by Isaac Sacolick

3 questions from employees on digital transformation and how to answer them

Oct 03, 2017
CIODigital TransformationIT Leadership

Employees ask questions out of fear of losing their jobs, falling behind in skills, and not knowing how they can help their companies transform. Surfacing these questions and answering them can help bring on new drivers and participants in digital transformation programs.

question woman
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I recently had the opportunity to speak to a small group on the sacrifices executives and employees need to make to drive a digital transformation. It was a group that included millennials just entering the workforce, boomers trying to leverage their experience and skills, and everyone in between. There were some that feared the pace of change and concerned on how to navigate their careers when every job function seems headed toward automation. There were others ready to embrace transformation but unclear on how to participate in their organization’s strategic programs.

In one hour, we covered all the excitement, questions, and fears employees have when an organization’s leadership announces a transformation program.These programs impact people very differently, and it’s important for leaders to communicate at both a group and individual level and secure people’s confidence and participation. Answering them and quashing their fears can help turn transformation detractors to supporters. 

Here are some questions that I often get around transformation programs and how you might respond to them.

1. Will I have a job after tasks are automated?

Many employees equate digital transformation with automation and cost cutting. In addition, they read about the impacts of AI and the concerns that many jobs will be replaced by automation, thinking machines and robots.

When confronted with this question, try to understand the situation of the people asking it. If they are working in an area that is likely to be automated in the relatively near future (0-2 years), then make sure to explain what benefits the automation will deliver and how they can help with this transformation. You should also prepare some options of what skills they will pick up while participating and where they might have new job opportunities once it is completed. Make sure you let people know what’s in it for them.

For others where automation is less likely to impact their jobs, recognize that their fear reduces morale, productivity, and their willingness to participate in the transformation. Again, my advice is to be transparent on what areas you plan to automate in the near future and share the expected benefits. Follow this by asking these employees about their current jobs and skills and explain how they can participate in other areas of the transformation program. A leader’s job in transformation is to find people in the organization who are seeking more responsibility and have the capability to drive change. When people ask questions even out of fear, this is a good time to look for new participants.

2. This is my first job out of school. How can I participate?

New hires are often targeted to a single job junction and may not know of opportunities to participate in transformation programs. Chances are, the transformation will impact the department that they are working in, but will employees know about what initiatives, when they scheduled, and how they can help? What communications are leaders making about the near term focus and status of the overall program? Even if the transformation is impacting the department later in the roadmap, leaders can be engaging with drivers in these departments on how best to prepare.

Use this opportunity to find out if the communications you are doing about the transformation are being leveraged by those seeking more information. Very often, the message is too strategic and high level, so the average employee doesn’t understand how the transformation relates to them and their job. Other times, the communications may not be reaching this group effectively and you can learn about better channels to reach them.

Lastly, this question often hints at a gap in middle management’s understanding of the program and how best to get their employees involved. If you are getting this question a lot, it is well worth reviewing how to engage managers on program participation.

3. How can I keep pace with all the new technologies? 

Remind people in your organization that they need to dedicate personal time to learn new skills and guide their managers that they need time to learn and experiment on the job as well. Many technologies today have sufficient online documentation and tutorials to enable individuals to start learning on their own. CIO should go the next step to help people know what technologies and products they should learn that may help the organization. CIOs can organize hackathons, selectively adopt pair programming practices, or establish technology mentoring programs to help individuals learn new technologies. 

Keeping pace is about going a little deeper in technologies the individual knows plus technologies that are complimentary. An employee that knows email marketing technologies can expand into other areas of digital marketing. A technologist well versed in SQL databases can learn NoSQL databases or data preparation tools. A financial analyst primarily working with spreadsheets can learn a self-service BI tool.

Remind people that keeping pace should not be the goal. The goal should be to always be learning and putting new skills to practice.

Leaders should seek out those asking questions

In transformation programs, leaders should be seeking individuals that are asking questions and are ready to challenge the status quo. When you identify someone asking questions about themselves stemming from fear, leaders should listen to the individual’s context, respond by helping the person look past their fear, and then present a tailored opportunity for them to grow through participation.