Guiding Employees From Same-Old Same-Old To Digitally Transformed

Lynn Lupo

Some say people are creatures of habit. We drive to work the same way every day. We order the same dish at our favorite restaurant. We read the sports section first. There is comfort in the familiar, and we don’t look for a new way to enjoy our morning coffee because we prepare it the same way every day, and that’s just fine.

And people do the same at work. Whether processing an invoice or packing an order, people are comfortable doing things the way they’ve always done them. After all, “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” right? Many distributors have employees with decades of service who are very comfortable with time-proven processes. And all of this is fine until the industry changes, and companies choose to transform. Employees are jolted out of their comfort zone, and may not be too happy about it.

Distributors today find themselves in a rapidly changing digital world. The “transform or die” mantra has been repeated ad nauseum. We’re not talking about replacing some software or adding a new service. We’re talking about a whole new way of doing business. After the boardroom decisions are made, the next biggest challenge in digital transformation may be getting employees to think differently and embrace a new way of doing things. It’s no small task. How can companies address this challenge?

Defining digital

The first step may be helping employees define “digital.” The word is used so often in today’s business conversations, but employees may not know how it applies to the company or to their work. They may all be nodding in agreement, but not really understanding.

When James Swanson, CIO at Monsanto, talks to employees about their company’s digital transformation, he focuses on customer centricity, products, and services (read “How Monsanto CIO talks about digital transformation” in The Enterprisers Project). He helps employees understand how automating processes and new business models can be enabled by analytics, technologies, and software. And he demonstrates what’s possible in a digital environment using day-to-day processes that resonate with employees. When they see the tangible benefits, they feel more comfortable and are more likely to support transformation projects.

Digitizing the workplace

Transformation often includes the digitization of a company’s workplace as well. What does that mean? It can certainly mean new software, new business processes, and new technology. But it also means increasing employee engagement, agility, and, ultimately, productivity. In his article “The digital workplace: 8 steps to greater agility, productivity” (, Clint Boulton shares eight ways companies can digitally transform the workplace based on research from Gartner. These include having a vision and strategy for the workplace, as well as having an eye toward employees’ daily experiences. Digital workplaces allow for individual user experiences, and this really helps when guiding employees through change.

Upskill for success

Employees may also need new skill-sets in this new digital workplace according to research from TMR. (Read “What Do Employees Need in a Digital Workplace?”, CMS Wire) Applications for collaboration, messaging, mobile devices and automation may be familiar to millennial workers, but others may need some help to use these technologies effectively. Part of any transformation plan should include upskilling employees. This can be made easier by showing how digital processes can help them do the same tasks, only better – with more accuracy, flexibility, and more information.

As end users gain more flexibility and control over business applications, the role of the IT staff may also change. This not only requires new skills, but also a new mindset. Zeus Kerravala says “CIOs need to consider the human side of digital transformation.” ( CIOs and IT Managers should think about the changes that will impact the IT team. For example, a digital company can generate massive amounts of new data that need to be channeled into business insights. Does the team have the skills to manage it? New technologies like machine learning require the skills to train machines and apply the data. Companies should be aware that learning may be needed for IT to support end users throughout the company.

Invest in the future

Some companies have already learned that at the end of this disruptive change is the future success of their people and their company. Distributor American Hotel Register recognized the need to evolve and take an innovative approach to their business and the way they serve customers. (Read “American Hotel Register Finds Room for Improvement”, CIO Insight) They have already generated value for their customers and themselves, and are continuing to look for ways to leverage new technology.

People are any company’s most important asset. By supporting them through your digital transformation, you are helping to ensure their success—and the success of the company. And who knows? Maybe employees will set aside their daily coffee with cream and go for the double-shot pumpkin spice latte. When you guide them through change, anything is possible.

For more on digital transformation strategies, see “Going Digital Is About More Than Technology.”

Lynn Lupo

About Lynn Lupo

Lynn Lupo is a solution manager for the SAP Global Wholesale Distribution Industry Business Unit at SAP. She focuses on marketing and enablement and supports the ASUG Special Interest Group for Wholesale Distribution.