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In an essay published by the World Economic Forum, its founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab dramatically describes how an impending revolution powered by technology will change the world:

“We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.”

The fundamental change Schwab talks about has already begun. In the workplace, it’s digital transformation, and it’s creating unprecedented challenges for employees and business leaders alike. It’s forcing organizations to rethink how they achieve their goals and even what their goals are. Do they start small, with isolated innovation projects, or do they take a comprehensive approach? The final result itself isn’t clearly defined—at what point does a company become “digital”?

There may not yet be a definitive course of action toward the digital future, but there’s no doubt that people are at the center. Providing modern tools is important, without a doubt, but improving communication and cultivating a modern mindset is critical to driving change and moving organizations forward. A recent survey report by McKinsey & Company notes that when everyone in an organization plays a role in transformation, successful outcomes are more likely. For company leaders, that means articulating a vision and communicating actively.

When everyone in an organization plays a role in transformation, successful outcomes are more likely

–McKinsey & Company

Communication is critical for many reasons. When employees feel like they have a stake in the outcome, they are more engaged. When they have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities, they are more effective. When they feel like their actions and opinions matter—regardless of level or career stage—they are more involved, and even more innovative.

A transformation is 5.8 times more likely to be successful at organizations where CEOs “communicate a compelling, high-level change story,” according to McKinsey, and 6.3 times likelier when senior leaders share aligned messages about the change with the rest of the organization.

That’s not to say that leaders need to communicate more. Rather, they need to find ways to do it effectively. The McKinsey report suggests steps companies can take to move forward, including:

  1. Continually communicate not only small transformation milestones, but also larger transformation goals. Encourage dialogue with pulse surveys and “progress parties” celebrating project milestones.
  2. Engage employees with creative, more digital approaches. Use social media, change management apps or games, and live feedback tools. Make communication more tailored and personal, and provide regular updates on the transformation’s progress. Implement tools that enable employees to learn more about the transformation on their terms, and give them the ability to provide feedback.

For business leaders, the time to act is now.

Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace report notes an “unsettling pattern” in U.S. companies—that employees have little faith in their organization’s leadership. The report highlights the following data:

  • 22% of employees strongly agree that their company’s leaders have a clear direction for the organization
  • 15% of employees strongly agree that their company’s leaders make them feel enthusiastic about the future
  • 13% of employees strongly agree that their company’s leaders communicate effectively with the rest of the organization

According to the Gallup report, the data shows an urgency for leaders to define and communicate their vision more clearly, and to “rally employees around it.”

Today, the idea of digital transformation isn’t new, but it still provokes more questions than it does answers. There are a few certainties, however, most notably the critical role employees play. When organizations recognize people as the drivers of big change, their chances of future success will increase.

Image: Freepik

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