Advice for gaining buy-in to digital transformation

July 15, 2020
Amanda Del Buono interviews Jonathon Hensley, founder and CEO of Emerge Interactive

Digitalization is reliant on a workforce that's willing to accept the change. To discuss how manufacturers can bridge that gap, Amanda Del Buono interviews Jonathon Hensley, founder and CEO of Emerge Interactive, a company that assists organizations in achieving digital transformation.

Learn more about Jonathon’s new book, “Alignment”:


Amanda: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of "Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce." I'm Amanda Del Buono. Digital transformation has been a buzzword throughout the industry for a while now, but for many, the coronavirus his lit a fire for change. But change is never easy, as we all know, and digitalization is reliant on a workforce that's willing to accept the change. Here to discuss how manufacturers can bridge that gap is Jonathon Hensley, founder and CEO of Emerge Interactive, a company that assists organizations in achieving digital transformation. Thanks for being here today, Jonathon.

Jonathon: Thank you so much for having me, Amanda.

Amanda: So, you know, there's a lot that can be discussed around digital transformation, but especially now with the coronavirus pandemic, more manufacturers, we've heard, are considering that they may need to have some remote technology more available, and socially distant operations. I'm curious how digital transformation will impact the workforce. Seems to me that in the challenging times we're in, it's a benefit, but are there other benefits, besides remote work, that people maybe are looking past right now?

Jonathon: Yeah, there's a couple of key areas that we hear people really exploring right now across all industries, but especially in manufacturing. You know, one is how do we leverage technology to empower our employees. So, really thinking about the employee experience, how we think about not just people that might need to work remotely but how do we think about bringing those key people back into our facilities in a safe way, and really how do we support them in knowing that not only do they have a safe work environment but they can trust and interact with facilities, the equipment, the people, the processes, and systems that they need to effectively with all of the change that's taking place.

The other big area is how do you engage your customers in this space. A lot of organizations are used to working with modern-day technologies, and teleconferencing, and so forth, but the ability to demo, or get on-site, or changing the way that we interact and engage with our clientele... Maybe you've been selling through some sort of reseller or distribution and partner network versus going direct. How do you start to bridge some of that collaboration that might have to take place in developing solutions with your customers or potentially in achieving support in the overall manufacturing supply chain with the customer and what kind of transparency and engagement do you want to look at.

And then, the other big one that we see a lot right now is really transforming the very products and things that they offer. So, this might be embedded technologies, extensions of Internet of Things, using mobile applications to add more value to existing products or services. This can also encompass things like providing more self-service. How do we deliver solutions to our clients and then support themselves by providing better information, better interaction, and engagement?

And these things all fundamentally impact the business model of an organization, and I think are really important considerations, not just during the time of a pandemic but especially as an organization looks at change and modernization for long-term relevance.

Amanda: Right. It's interesting. From the business side, there's so many other benefits for it if you're running an operation that I think we don't talk about as much, you know, especially right now, like you had mentioned, the new products. And, obviously, throughout the years, we've noticed an increase in Software-as-a-Service offerings and things like that from vendors. Do you see that as a growing trend in helping with the pandemic, or is that just more of a supply-demand kind of thing?

Jonathon: I think it goes both ways. I think it's been there for a while, it's not necessarily new. I think just the current environment with the pandemic has accelerated the urgency for many organizations, as well as really those that have been kind of late to adopt some of the new modern opportunities and ways of engaging with customers or supporting employees. It is a significant undertaking to make some of these investments and changes, and they have a pretty low success rate as a whole, statistically, because there's not a lot of people experienced in leading this kind of change.

So, you know, it's been risky business for some who have are just maintaining stability, and, in some cases, a thin margin that's based on volume has been really important to support continuity, and not just employees but the communities that these organizations call home. So, there's a lot to consider, for sure. I think, right now, what we're seeing is, with the overall situation, both here and around the world, that the necessity, though, to modernize and the expectations of consumers at all levels are rapidly being pushed to the forefront where organizations, in order to maintain relevance, in order to actually be able to effectively operate, need to embrace some of these modernizations.

