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The 4 practical steps a business needs to follow to implement digital transformation – Part 2

University of Michigan's Ross School of Business shares the second in a 4-part article series on digital transformation, detailing the four practical steps companies can take to implement digital transformation – to successfully “make the leap” across the digital divide.

This article digs deeper into educating employees to raise their skill level they are equipped to lead and implement digital initiatives Managers leading digital transformation efforts often lack the key skills and experiences needed to run digital transformation projects The successful businesses, government agencies and not-for-profits, which realize that digital transformation is not “just another IT project,” are investing in upskilling the workforce at each step of the journey

Authors: Mary Hinesly, Professor of Executive Education, University of Michigan Ross School of Business; and Jay Srage, Head of Operations – MEA, University of Michigan Ross School of Business.

Welcome to the second in a series of four articles on practical steps companies can take to implement digital transformation – to successfully “make the leap” across the digital divide. These articles will be published over the coming days, so stay tuned for the latest articles in this series.

There are four practical steps companies can take to implement digital transformation and “make the leap” across the digital divide. A previous article discussed conducting a digital audit to fully understand the current state of technology and cultural readiness in the firm.  This article digs deeper into educating employees to raise their skill level so that they are equipped to lead and implement digital initiatives. Parts three and four focus on selecting technology based on a rational framework, and applying and implementing technology through collaborative communication. When organizations attend to these four steps, technology adoption happens smoothly – a state of things we call “Technology Cohesion.” 

Step 2 – Educating the workforce for digital readiness


Managers leading digital transformation efforts often lack the key skills and experiences needed to run digital transformation projects. Similarly, employees engaging with new technologies too-often lack confidence in the tools, and/or they fail to see the link to their individual and business goals, resulting in low adoption. 

We know that technology will ideally reduce some types of work for the employee and fit into the employee’s work flow, but we need to help the employees see how they can realize those benefits in their own roles. They need to see “What’s in it for me.”  Eventually, technology adoption can be harmonized with individual goal plans and reward mechanisms to celebrate the right behaviors.

Recently, an organization skipped this step, and the results were very unfavorable. They tried to implement a trendy social networking “chat” tool. Unfortunately, the managers overseeing this initiative, who lacked proper education on how digital transformation worked, required the users to keep using email for all key decisions.  So the result was they added a tool which required employees to do twice as much administrative work as before. Employees had to frequently check both the tool and emails, resulting in missed information. It caused frustration, resistance, and disruption of the team’s cohesiveness until the team decided to drop the social media tool and go back to using emails. 

If the project leaders and project team had been educated up front how to assess the real impact of the tool they were implementing, how to deploy the tool, and how the tool actually worked so they could teach others, they could have better supported the employees.  They could have pushed back on managers who insisted on keeping email for every decision. The employees, if educated on how to apply tool, could have found new and innovative ways to streamline their decision and approval processes.

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The successful businesses, government agencies and not-for-profits, which realize that digital transformation is not “just another IT project,” are investing in upskilling the workforce at each step of the journey.  Then, these journeys become a continuous process of improving the efficiency and accuracy of operations, growing and accelerating revenue sources, and freeing up funds and energy to invest in innovation. 

We need to educate project teams on how to handle each step. For example, before a process can be digitized, the team needs to build complete comprehension of the workflow and tasks, and understand what is working and not working in the current state. They need to be skeptical and ask tough questions because what is said, and what is actually done, often differs. Business unit leaders and HR can be trained with process mapping methodologies that can help the IT team understand the real work processes and more accurately guide the technology decisions, education efforts and roll out plans. 

These practices and skillsets can then be linked to goals and reward mechanisms. There needs to be a concurrent skill development plan that addresses three key elements: identifying initiatives that reduce cost and/or lead to new products; creating deployment strategies which make those initiatives happen; and the practical skills to execute those plans. 

To bridge the digital divide, organizations need to upskill their managers and employees to embrace new tools and new ways of working together to create agility.  

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