If you're serious about digital transformation, start with employee experience

Profile picture for user barb.mosher By Barb Mosher Zinck October 11, 2017
Digital transformation is a top priority for most enterprises, but fresh data points to key gaps. One of those gaps is employee experience - here's what to do about it.

If digital transformation is to be more than a buzzword, then many organizations need to make a lot of changes in how they do business. You may say those changes start with how they view and engage with the customer. But too often, there’s another group that is ignored, to the detriment of digital transformation efforts - employees.

I was reading Altimeter Group’s 2017 State of Digital Transformation (free with registration), and the story it tells would make anyone wonder if organizations are just paying lip service to real customer experience and digital transformation.

Only 34% have mapped out the complete customer journey (down from the 54% noted in the previous year’s study). If you aren’t mapping the customer journey and updating it regularly - because customer expectations and behaviors are changing all the time - then how can you ensure your transformation efforts are right?

This lack of ongoing effort to understand the customer is what many people focus on and rightly so. It’s critical to get it right, and that requires constantly re-evaluating your strategies. But employees are another key group that organizations need to pay attention if digital transformation is going to happen because if you train your employees properly, you can deliver effective CX.

Ignoring the needs of employees

There are two stats in the Altimeter report that stand out as major challenges to digital transformation:

  • 31.4% said they lack the digital talent and experience among employees and leadership
  • 31% said general culture issues are a major challenge

Also in that list - human barriers like politics, egos, and fear.

Let’s look at digital talent. Things are changing so fast that large educational institutions don’t seem to be able to keep up, which means programs are outdated too soon. If you look at job requirements for many mid to high-level jobs, big degrees are required. So the question is - are companies hiring for digital positions people who are somewhat qualified because they can tick the box on the education requirement?

Marketing is a great example of how higher education isn’t adequately preparing students for the digital expertise they need. Content marketing, martech stacks that include marketing automation, testing, attribution, account-based marketing, and advertising - you don’t see these covered in most marketing degrees. We could probably give a similar story for engineering or computer degrees and IoT, AI and AR.

From the Digital Marketing Institute:

By now, we all know that there is a substantial and growing shortage of digital skills across industries and continents. The question for educators isn’t if demand exists for digital know-how, it’s how to provide the high-quality training that professionals need and businesses want.

As organizations continue to integrate digital across their business, the key challenge is the scale and speed of change. Due to this pace, many professionals already in roles, along with recent graduates looking for career opportunities, are not qualified to drive the digital needs of businesses.

What we are finding is that organizations may not be hiring the right talent, because they are looking at the wrong things on a resume. But they also aren’t looking internally at the talent they have and trying to figure out how to build the digital skills they need.

Current employees understand the business and, hopefully, the market. Recognizing those employees that are excited to train up and mix that experience with digital strategies and technologies seems common sense. But are organizations doing this? It seems like it’s not a priority for many.

The lack of digital talent in established companies is also understandable when you look at the number of startups and smaller, agile companies that draw digital talent like bees to honey. It’s not just younger people fresh of out of school who are digital natives, but older workers who have a natural affinity to learning new skills and technologies are also drawn to companies where they feel like the work they do is making an impact.

Evolving the employee experience

Age is not the real challenge when trying to develop digital skills in-house - opportunity is.

UNESCO’s ‘Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development’ report on ‘Digital Skills for Life & Work’ defines digital skills this way:

The term ‘digital skills’ refers to a range of different abilities, many of which are not only ‘skills’ per se, but a combination of behaviours, expertise, know-how, work habits, character traits, dispositions and critical understandings.

It’s not just teaching someone to run a marketing automation system or analytics software. It’s developing a well-rounded skill set that includes thinking, testing, constantly learning and applying that knowledge to different situations and opportunities. It doesn’t matter how old the employee is, it matters their desire to learn and grow and the organization’s desire to invest in them.

What are some ways you can evolve the employee experience?

  • Change the culture to one that gives equal opportunities to all employees, regardless of tenure. New employees need to believe they have access to the same opportunities if they demonstrate the ability to learn and grow. Existing employees need to believe they have the same opportunities to grow and expand beyond their current situation.
  • Adopt a continuous learning program that gives time for training and opportunities to apply it as it’s happening.
  • Bridge the gap between digital natives and business experience by grouping or pairing employees to share skills and knowledge - while ensuring tboth that this isn’t an effort to only transfer knowledge, but to grow teams who will work together to grow the company.

Human resources play a major role in improving the employee experience, and in turn growing the digital talent necessary for transformation. But it also means HR needs to adopt a digital perspective, another area in the company where there is typically a lack of skills and understanding of digital.

My take

Jon Reed covered the digital skills gap almost a year ago, and it feels like things still haven’t changed:

Most degrees are insufficient for the required combination of tech, collaboration, and business skills. What’s needed are creative solutions for companies to transition raw talent into digital contributors. With the prevalence of digital needs across industries, a limited approach to fighting over rock stars will prove inadequate at any rate.

Maybe organizations struggle with digital talent because they aren’t looking at the challenge holistically. They think they need to hire new people to get the digital talent, but can’t because existing talent has seniority and the needed business understanding. Getting the two to play well together is the biggest opportunity and should be the focus. Culture needs to evolve first, training needs to follow closely and employee relationship building must be an on-going effort.