I think a really simple example that we see a lot of is where a website, for many organizations, is thought of as more of a brochure, it's just a marketing tool. Well, that website actually becomes a product itself when it becomes essential to the product or services that you deliver. And so, the way that you think about it, the way you manage it, the way that you deliver it—that is transformational in itself to an organization. Once you start treating it like that, you unlock a lot of potential and opportunity. And many organizations' current presence, which you could argue is now the front door to their organization, is grossly underperforming.

Amanda: Well, I guess, as we're talking about these new technologies, well, as you just mentioned, not necessarily new, but, you know, bringing these into a facility, one of the things about humanity that's always interesting to me is our resistance to change. And I think we see with technology, I mean, that happens when new technologies come out in the consumer world too, right? People don't necessarily buy into that. For an organization that's trying to, especially right now, get some digital transformation in place quickly, what suggestions do you have for getting their teams to buy into this? Because I think, with any kind of new technology anywhere you have to have the people running it bought in, right? So, when you're trying to push this through quickly, what do you suggest for helping your team get comfortable with it and buying into this new change in what could have been a less digitally-savvy environment?

Jonathon: Sure. Well, I think there's a couple of really important things that have to happen at all levels of the organization. The first is the importance of clarity. Clarity becomes mission-critical for every level of the organization and really being able to embrace change and understanding why it's important. And that has to come up from leadership. Leadership has to understand, "Here's our current state of our organization. Here's where we want to be. And we have a clear destination and vision of what that looks like.” And the next step in that is to make this change, to do these things as an organization.

Once you have that, you can go deeper, you can start to work on one of the most fundamentally important things, which is alignment. And you can help every employee at an individual level understand the importance of that change and how their contribution will make a difference to helping the organization get to that goal and achieve that strategy. That becomes really important, that's empowerment. That empowerment allows people to start to embrace change, and that clarity gives them a path to purpose to understanding what that change and successful change will look like. And that really helps people start to overcome some of the fears and anxieties that come with change. So, we need to start there.

Secondarily, we really need to look at team alignment and how do we bring the right skills, disciplines and cross-functional teams together to work on this change. A lot of times, change is started with an idea, and that idea ends up getting kind of siloed within a project team, and digital transformation really requires us to break down the silos. We have to look at, are we modernizing our customer experience, are we transforming our operation? If so, what are all the interdependent functions of our business, and how do we effectively collaborate together through that change? And that's usually pretty loosely defined.

More often than not, it's, "Oh, well, our team will figure it out. They're great people. They have the skills and knowledge, or they'll go get the knowledge that they need to make this thing happen." And it's true, the people are fantastic, but if they don't have that bigger strategy and that really clear understanding of what the objectives are, you get a lot of rework, and a lot of false starts, and things where you're just not making progress, and you feel like you're failing because you're not making that progress. And organizational leaders really need to take responsibility to champion that change and address those gaps that are missing that lead to product failure and transformational failure.

Amanda: You know, you kind of mentioned getting teams to work together, and, for me, that brought up... At Putman, we have several different publications covering different verticals of manufacturing, and in a couple of them, IT and the OT collaboration seems to be such a big problem [we cover]. With digital transformation, obviously, you need to have cybersecurity and these other things involved, and in order to do that successfully, we have to have these teams working together cohesively. Do you have any suggestions or any examples of how you can get those two teams to understand each other better, maybe?

Jonathon: Yeah. Well, the first is really just a suggestion. Many times, what happens is IT and OT have different mandates, different objectives, and I think that you have to bring those into alignment when you're asking them to collaborate. IT is focused, as you said, on security and privacy, and other issues and considerations. As you come together, making sure that you have that common goal and that shared understanding of what you're trying to achieve and why it's important and that you each need to come together to help solve the problem effectively becomes essential. So, the other thing that we see often is just is there enough trust or rapport being built between the different teams and functions, and this can be a challenge as well.

