Digital change: How to ideally integrate your employees

SNP Experts
| 4 min read

When companies reinvent themselves in the course of increasing digitization, the focus lies often on data and new technologies. However, at least as important for a successful digital transformation is the human factor. Our Experts explain how you can pick up your employees and actively involve them in change processes.


Whether cloud computing, the conversion to SAP S/4HANA or the use of new technologies such as Big Data: The possibilities that companies are offered by proceeding with digital change barely know any limits. At its core, the focus is on modernizing existing IT structures, further developing business models and redefining processes and procedures. Data and new technologies play a key role in this: they are intended to ensure further growth in highly competitive global markets. Meanwhile, another essential component of digital progress is often overlooked – the human with his or her extensive knowledge.


Digitization: Involving employees

The study "Leadership and Digitization" conducted by the DFK-Verband für Fach- und Führungskräfte illustrates just how important it is to place employees at the center of the change process: Afterall, only 15 percent of over 1500 managers surveyed believe that digitization creates a stronger bond between employers and employees. 57 percent, on the other hand, see the danger of employees alienating themselves from the company as a result of the changes.

To counter this trend, it is not only management and the IT department that must be involved in digital transformation processes. Much rather, employees from all departments must be picked up at their level of knowledge. A team-oriented approach promotes the willingness to change and creates allies within the company.


Developing a clear digital vision

The digital transformation of a company is not a project that ends with the introduction of individual new applications or technologies. Rather, it is a long-term task with far-reaching consequences. Those who pursue one individual project after another run the risk of losing sight of the big picture. It is therefore essential for companies to formulate a clear vision – preferably in the form of a digital strategy with realistic intermediate goals. An intensive exchange between management, specialist departments and IT already pays off in this phase. Companies should use their employees’ knowledge and ask representatives from all areas of the company about what they think needs to be considered in the transformation process, so that they can work more efficiently. When people from different departments come together, a problem can be examined from different perspectives – and innovative strength is created.


Marketing digital possibilities

As soon as the transformation strategy is developed, management is required to provide detailed information regarding the changes planned. The more digital competence managers themselves posses, the better they will be able to explain how and why the company must develop further and why the project can only be carried out with the participation of all stakeholders.

Further, the more clearly the individual benefit for employees is worked out, the more likely the transformation is to succeed. When it comes to cloud computing, for example, employees should know how they can use the technology to access data in the system from any location and exchange it with customers and service providers in real time. Management and IT are well advised to spread the digital possibilities as if they were marketing it: In addition to personal communication, innovative channels such as employee apps or corporate platforms with personalized content are well suited, as they are designed for interaction.


Building digital literacy

Parallel to the progress of the project, it is usually necessary to advance the development of digital competencies. This is illustrated by the "Digitalisierungsindex Mittelstand 2019/2020", published by Deutsche Telekom in collaboration with techconsult. In the study, only 34 percent of the companies surveyed state that their employees are sufficiently qualified to tackle digital change. 37 percent are already investing time and budget in continuing education.

Every employee in a company needs digital knowledge, albeit with differences. While in some departments the focus is on user knowledge, project managers who decisively advance digital progress need specialist knowledge in IT and project management as well as methodological knowledge. Ideally, the structure of the training should be laid down in a strategy: From online courses to academy degrees to business simulation scenarios, there are advanced training approaches for every target group. In addition, digital knowledge about new technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data or machine learning should be imparted. In the future, these will have a greater impact on the economic success of companies.


Enabling exchange within departments – and beyond

When deciding which further training courses are appropriate, the employees’ interest should always be considered. Employees who find a certain topic exciting tend to become more involved and thus become influencers within the company. Ideally, multipliers are used in every area to assist colleagues with changes such as the conversion of existing ERP systems to the new SAP S/4HANA Business Suite. In a familiar environment, there are often fewer inhibitions – more questions are asked and new knowledge is acquired. Multipliers can also help to obtain feedback from colleagues. Decision-makers and project managers should definitely react to this in order to intensify the exchange across departments.


Leaders need to create culture for change

In order to overcome the hurdles of corporate transformation, companies need a high degree of openness and agility. Network-like structures are much more likely to lead to success than fixed hierarchies. Employees should be allowed to make mistakes in the change process. When it comes to digital change, even magaging directors need new skills. They have a significant influence on the degree of digitization of a company and should see themselves as drivers, coaches and designers of transformation. It is their task to establish an open corporate culture that is characterized by an innovative approach and allows speedy changes as well as leeway for learning and experimentation. 


Bottom line

To successfully digitize a company is not an everyday task. Established processes, routines and structures need to be left behind, as data is becoming more and more relevant. Nevertheless, humans must be in the center of change. For companies, the top priority is to motivate employees and support them in relevant areas with the know-how of external service providers. After all, digitization can only be successful if everyone is contently and actively involved.