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By Sophie Cavanagh, Director of Consulting, Pollen8

Today’s workforce is overwhelmingly positive about the potential for technology to improve their lives. But they also have concerns about how it can be used. When PwC asked if artificial intelligence is making the world a better place, for example, while 88% of the C-suite agreed, only 48% of staff felt the same.

As digital transformation (DT) sweeps through all sectors from financial services to retail to construction, a big challenge within organisations is embedding technological change with the buy-in of every employee. Risk of DT failure was the number one concern for CEOs and top executives last year, according to the Harvard Business Review. Leaders are well aware of the importance of employees committing to change, despite the inevitable disruption required.

What’s your problem?

My belief is that new technologies are redundant when they aren’t seen to be solving a real problem in employees’ eyes. If, from the start, technologies are addressing a ‘good problem’ everyone will understand the long-term vision of making life better.

For successful technology change, I advocate allowing employees to be part of the process of coming up with the solution. That way, the technology will be fit for purpose, and the employees won’t feel like it’s being forced upon them.

Problem-solving process

We need to move beyond the ‘us and them. It’s possible to develop a business-wide culture of experimentation, innovation, intrapreneurship and growth through empowerment of the workforce. Insightful ideas from within can become impactful projects – which could give your company a much-needed competitive boost.

Leadership, culture, training and workshops play their part in instilling this problem-solving mindset. You also need the tools to make surfacing, discussing and sharing ideas and flagging up problems part of everyday working life. At Pollen8 we’ve helped businesses set up bespoke ‘ideas capture’ processes through our innovation platform, to encourage innovative thinking among workforces.

Always looking ahead, global bank ING has just announced the launch of ING Neo to consolidate and reinforce its innovation activities. “Our ambition is to increase the pace of innovation to stay a step ahead of the changes and evolutions in the world,” says the finance giant. After all, innovation is more than just launching the right ideas. It’s about developing a system that you can embed in your business to deliver benefits continuously.

Managing the challenges of change

With technology adoption, there should also be scope for employees at all levels to raise concerns as new systems bed in. Frontline staff often see first-hand where small problems are arising that may disappoint customers or slow employee productivity. Give them the voice and the confidence to speak up and recommend further changes or tweaks to a new tech system, and benefits to the bottom line are likely to be delivered far more swiftly.

Sophie Cavanagh

Sophie Cavanagh

Suggestions from within are more likely to be anchored in the day-to-day reality of operations. And there can be quick wins when small glitches are sorted out.

Who owns the change story?

Clear communication is critical during a digital transformation. Many firms adopt an internal ‘change story’ to help employees understand where the organisation is heading, why it is changing, and why the change is important. According to McKinsey research, organisations that follow this practice are more than three times more likely to achieve a successful transformation.

I feel strongly that a change story makes much more sense if it began at grassroots level – by the very people who flagged a problem and suggested the need for change in the first place.

The story must not end abruptly either. It’s essential to continue demonstrating to colleagues that their ideas and recommendations are valued and being utilised for the good of the organisation’s future. Innovation must be an open, ongoing dialogue across the business.

Encourage honesty

A common roadblock when engendering a culture of problem-solving, is that people often find it difficult to be candid about existing problems. Is it safe to flag up things that aren’t working as well as they should? Would it look disrespectful to management to suggest opportunities that might have been missed?

This level of caution can be detrimental to progress. So leaders need to facilitate a culture of honesty. It will help to host regular forums where ‘hard’ conversations like these are surfaced and acknowledged by management. These behaviours should be used as an example by leadership for the wider company to adopt. Having a permanent platform for this level of collaboration, ideas sharing and feedback should also ease the pain of technology change.

Celebrate the creativity

Staying competitive means continuing to evolve as an organisation and making changes to both process and technology to gain a competitive edge over the competition. To do this well, I  believe we need every employee to take the initiative, suggest ideas for improvement, and truly care.

Finding ways to use that creativity has never been more significant, as we face unprecedented change in our working lives. Digital transformation is a given, but it’s about so much more than technology.

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