Digital Transformation Initiatives Can’t Ignore the Employee Experience

Brad Grissom
Dec 18, 2016 · 4 min read

Most digital transformation initiatives currently focus outward on the Customer Experience and for good reason. How customers interact — and more importantly, how they expect to interact — with companies today has been significantly influenced by consumer-focused technologies. As customers, we desire simple, lightweight, and intuitive interactions that quickly get us to our goal. Companies that are providing these interactions are excelling in customer service, satisfaction, and new acquisitions. Companies that provide novel experiences have upended entire markets and business models. It is no wonder then that executives steer funding and resources toward improving customer experiences. Companies are, after all, ultimately in business to serve their customers.

Somewhere further down the list of digital transformation goals is a mention to improving internal processes and/or applications and services used by the internal workforce. Although it may rightly be lower on the list, it shouldn’t be ignored. One of the things I’ve learned from working at Southwest Airlines is the value in truly treating your employees as your number one asset. Southwest has ingrained in the culture the concept that employees are the primary customers of what we do, our passengers come second, and shareholders come last. The idea is that if you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of the passengers, and if we do a great job at that, our shareholders will benefit. I know every company doesn’t follow this exact mantra, but taking care of employees is something that is viewed much more favorably today than it likely ever has at any point in time before.

Employees expect the same simple, intuitive, and pleasurable experiences when dealing with internal systems and services just as they do as consumers. If we can excel in providing these experiences, we can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of internal processes, improve employee job satisfaction, and become known as a great place to work (Southwest Airlines Named #28 on Glassdoor’s 2017 Best Places to Work).

One of the ways that digital transformation manifests within organizations is through the ‘Digital Workplace’ program. The digital workplace concept goes beyond the traditional boundaries of internal communication channels and employee systems of record such as intranets, HR portals, and document repositories to include all the ways that an employee interacts digitally within the organization. Communication and collaboration systems and processes are a core component of the digital workplace. Inward focused digital transformation is about bringing mobile, socially enabled, smart experiences to the workforce. It’s the consumerization of information technology in the workplace.

One thing that digital workplace initiatives and strategies do not need to be is disruptive. Digital disruption is best reserved for breaking into new markets, reinventing the ways customers acquire and consume services, and defining new business models. Few companies can afford to take a risk on completely upending their internal processes. Workers would revolt, and work would come to a screeching halt. Digital workplace strategies are best implemented with an incremental delivery approach.

Even with an incremental approach, care must be given to providing continued levels of expected and required service to employees. You can’t simply replace a legacy HR system with a new 1.0 product that doesn’t account for key features and functionality.

I love the agile analogy of a skateboard moving through iterative development to a scooter, a bicycle, a motorcycle, and finally a car. However, if someone has an old beat up truck, you can’t give them a skateboard and expect for them to be able to do the same type of work they could do with their truck. They most likely need a new truck.

Internal transformation efforts can be iterative, however. They will just need to take a parallel path alongside incumbent systems and processes. Having duplicate, competing systems isn’t a long term objective of course, but may be a necessary tradeoff during implementation and early adoption stages of transforming how work gets done. Running parallel systems will allow you to take risks, fail fast, and learn as you go — all while soliciting real feedback and incorporating learnings into future releases. You can’t do that if you rip out existing systems all at once, just as you can’t delay delivering capabilities by following a drawn out, cumbersome waterfall delivery methodology.

I’ve written in more depth about why companies need to focus on providing well crafted, pleasurable digital experiences to their employees, but the reasons I typically go back to are:

  1. Driving Employee Engagement
  2. Enabling Workforce Mobility
  3. Increasing Productivity

To me, these are a good representation of the value that comes about when you focus on your employees. The way we work is changing. The expectations of today’s workers have already changed and will continue to evolve. Organizations can’t ignore how these changing dynamics will impact their ability to attract and retain quality employees and how they can enable them to do their best work.


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Brad Grissom

Written by

Customer focused #ModernWorkplace advisor @Microsoft. Blogging about #Office365, #DigitalWorkplace, #DigitalTransformation, #Collaboration, and more.

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