You know, Stephen M. R. Covey, who wrote the book "The Speed of Trust," has a wonderful analogy of that you can coordinate with anybody but you can only collaborate with people that you trust, and to really collaborate and to solve these tough problems and to move these big initiatives forward, like digital transformation, really does take bringing these two disciplines together and making sure they have a trusted relationship and a shared understanding of what needs to be accomplished and why it's important. And this needs to come all the way from the very, very top.

I mean, you have to have CEOs in these organizations that can go to their IT leaders and go to their OT teams, and say, "Hey, this is what we need to be doing and why," and making sure that those leaders are communicating that information down through the organization. And that communication itself is very complex, that's a hard thing to do. It sounds simple, but the more people you have involved, the more complex that gets, and maintaining that over time, and many of these initiatives do take quite a bit of time, is a very tough thing to do. So, I think leaders really need to focus on unifying the common goal and making sure that there's that shared understanding.

Amanda: Right, that makes sense. There was one other thing as far as helping employees come to terms with digital transformation. I was kind of imagining putting myself in the shoes of maybe a factory veteran who has been there for a while. Maybe I'm not super digitally-savvy, and now you guys are bringing this stuff in, I might be a little bit stressed out about whether or not I can learn this technology, if I can learn it quick enough, could I lose my job as a result of this. How do you suggest that employers ease those concerns and help their employees learn the new technology, train on it? What kind of training suggestions do you have as these things are brought in?

Jonathon: Oh, that's a really good question. I think you bring up a much deeper issue of how technology is typically planned. That is very difficult for a lot of people. One of the things that we see a lot at Emerge, and just over my own career, is technology is purchased or implemented with a big goal, and a goal's not a strategy. So, really, it's important to help employees understand this technology, what does this mean, more substantively than just how does this help achieve a goal. And when we start to then plan, we can start to say, "Okay, well, how do we introduce this new tool, essentially, to our team? How do we train them on that? How do we then support them through that process?" And it's usually left to, "Here you go. Here's this new tool. We're gonna do some seminars. Maybe here's some tutorial information." 

And, again, I think what I typically see is that there's just missing context in that training. We're learning how to use the tool, we're not teaching people why the tool is important, and I think that's a miss. A surgeon can't just know how to use the tools, they have to know why that is just the right tool. And same thing when you're building a home, there's a right tool for the job, and I think we have to do a better job helping employees embrace this change and their concerns of really helping them understand why that tool is being invested into and why it's so important, and giving employees an opportunity to really embrace the opportunity. And then, I think that makes learning, and retooling, and reskilling people far easier because they can connect it to things that they know.

The institutional knowledge that, you know, a senior worker in a factory has is just incredible. You can't replace that knowledge. I mean, the insight into what they do is invaluable, and not only from a training perspective. We want to communicate the why behind these technologies, we also want to make employees part of the process. So, in the most effective digital transformation, we see that employees are actually part of solving the problem. Those same people are going to be trained on using this technology, are being brought in early to the process to develop the requirements for the technology. Or how could we think about innovating that or documenting the current process so we can either replicate it or improve upon it? And giving employees a stake in the process is really important whenever possible. And when that gets missed, then you usually see extremely poor adoption and really underwhelming usage of the new technologies. And so, we have to bridge that and address those concerns more proactively by getting them involved in the process.

Amanda: Yeah, that's interesting. And then, I would presume, after that, being open to feedback is important too, and approachable with that, of course. We talk here a lot on communication, and one of the keys on that is being willing to accept that feedback. And I would presume then, of course, reevaluating and making adjustments as you continue, right? Digital transformation isn't like a one-hit thing, you have to maintain that throughout after it's implemented, yeah?

Jonathon: I mean, perfectly said. I mean, there has to be an open dialogue, a way to feedback information. You know, you should really look at any one initiative that you might have that falls under the bucket of digital transformation. It's a process of continuous improvement. With technology, we're continuously looking to refine and improve whatever that technology is, that system, that process, the interconnection between the processes and systems, and that becomes just invaluable. It's invaluable to have that kind of open dialogue and kind of this circular improvement happening all the time, and it actually helps create a culture and a team environment where change is more common.

