Throughout my career I’ve been asked countless times about how companies can master the complexities of technology and I’ve always answered the same way: “Actually, technology is the easy part.” When I first gave this answer, it had a different meaning than it does today – but nonetheless, it holds true.
As we find ourselves surrounded by disruption and working hard to innovate and adapt, we must acknowledge that people are the crux of our success or failure. Digital technology is the great enabler, but there’s a lot that it isn’t – it isn’t our spark, it isn’t our heart, and it isn’t the face of our brand. Our people are. And the glancing over of this fact is becoming a significant problem, especially as it compounds the concerning challenge of the talent gap.
Put People in Focus
Technology has dominated the focus of our innovation efforts for some time, and with good reason. As organizations sought to become digitally adept, setting our sights on technology as the driver of innovation was appropriate. But with a more level digital playing field and new facets of disruption entering the mix, we need to temper our innovation efforts with a greater focus on the role our people will play.
In the new era of delivering outcomes, connectivity, asset intelligence, and preemptive action are critical – but so too are the art of building rapport, confidence, and being viewed as a trusted advisor. As we continue to advance our digital landscape with tools like AI and ML to increase automation and improve business intelligence, we must recognize how the role of our frontline worker shifts more to that of a knowledge worker.
We must also acknowledge the harsh reality that COVID has left us with, which is that while the need we have for our frontline workers to embrace change is higher than ever before – their capacity for it may be frighteningly low. The pandemic has left us all stressed, scared, and feeling burnt out. That isn’t a great baseline from which to ask your employees for something new, for something more, but that is where we are – and that reality makes it even more crucial for us to put our people in the center of our focus.
For those who thrive in the linear land of technology evaluation and data-driven decision making, and struggle to grasp the less structured realm of feelings and emotions, this article may be causing some angst. Here are my thoughts on where to start when it comes to bringing your people, and their needs, front and center:
- Compassion. Start by stepping back, picturing yourself in your frontline workers’ shoes, and just thinking about how they may feel. Understand what their career has looked like thus far, and how different what you’re asking them to do as the company innovates and evolves really is. Acknowledge the emotions that may bring to the surface – anxiety, fear, frustration, concern, excitement, overwhelm, etc. – and broach your interactions with a sense of compassion about what your innovative objectives feel like from their end.
- Consensus. Understand that no one likes to feel as though things are happening to them; they want to be a part of the change, not the recipient of it. Moreover, as your needs and expectations of your frontline shift and you ask them to take on the role of trusted advisor, know that their insights and input are absolutely integral to your strategy and evolution. Treat them as such, perhaps even before you reach that point. If they feel a part of the journey from the beginning, they’ll not only experience less negative emotion, but they will add far more value along the way.
- Camaraderie. We all want to feel as though we’re a part of something. Often a frontline worker spends his or her days solo, and the events of the last 18 months have made many of us feel isolated in different ways than we ever have before. Looking for opportunities to foster a sense of camaraderie and community among your workforce can help employees feel more connected to one another, your company, and its mission and increase your chances of their buy-in and emotional wellbeing.
- Coaching. Many companies prioritize training in their change management strategies, but when you think about the depth of change at play in service evolution today, it requires more than the classroom instruction that the addition of a new tool would. This is why I think coaching is a more appropriate approach – training is a part of this, but not the whole. Coaching is more interactive, it is more ongoing, and it helps employees to feel you’re more invested in their success.
- Communication, but make it two-way. Communication is another area of change management that is commonly acknowledged and addressed, but it isn’t as bidirectional as it should be. Often companies focus efforts on communicating the “why” without seeking to understand any of the “what do you think?” afterward. As your service moves beyond transactional, so too should your relationship with your frontline workers you’re entrusting to lead your company’s evolution. Communicate, but not just in the sense of delivering a message – ask, and then listen. Authentically, thoughtfully, and with the intent to act on the feedback and feelings you hear.