First Impressions Count, Especially with Digital Transformation

Written By: Brian Potts
Date: March 30, 2019

First impressions have always counted, be it on a date, during an interview or a sales meeting. First impressions are also critical to employees when discussing an upcoming digital transformation, ERP, web-enablement initiative, systems consolidation or any form of technology initiative.

In most cases, employees are familiar with the concept of change and they have either experienced it firsthand or witnessed others going through a technology project. The initial thoughts that generally surround a transformation include a variation of interest, excitement, concern, and in some cases, fear.

For this reason, it is crucial to get a lead on setting the “first impression” that employees have on a transformation and what it means to both their company as well as their jobs and personal lives. The initial communications across the organization can have a dramatic effect on the overall adoption, timeline, budgets and success of the initiative.

Following are a few tips to initiating communications as part of the organizational change management strategy of your digital transformation initiative:

Don’t wait: The speed of information is ever increasing, especially within the workforce. Social media, email and good old face-to-face water cooler talk cumulate and word spreads fast. As soon as you have approval or confirmation on the project, you need to plan and manage the flow of information from that point as people are already talking. A great time to start is during the contracting period as vendors and consulting firms are being evaluated. People will see “suits” start to show up and wonder what is happening. Don’t let the message spread on its own.

Keep messaging simple to start: Details may not be known on the outset of an initiative, so be careful not to share too much information or detail that may change. Simply letting people know what is going to happen, why it is going to happen, and the anticipated outcome is a great start. It lets employees know that everyone is being kept in the loop and will be appreciated.

Keep messaging consistent: Word travels fast, and per the telephone game we have all played, the message can spread quick and go in many different directions. It is important to have a plan to redirect any skewed messaging that may be occurring. This is one of the many missing components of many organizational change management plans.

Use a variety of medium: Emails are easy, but depending on your industry, not everyone may use email consistently. Those who receive 100s of emails per day may also overlook an important message. Consider providing updates in newsletters, team meetings, one-on-one conversations, etc. As more information, timelines and plans become available these established paths of communication will already be entrenched. This initial reach-out is a terrific way to lead into a formalized communications plan.

Be sure to include WIIFM messaging: When it comes down to it, while employees as a whole are hopefully excited to see their organization move to new heights, in the end what matters is the impact it will have on each person individually. Until a change impact assessment is in place, include some general messaging that will connect with certain departments and individuals within those departments, along with how the overall organization will be better as a result.

Don’t overpromise: This is probably the most important message. I still recall the look on my girlfriend’s face when I drove up in my faded 1988 Subaru station wagon after telling her I had a “sweet car”. To be clear I was talking about the stereo, but my messaging was obviously overstated. Most people are aware of the tremendous impact that technology is having on our world in general, and most don’t quite grasp how expensive or difficult it is to manage a transformation on a corporate level. Expectations will grow quickly, and if not managed can lead to disappointment and lack of adoption later.

If you are part of a digital transformation in the retail industry, for example, and tell people that you are updating your web-portal and delivery, many will immediately think “Amazon”. This is a great time to reshare the messaging on how your company differentiates in the market and how this initiative is going to enhance that competitive edge even more. Don’t tell everyone you are going to be like Amazon unless you have a very significant budget and know what you are getting into. (Also see: How the CIO of Foot Locker is Raising the Bar for Digital Transformation).

As far as the specific messaging that goes out that will depend on your organization. You will likely need to work through this with HR, and may be very worthwhile to bring in outside help to set the tone and define the communications approach from the beginning.

Brian Potts

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