of organizational culture, its evolution, challenges, and needs in the digital era. Previously, Tamara served as managing editor for the leading national healthcare publication Becker’s Hospital Review.