And I think that's also one of the challenges, is that sometimes when you see change happen, and it's always in one big lift, and then we move on, and then you kind of wait for the next major change to happen, that is difficult. I mean, I think just as human beings, we love and look for some level of consistency in our lives. And when you have continuous improvement taking place, you're incrementally always having that feedback and that dialogue about improvement, which, at the core of that, is this constant of change, and that really helps, I think, bring a lot of ease to organizations once they're able to embrace that.

Amanda: Yeah, that makes sense. Well, I guess the last thing I kind of wanted to touch on myself was, if I was a manufacturer who was hit hard by the pandemic and I realized, "You know what? It's time for a digital transformation. I want my operations to run remotely. I don't want to have to worry about this happening again," where should I begin? What should my first steps be in regards to, I'm presuming, as you said, planning and strategizing, and introducing the new technologies and such? 

Jonathon: Yeah. I mean, I think the foundation of any successful transformation starts with a very clear strategy. So, there's this knowledge that we need to evolve, we need to change as an organization, but it's not clear how to yet. The technologies themselves, or best practices even, for other companies are really not the place to start. I think it's to step back and go, "What does the future of our company look like? What are the dynamics of our market? What's a strategy that is grounded in diagnosing the problem the organization has that they really, really want to solve, and then what's that approach that will solve that in a way that will help your organization thrive?”

Then, we have a foundation in order to start to look at how we might leverage digital transformation and in what ways, and we can start to evaluate what types of solutions. Is it transformation in how we enable sales? Is it transformation, as you said, in operations and how we work remotely? What does that mean for all sorts of considerations: compliance, how we measure security and overall performance? You know, for some organizations, it's going to be very new. And once we have a lens for those things that's clear, we're able to evaluate what options are out there to us, and we're able to ask better questions, and we're able to assess what the possible impacts, positive and negative, might be on the organization going forward.

So, a really quick example. There's a global manufacturing company that I worked with, and they didn't take that step, they didn't take it to completion, and it was a little bit too late. And so, what they ended up doing is they invested into some new software. And that software was really supposed to bring all the facets of the organization together, and it was going to help them be really collaborative. Instead, it really became this monolithic tool, which instead of being able to do any one thing extremely well, made each individual thing that different teams needed to do very complex, and they didn't include the employees as part of that process.

You know, that's not realistic, that's not how it works in the field. This isn't really how we do it here. That's great for timekeeping, that's great for finance, but these things have to be reconciled in the middle and the process is broken. We do that manually today. Those things really weren't accounted for upfront. So, what happened was they didn't really understand their problem well enough. And they went into that investment, and they started hiring engineers and bringing in outside partners, and two and a half years later, they were still working to just get it out the door. And they already knew it probably wasn't going to succeed, but they were in too deep and they were committed to trying to turn it around. I think that happens more often than I'd like to admit. I mean, I see it quite often.

And I think organizations right now, more than ever, need to slow down to speed up, is probably the most simple way to say it. They need to really step back and understand the problem that they're facing, and how they want to address it, and how they can build resilience for the future, and then really target those technologies, and bringing in the team members into that process, and leveraging that incredible knowledge and skills that they have in their areas of expertise that maybe haven't changed for a decade, or decades even, and leveraging that to really understand the impacts of changing that process and what that could look like, and then going out there and looking at technologies, whether they're off-the-shelf or things that are being built from the ground up, and really saying, "Okay, how will this actually help us achieve this transformation? What are the real requirements and skills and resources that are necessary to bring this to fruition, and how do we support our team through this process?" And that should be part of that upfront conversation to really ensure that there's a path towards success.

Amanda: That makes sense. And I really like the idea... You know, I read about the digital transformation, different aspects about it a lot, and it's such a simply smart concept to talk to the people on the floor and figure out where the problem starts, what is the real problem, and actually bring them in to, you know, "How can we help you fix this, make this easier or better streamlined?" whatever. But those people are the people that can really tell you the problem.

