Implementing the digital transformation successfully

Digitization will continue to fundamentally change the German economy in the years to come – especially for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). The ability to work together in a variety of locations, such as from a home office or on the road, in networked teams promotes flexibility, creativity and employee satisfaction. But getting fully immersed in these processes can be difficult at first. Breaking often-heard, foreign-sounding meta-concepts down into more familiar, comprehensible individual ideas helps here. Highly complex processes have to be tackled through comprehensible subtasks as part of practical implementation. This helps both managers and employees with internal communication, small-scale planning and general feasibility.

Seeing digitization as an opportunity – and helping people understand it

40 percent of German companies recognises the challenges of digitisation and want to actively exploit the opportunities it offers. But there is still some confusion about how to deal with this fundamental change – and there is a feeling that there is an absolute need to start pursuing digitization consistently. But the question is: How? According to study by Bitkom, the industry association for the German information and telecommunications industry, a quarter of respondents are worried about the existence of their companies if they fail to develop a strategy for digitization.

What is holding the process of digitization back?

Employees who do not have a deep insight into the corporate strategy are afraid they will lose their jobs. They may feel overwhelmed and are afraid that they will not be able to catch up with the new skills that are needed. You have probably heard things like this from your employees before: “But we’ve always done things this way”, “I can’t guarantee it will be work then” and “I can’t do that”. That means your most urgent task as CTO or IT manager is to develop a digital strategy and to remove these fears by getting employees on board at an early stage.

What exactly employees afraid of?

Every sixth employee fears for their job in the course of digitization according to a survey of 1,400 employees in Germany by the consulting firm EY. 70 percent expect changes in their area of responsibility; just under a third even expect significant changes. In fighting these fears, it is important to emphasize that the opposite is true: Jobs are actually in danger without digitization. That's because companies that jump on the train too late or do so inconsistently will have no chance in rapidly changing markets.

Construction worker works on a tablet

Employee motivation: Focus on people

Your own employees are not just a big obstacle; they also provide the greatest opportunity for successful digitization. As a CTO or IT manager, you are the interface between internal systems engineering and all other departments. One of your main duties as a digitization supervisor is to make people understand digitization. It is your job to communicate the leading processes transparently and in a timely way to your employees and later to the entire workforce and to make the goals something everyone can understand. Digitization can only work if people understand and accept it. They have to understand why innovations are essential. And ultimately they have to adopt them. Motivation is the deciding factor here. How can you ensure digitization will succeed? You can make it succeed by involving your employees in the process, allowing them to help shape it and make decisions – at least in their own area of work. Don’t make your employees feel that digitization is an (additional) burden; they need to feel they are part of a process that would not be possible without them.

Remember: Your employees are already further on in digitization in their private lives

Booking a holiday or concert tickets online? Finding a destination with your smartphone navigation system? Retrieving e-mails while on your tablet? Most of them have long experienced digitization as an asset in their private lives. And yet they cling to the familiar in their jobs. This phenomenon runs through all hierarchical levels. The difference is in the freedom of choice. In their private lives, they have taken the decision themselves, but in their professional lives digitization is forced on them. This causes negative feelings such as fear of change, skepticism, and denial.

Digitization: Everyone has to be involved

The solution: Understand the concerns and motivations of your employees by actively involving them in the process. This may include training formats, such as external support workshops, which provide hands-on guidance about which specific tools can be used. This can give rise to a common digital strategy, a common vision about what the innovations look like and what they can do. For example, IDG, the world’s largest provider of IT media, was one of the first publishers in Germany to move away from print to digital publications and services in very specific transformations dictated by the market. They did this through company-wide workshops with digitization experts. Every employee was asked to visualize their current role and job within the workflow. Huge diagrams were created, which formed the starting point for discussions, suggestions, and improvements. These diagrams were then transformed by the individual departments into needs-based goals and concrete measures for each work unit. The results were motivated, active employees in a functioning company that could compete worldwide in the extremely volatile market for IT media.

Digitization: Seize the opportunity

Anyone who succeeds in inspiring their employees about digitization and its benefits by taking their worries seriously and assuaging them will benefit.