In the past, the term “digital workflow” was a buzzword thrown around loosely when anyone mentioned digital transformation.
Today organizations are acutely aware that automation and effective digital processes are key in shaping both the employee and customer experiences. Done well, a company is set up for success on all fronts. Done badly, the situation will quickly go from bad to worse.
Unfortunately, there is no magic wand to suddenly have a successful or optimized workflow. The only way to learn what works for your organization, employees, and customers, is by experimenting.
Let’s start this discussion by defining what I mean when I talk about digital workflow. Digital workflow is a combination of digitized data, guidelines, processes and tasks. Information is accessible at the touch of a button; processes can be monitored, and tasks can be automated to increase productivity.
So, how can companies reduce the risks of employee frustration and increase customer retention by adopting new technologies?
In my experience, it all comes down to the basics of good communication with the people involved. Do your customers or staff really need a new system? Or are you simply chasing a shiny new tool? Will your suggested overhaul optimize or hinder operations? How are you sure?
If staff and customers aren’t encouraging the project, or don’t understand where the change is coming from, you are setting yourself up for disaster. This is something I’ve learned by experience and is neatly put together by the Harvard Business Review’s article, Digital transformation is not about technology:
“Fundamentally, it’s because most digital technologies provide possibilities for efficiency gains and customer intimacy. But if people lack the right mindset to change and the current organizational practices are flawed, DT will simply magnify those flaws.”
As a firm believer of learning from mistakes, I’d like to share a few examples where great ideas and exciting projections about a new system didn’t work out as envisioned, all because of a lack of communication with key stakeholders:
About 20 years ago I was part of a team that decided to bring and implement a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) technology to a manufacturing company with about 800 employees. The new ERP tool would replace legacy systems and integrate with the whole company’s operational processes.
We set the teams, hired a change management consultant, got a clear project chapter approved by the sponsors, and thought we were good to go.
In the fourth week of the project, we reached a conflict between staff and the ERP consultancy team. On the one hand, our staff wanted to integrate the new ERP using current processes. This would have required several customizations (and extra investments) into the system.
On the other hand, the ERP team advocated for implementing the system as is and changing the way our company did things.
In the end, a mere three months later, neither consultant nor staff was on the same page and the project was shut down. We lost millions and were left with deeply frustrated employees.
Simply put, we focused on the tool, not in the strategy. Nobody would argue that the new ERP wouldn’t have improved our performance, however, it was not clear what kind of performance we were after or what the specific goals were in the end.
If we invested some extra time to research, we would’ve realized that our supply chain process was efficient, and our team was happy with those processes. It was actually our sales process which was slow and needed an overhaul.
Our internal communications approach was the old-fashioned way of doing things. Top-down, without listening to employees’ feedback or their concerns about the upcoming changes. Sadly, this is an approach to internal communications that is still used for many organizations.
Two years later we decided to try the same project again but using a totally different approach to communication. We gave staff a voice and reflected on their experiences (both good and bad) to drive the changes.
Ten months later the project was completed, and operational costs were cut down by 10%. A stark comparison to the massive losses from our first attempt.
The beauty of learning from your mistakes is that it is a continuous process. Just a few years ago at IC Thrive, we decided to implement a new software to support our customer experience processes. The goal of the software was to capture customer pulse and satisfaction.
After spending weeks researching, we decided on an expensive tool with more features we initially wanted.
After a year, the software’s utilization was less than 50% and we started to see gaps in reporting and integration with our CRM. We canceled the service right there and then.
If we had captured input from customers, we’d likely have ended up with a different tool or have leveraged the current solutions we already had – which was what we chose later.
In conclusion, how should companies leverage the benefits of new technologies?
Not sure how to start difficult conversations with staff? Read this guide on how to manage change effectively.
Marcelo Orellana is the vice president of operations at IC Thrive. With over 30 years’ experience in management and working with organizations based in four of the seven continents, he has a wealth of knowledge in all things business. A natural-born strategic thinker, he is passionate about business planning and looking at things with a bigger vision in mind.
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