When companies contemplate digital transformation, they usually concern themselves first of all with business models, technologies, platforms and processes. This is not wrong but yet not enough. That’s because companies need to focus on the individual if digital transformation is to be successful for them. She or he is the greatest hurdle and at the same time the best opportunity in this process. And this applies in two respects: on the one hand, companies have to understand the impact of digitalisation on the needs and behaviours of their own customers and future target groups. This is the only way that digital offers, platforms and communication can develop, which are relevant for current and future users and thus have the prospect of success. On the other hand, change projects can only be sustainable if the company’s own employees understand the effects of digitalisation on the company and the sector and support the corresponding changes required.

Admittedly, we receive private messages via newsfeeds or from Facebook, we stream films, music or TV series when and where we want. We communicate via social networks and messenger, book travel online, do our shopping over the net and control the heating via an app. Progressive and all-pervasive digitalisation has changed our everyday lives – and is continuing to do so at an increasing pace. Whereas yesterday we were still fascinated by being able to order groceries online, now we get news of political upheaval via Twitter, meanwhile tomorrow we will of course use Echo to order toilet tissue. We are experiencing and witnessing change in practically every area of life. When it comes to our job and our own company, however, the attitude and perception of many people change.

From onlooker to stakeholder

Notwithstanding the fact that digitalisation affects almost every sector, managers and employees can nevertheless be found at all hierarchical levels who still quote various reasons why this topic is not at all relevant in their sector or professional life – regardless, incidentally, of industry and age. Complete rejection, major scepticism or the general dread of change – especially change processes – is only too human. Anyone who shuts out this aspect and believes that digital transformation can be decreed “top down” – in the truest sense – will in all probability fail.

Companies that want to successfully master digital transformation must encourage understanding of the transformation among their employees as well as a willingness and desire to change. The switch from onlooker to stakeholder is essential.

The buzzword “digital transformation” very rarely means anything definite to employees. The word is too unwieldy and at the same time can be interpreted in any number of ways. It is considerably easier to approach the issue by asking concrete questions and communicating and discussing these openly. How is media usage by our customers changing as a result of digital transformation? How are their needs and purchasing patterns changing? Are new target groups emerging and what makes them tick? Is there a significant demand for our products in new channels and platforms? Do we need to reassess the role and mix of communication and sales channels? How are our existing competitors dealing with the new situation? Where are new competitors emerging, who perhaps offer just part of our value chain but at a previously unknown level of quality? It is only when answers can be found collectively to these questions that change processes in the company can be justified in an objective and transparent manner. If decisive changes are the result of analysis, all employees have to know the reasons for this. Digital transformation can only be successful for companies if they take the anxieties and any reservations of their employees seriously.

Digital expertise you can touch

Gather together the employees you need in the first step to initiate the transformation, preferably using different training formats. Only by experiencing something in practice and trying it out is it possible to properly grasp a subject. This is true for mobile payment options for your own company in the same way as for deliberations on introducing agile forms of project management. For example, introduce new tools and approaches using concrete use cases in a two-day workshop – with external support too. Visit start-ups together from outside of the sector also and test and try out technologies in practice. Exchange information with digital natives on their media usage and consumer behaviour. The aim is to allow things and developments to become touchable, tangible and therefore intelligible so as to identify the opportunities and challenges for your own company. Jointly elaborating specific goals and visions in workshops can also be helpful to dispel any trepidations that may arise from any sense of lack of expertise. Play planning games with a very practical orientation and, wherever possible, avoid using jargon. Buzzword bingo is counter-productive in everyday life. The draft of a digital strategy for your company can result at the end of the introductory and conceptualisation phase. This is of course just a first draft that has to be substantiated and revised in detail. But you will get a collective view of exactly how the concept could look in practice.

It is also clear: once the strategy has been developed and fundamental decisions made, these will not remain correct and valid for years to come. Only one thing is certain: the next update will definitely come. The iteration should therefore be planned in as a principle from the outset and be made a permanent feature of the strategy and reflection process.

Internal communication as a key success factor

Active and open communication must therefore be an integral part of all processes. Include employees – in decisions, new ideas and strategies. The feeling of being taken seriously and having a say, at least in one’s own field, can break down resistance. So that ultimately everyone in the company understands and is convinced that change is a constant part of the new work environment.

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