How to empower your employees through a digital transformation


If you’re leading the digital transformation for your organization, think of the top five things you’re solving for. Portfolio strategy, infrastructure investments and customer experience are likely on your list. Now, think again: where do your employees rank on the list? Are they even on the list? 


When driving digital transformation, many leaders seek to hire new digital roles, but leave their current employees — the lifeblood of any business — to navigate sweeping changes without the right tools. In our work at Method, we’ve seen this first hand: 


  • At an international airport committed to delivering a world-class passenger experience, employees had limited technology at their fingertips to guide passengers through the labyrinth of gates and terminals. They resorted to using their personal phones for maps, language translations and more.


  • At a retail chain with a lauded mobile experience, employees tasked with determining product pricing were buried in multiple systems and spreadsheets with no single source of truth. 


  • At a major insurer, employees in the workers’ comp division had a platform for serving their direct business customers (the employers), leaving operators without clear tools for engaging with the injured person.    


An organization’s relationship with its workforce is just that, a relationship — the same as you might have with a friend, a child, a parent. An employee’s sense of dignity in that relationship comes from respect, and respect comes from being heard, and being asked. “Not being asked is the most compromising non-action you can do in a relationship, of any kind,” says Liliana Petrova, the former customer experience director at Jetblue. “Not being asked means I don’t matter.” 


When your organization requires your employees to interact with clunky tools or engage in tedious processes, you are signaling a lack of respect and a devaluing of dignity. At any organization, this will greatly influence how employees approach their jobs, their interactions with each other and their interactions with customers. Employee experience drives the customer experience, and in large ecosystems that rely on thousands of micro-interactions with customers, this can result in a serious degradation of the customer experience and embody a “death by a thousand cuts.” 


So while everything on your digital transformation checklist is worth solving, it is essential to add your employees to the list. A digital transformation is an incredible opportunity to champion them, by simplifying their jobs and arming them for the road ahead. Apply similar critical care — and yes, appropriate cash — to the greater role your employees will likely play. How might you arm them with the right tools to support your transformational march? 

Here are a few key steps to ensure your efforts in digital transformation are inclusive of your employees:


Map the spheres of influence

Start by mapping out all the employee groups as discrete entities. Think of the influence they have on each other and your customers. The greater the spheres of influence an employee group has, the higher they should be on your list to determine the role digital can play for them. If they have direct interactions with your customers, that should be a sure sign to put them on an accelerated track. 


Investigate the pain points

Many employee groups are involved in what are perceived to be mundane and repetitive tasks. There’s a script to follow or a spreadsheet to fill in, day in and day out. It’s important to observe these individuals in action. At Jetblue, this meant a listening tour for Petrova and her customer experience colleagues. When updating the boarding management tool for gate agents, they traveled to airports across the country and hosted lunches for gate agents and others who used the software. They applied the same rigor and the same listening tools that they would with the customer, and created new channels of communication where employees could quickly express their feedback and ideas, which often became product requirements.


Some may be concerned that “taking employees out of their jobs” will result in a loss of revenue for the business. Even if that’s true in the short term, it’s worth it — it’s critical to give employees the time and space to co-create their digital future, as they will then have a vested interest in helping it succeed. The people closest to the product will know what they need. As Petrova puts it, “the IT guys never know what filters are important for the frontline unless someone asks the frontline and informs IT.”


Measure what matters

These efforts to enhance the employee experience will likely show up in your customer experience scores. An overall NPS survey may be too broad to capture it, but you can investigate the specific touchpoints where you’ve made a difference to the employee experience. On the employee side, a culture of dignity and respect will naturally decrease turnover and increase perception of leadership. But it’s also worth looking beyond functional metrics like attrition or perception of leadership. Look at how the employees truly feel about their ability to express themselves as measured through creativity, courage, curiosity, invention, purpose, and amazement. Equally, if not more important, look at an employee’s sense of belonging, measured through connection, mutual respect, inclusivity, psychological safety, shared values and recognition. 


If you are clued in to the spheres of influence, if you know the advocates, and you are truly listening — you will know if you are succeeding in this effort. People will not be afraid to come to you. By mapping influence, giving employees a voice, and measuring what matters, your digital transformation efforts will transform much more than your technology. They will transform your culture into one where your employees feel empowered to go above and beyond to improve your customer experience — and therefore your brand, your business and your bottom line.


As John F. Kennedy put it in his 1960 presidential nomination acceptance speech, “I believe in human dignity as the source of national purpose …and in the human mind as the source of our invention and our ideas.” When we champion employees through change, we empower them to problem solve, to invent, and to improve our world through contagious empathy, kindness and creative innovation. 


This article was written by Reema Pinto, with contributions from Erin Peace and Livie Casto. Illustration by Mike Andersen