What are the biggest challenges and pitfalls of digitization projects? Some possible answers could include a lack of digitization strategy and expertise, rigid infrastructure or data security. One of the most common challenges, however, doesn’t have anything to do with technology. It has everything to do with people. Because it is people who drive change, and people who adopt it. How to ensure that organizations put people first and maintain employee engagement in the digital era? These are the topics that we are going to address in this article.
Luděk, Ennvea’s CEO, has led dozens of digitisation projects in manufacturing companies all over the world. Now he is sharing his experience and know-how in a series of posts focusing on continuous improvement and manufacturing digitisation.
INTRODUCTION: EMPLOYEES AND SOFTWARE TOOLS
The primary purpose of software tools is to make work easier for people. With the help of software, people can work faster and more efficiently – simply by automating certain tasks. They can also make better decisions – by having access to the right data at the right time.
The problem is that people often feel threatened by the new technology; they worry they might be replaced by it. In some other cases, employees don’t see the added value of the solution and they don’t understand why they can’t just continue working the way they are used to. These are the main sources of resistance to change. However, there is one more thing to consider when discussing the impact of digital transformation on people in organizations. With various software tools in place, it might be challenging to “stay in touch” with employees and actually communicate with them instead of just dealing with (and relying on) data.
Adopting change: A User-first approach
When preparing and planning digitization projects, companies spend a lot of time and effort looking into the benefits that the selected solution will bring to the organization. These typically include a quick ROI, better traceability, higher production efficiency or waste reduction. How much energy is spent on analyzing the needs of the employees who will be using the solution? How much attention is given to user benefits (which are, by definition, different from company benefits)?
Focusing on users from the very beginning helps reduce employee resistance and contributes to a smoother adoption of change.
Here is an overview of the 4 steps that you can take in order to increase employee engagement during digitization projects.
1. Identify key users & their needs
First, you need to understand who the key users are. What are their roles and responsibilities? What do they need from the solution in order to perform their jobs more efficiently?
2. Identify user benefits
How will the change affect the users? How will they benefit from the solution? What routine tasks will the solution help automate? Explain to your employees that they will be able to focus on meaningful work instead of wasting time on “boring” tasks. Try to be as specific as possible. Create a vision that the users will be able to identify with.
3. Set up a communication and training plan
Think through the best way to communicate with the users in order to keep them involved every step of the way. Pay special attention to the training plan. Setting up a good training program ensures that the users will be able to work with the tool efficiently – which means they will quickly experience the benefits.
4. Continuously improve
Once the employees start using the software, it’s necessary to keep collecting feedback and work together to continuously improve the solution. If the users feel that you listen to them and are open to their suggestions, they will be more willing to take an active part in the process.
Making the most of human potential in the digital era
Imagine you’ve successfully implemented a solution and your employees are using it. A new challenge is ahead of you: making sure that the software tool remains a “good servant” rather than becoming a “bad master.” What do we mean by that? Although the use of software tools has unquestionable benefits (such as data availability and traceability), you need to make sure that you still put your employees, their knowledge and their potential first. In other words, you should treat the system just as a data source. It is people who are able to understand and evaluate the data; base decisions on the data.
It is people who add value to data.
Gemba meetings are a great opportunity to apply this approach. You can use a report from your MES to analyze the possible root causes of lower production efficiency during a particular shift. By engaging your team and asking the right questions, you are gaining valuable insights that data can never provide you with. And you are showing your employees that they matter and building a culture of trust.
Let’s look at another example – this one is related to Ennvea’s own software tool and its implementation. eKaizen is a platform for the digitization of continuous improvement. It helps organizations engage employees in the process by allowing them to easily share and track their improvement ideas (you can check it out here). But here’s the tricky part. The platform aims to increase employee engagement, yet at the same time organizations are supposed to tell their employees something along the lines of “when you have a good idea, don’t come to us, put it in the system instead.” Obviously we didn’t want that.
We didn’t want to “dehumanize” a process that is solely based on people’s creativity and their willingness to share ideas.
How did we help our clients address this issue? We combined the following two strategies:
- First, we identified the key user benefits. We emphasized that it will be easier for employees-submitters to track the current status of their ideas and get relevant feedback. That their ideas will never get lost or forgotten. We explained that once their idea is successfully implemented, the platform will ensure they will get all the credit. That their success story will be promoted across the organization and they will even be able to inspire their coworkers.
- Next, we thought about how to bring the platform closer to where it all happens, closer to people – to gemba. Although you can use any device to submit and track an idea with eKaizen, we believe it’s best to implement a kiosk on the production floor. It can then be used during regular gemba meetings. The team can access the platform together, discuss new ideas that have been submitted, talk about ongoing improvement projects. These interactions have a great potential to generate interesting suggestions and insights.
The feedback we’re getting from our clients is positive. By adopting these strategies, they have been successful in promoting eKaizen in their organizations and they have managed to increase employee engagement in continuous improvement.
The takeaway: digital transformation AS a people-centered process
- Engage the key users from the very beginning of digitization projects. Take the time to identify their needs as well as the benefits the new system will bring them.
- Communicate with them throughout the process and set up an efficient training plan.
- Be ready to collect feedback from all stakeholders and be open to suggestions that may improve the process or the user experience.
- Keep in mind that the system only provides data – your employees add real value.