Jonathon: Absolutely. I mean, over the last couple of years, I've done a lot of research specifically into understanding why digital products and services and transformation fails. And, you know, a thing that's written a lot or talked a lot about is about there wasn't a market fit or the timing wasn't right. What's not talked about nearly as much, which I think is actually far more interesting, is the internal sabotage that takes place. So many times organizations have incredible intentions, and the people are absolutely wonderful. They're not aware of these internal issues that will lead to failure, that are symptoms of this failure, so they can't navigate it. And I think that's very, very tricky.

So, you know, one perfect example is getting employees involved. So, in software, we talk about user-centered design, focusing on the user. So, it doesn't matter if the user is the customer or the employee or partners. Whatever that looks like, that user should be involved in the process, they need to be a part of that, we need to remove our own biases and we need to go validate our thinking. And I think that's sometimes difficult if you're a 25-year veteran in an industry and you're like, "Well, I know my industry inside and out. I'm talking to customers all the time,” or “I've been building products for decades. I know how it should work." That experience is invaluable. We still need to stop and we need to go validate that. What's changed is, is your individual perspective representative of the entire market, or all of your users, or all of your customers? Is it representative of changes and expectations between generations? You know, these things are things that are really essential to the success of projects.

And so, by stepping back and looking at these things, we can build much more effective solutions, and embrace change in a much more effective way, and manage expectations as well. I think a lot of times these initiatives fail because the expectations aren't managed. There’s the optimism of the promise of new technology, and it's scary, as you said before, for many to embrace some of that change, or can be. And so, how do you manage the expectations of that change? These are things that have to come down to your communication, and the more complex your organization is, the bigger your organization is, the more complex that might be to manage that communication and those expectations.

So, a lot of these things, you know, really have to come to the forefront. And on the technology side, you take some of the most successful and sophisticated technology companies in the world, they know this, they embrace this again and again. And I think this is something that can be really adopted across industries to really support the success of digital transformation and how these things can be leveraged effectively because there's a lot of examples to say, "Don't do it the way that they do, but learn from how they do it and why." Because the way that one company needs to do it is going to be a little bit different than another because of what they build, how they work, the culture, their market, it's different, and that's okay. But really understanding those things so they can be managed and navigated through that transformation in itself, you're already leaps and bounds above most that are dealing with this issue today.

Amanda: Great. Well, did you have any other points that you wanted to make sure our listeners took home or any other things that you wanted to mention?

Jonathon: Well, I think there's just two things. One is, you know, I think right now, when organizations are looking for rapid transformation, certainly software is one of the most powerful tools available. And I know a lot of organizations that I'm talking to are looking at what types of software they might consider. And I think what I would share with everybody listening is anchor that strategy, be really clear on if you're going to make that investment, be clear on what you're trying to achieve for the organization, the problem that software will solve, the outcome you want for your user, the outcome you want for the business, and how are you going to measure progress.

If you can answer those five things concretely, you're set up to make better decisions faster and have more successful implementation as you go forward. And whether it's customer-facing or internally driving your operations, it's incredibly powerful because those operations are essentially there to deliver on that end promise to that customer, client. So, I want to just champion everybody to really think about those things because they really will help you navigate the common pitfalls that happen during a transformation process.

The second thing is, if anybody is interested, if they do go to, I have a book coming out in just a couple of months, if they sign up, they can get a free copy of that book that actually talks about how to navigate a lot of these challenges we were talking about today and some of the key attributes and skills that leaders need to have as they move forward championing digital transformation.

Amanda: Well, wonderful. Well, thank you so much for being here today, Jonathon. I think we covered some great stuff here, and, hopefully, our listeners are going to feel a little bit better taking that step forward into their digital transformation.

Jonathon: Thank you so much for having me, Amanda.

Amanda: And then, just thanks again to our listeners for tuning in today. As always, be sure to like and subscribe to "Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce." We will have a link to that page that Jon mentioned earlier in the description. And, otherwise, until next time. I'm Amanda Del Buono for "Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce."

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