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The digital revolution needs a good narrative

The digital transformation is one of the most impactful processes in modern business. It is a global phenomenon that affects organizations and companies around the world. Confronted with digitalization, internal communication also faces new challenges. How to communicate a technological revolution to induce positive attitudes and favorable reactions? How to teach employees to engage in new relationships with technology? How to explain to them the meaning of new processes? How to help workforce adapt to new working conditions more easily and faster?

I should begin by noting that the digital transformation is about more than merely adopting a digital strategy for each of a company’s departments. It is in fact about applying digital solutions to every processes across an organization. This often requires a major restructuring, new tools and new behaviors (on the part of both employees and customers), and even a change of approach and work philosophy. The change is holistic, extending beyond new applications and digital gadgets. It is well captured by Michael Dell, the CEO of Dell Technologies, who said this in the Deloitte Tech Trends 2018 report: “Digital transformation is not about IT – even though technology often is both the driver and the enabler of dramatic change. It is a boardroom conversation, an event driven by a CEO and a line-of-business executive: How do you fundamentally reimagine your business?” – how do you use new technologies, artificial intelligence and other elements of the digital revolution?

How artificial intelligence changes the labor market

People rarely get emotional about the technological revolution that affects everyone’s daily lives. We have grown accustomed to holding a smartphone and having the Internet affect human relationships, shopping habits and the way we talk. And yet, as soon as technological changes interfere with our workplace, red flags go up. Many of us take interest in reports on artificial intelligence. The vision of robots becoming our work buddies appeals to the imagination while feeding into people’s anxieties. Many workplaces and job descriptions will change, many jobs will be lost, while others will emerge as brand new professions are established. It is hard to run a cost benefits analysis of such changes with very little context to base it on. And still, one thing is certain ….

… the future is now

Algorithms are increasingly adept at … communication. HR people have not missed this development and are now starting to use bots for recruitment. These smart algorithms do well communicating with, handling and selecting candidates at early recruitment stages. Algorithms will certainly do increasingly better in analytics. Automation may improve processes such as handling holiday leave requests. Customer relationship people show great interest in automation and bots. And no wonder as bots get ever more effective in doing the jobs of humans. Aware of this interest, the tech industry is investing heavily into what can be summarized as bot training. One profession of the future will be that of a bot training coach who enables machines to give better (human-like) answers and better fill human roles.

The power of human competence

Processes of this kind tend to be seen as fairly bleak. My view, however, is that, as paradoxical as this may sound, a stronger presence of technology in companies will make employees’ social skills all the more critical. Machines may well beat humans in performing mechanical activities and be unmatched in instantly analyzing data, but the human factor will still be vital if any these processes are to become truly innovative. The ability to persuade others, show empathy and emotional intelligence, express one’s opinions and emotions in speech and writing, and be creative, all of which are essential for good communication, will remain as vital as ever. The test of the real effectiveness of digital transformation in a company will be whether its people understand the new technology. Can they run and apply it well? Do they enjoy comfort that results from machines taking over their most time-consuming and arduous tasks? Does everyone across the board, from workers to managers to executives, feel they are directly benefiting from progress? Are they confident that technology has made the company a better place?

Machines enhance people’s potential

The digital transformation of an organization is not about replacing people with machines. It is rather about constructing new work environments that augment human competences by means of sophisticated technology. Thus, man and machine form a symbiotic relationship. To quote the Deloitte Tech Trends 2018 report again: “As automation, cognitive technologies, and artificial intelligence gain traction, companies may need to reinvent worker roles, assigning some to humans, others to machines, and still others to a hybrid model in which technology augments human performance. Managing both humans and machines will present new challenges to the human resources organization. “

A new internal communications mission: create a narrative for digitization

The typical job of internal communications units, which is to explain the company’s reality, takes on a whole new significance at times of transformation. After all, internal communication people are experts at changing mentalities and the way workers act and work with one another. Thus, our job is change communication. The fundamental mission of internal communication is to identify the tools and techniques that will enable it to meet this goal. This is because, according to the authors of the said Deloitte report, in the process of digital transformation, “companies planning to build an augmented workforce cannot assume that workers will be sufficiently fluent to adapt quickly to new technologies and roles. Developing innovative ways of learning and institutionalizing training opportunities can help workers contribute substantively, creatively, and consistently to transformational efforts, no matter their roles.” These can be regular meetings during which team leaders are brought up to date on changes and how they will improve the company. The effort can also take the form of close cooperation with the managers in charge of circulating the leader’s “narrative” throughout the organization and spreading the new culture. Such people will be vital for the transformation right next to the CEO. Thus, management training must be tailored to the specific demands of the ongoing reorganization. It is particularly during transformations that leadership programs need to account for all the complexities involved and improve communication skills. They need to tie closely to the company’s new goals and changes, which put rank-and-file workers, line managers and organizational leaders under a great deal of stress, often generating resistance. If technology deployments are not followed up by changes in the organizational culture, they will reduce, not increase productivity. The adoption of new tools, applications and automation without a clear narrative, change ambassadors and cooperation with leaders in a cultural change, can lead to chaos, discouraging and frustrating workers.

Leader support

The effectiveness of the transformation process begins with the leader who sets the course for the company, takes responsibility for meeting the prescribed goals and sets the tone for the whole process. Without leaders, the proclaimed radical change may end up reduced to a patchwork of half-measures, contradictory ideas and general indecision. The organization’s leaders stand to gain significant support in this improvement effort from internal communications teams. What they need is a way to describe their intentions to bring clarity to other contributors to change. In the times of transformation, organization leaders propose new values, and assign new people, who are crucial for the process. They must also be aware of the role that digital technology will play in all company processes from helpdesks to customer service to sales. In order to sell the new goals to colleagues, the management and shareholders and to combine technology with values, leaders need effective communication help. Such help precisely is what internal communications specialists can provide.

Support for new models and relationships

Companies are posed to see their organizational structures, interpersonal relationships and key processes change ever faster. Technology will “appropriate” many areas that today still remain the domains of people. Without a doubt, it will do many jobs for them. It will also continue to influence the way people communicate, both at work and in private. I also believe that, as with any radical change, one thing is certain: if we are to feel that the change is meaningful, we need just the right narrative. Technology needs human words just as much as humans need its capabilities.


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