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Digital transformation is multidimensional, involving people, work cultures, and technologies. Transformation programs are complex because they address tangible short-term needs, while at the same time building a foundation for the future, which is by definition uncertain. Inspiring people to work with new technologies in a context of uncertainty is challenging.
This challenge is compounded by the fact that, according to Gallup’s 2017 State of the Global Workplace report, employee engagement is low: Only 15% of employees on a global scale are “highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work.” The Gallup study concluded that engagement was much higher when people felt that their input mattered and that they had the autonomy to develop and implement new ideas. How can leaders create this context in their organization? During the past few years, my research has shown the behavior of senior leaders to be the top change driver in digital transformation projects. The question today is what leadership behaviors will inspire people and make them feel engaged in work in our fast-changing, uncertain world?
In my most recent study, I asked more than 300 managers in 27 countries about engagement using the question “How free do people in your organization feel to provide input and challenge ideas, including business models and work practices?” The data broke into three subsets of similar size: high engagement, low engagement, and neutral. When comparing the highly engaged groups with the less engaged groups, there were numerous fundamental differences around work practices and leadership behavior. Three strategic areas concerning senior leaders’ behavior and actions can increase meaning and engagement around digital transformation initiatives, making them more likely to succeed.
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Clarify the role of digital transformation within the company’s strategic vision, then walk the talk. Leaders who communicate effectively throughout the digital transformation process build engagement. They can start with these three best practices:
- Make it compelling and relevant. The “why” of a digital program has to be integrated into the organization’s overall vision and purpose. Digital is often perceived as an unwelcome disruption, just another corporate change program, but some people will realize that the change may affect their jobs and their future. They need a convincing reason to get on board. They need to believe before they will engage.
- Make it a priority. Competing priorities have long been a