Why digital transformation needs trust more than anything else

Boil it down, and pretty much everything in life comes down to one tiny, five-letter word: trust. Building trust and maintaining reputation is everything. Time and time again it’s been proven that when staff trust their leaders, they’re willing to go on a journey with them. But – and here’s the big ‘but’, according to Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer 2022 a staggering 63% of respondents worry that business leaders are actually lying to them. And this has serious repercussions when we consider the need to move to a more digitally transformed way of working.

How has employee trust been broken?

To be honest, it’s not hard to see why. The Industrial Revolution, which first gave rise to life-changing and efficiency-boosting technologies and processes, was the first time there was fear that innovation would destroy jobs. And destroy them they did. To a large degree the same thing is happening again. Workers today are skeptical and wary of the benefits of intelligent automation (IA) and digital transformation.

So how can trust be rebuilt?

What the Industrial Revolution really taught us was that – while painful at first – automation did (ultimately), improve overall quality of life. But change in the here and now cannot wait this long for affirmation! For digital transformation to garner the same level of trust ‘now’ businesses need to re-establish trust so employees and employers can work collectively to integrate automation into their workforce and create a beneficial human-digital partnership.

The first thing we need to say about how we do this is the need to provide clear ‘explanation’. Speedy, top-down decisions without employee consultation or transparency further sow distrust. For example, the decision to integrate intelligence automation is one that affects everyone within a company. In the absence of explanation, employees often hold misconceptions about the intentions and ramifications of automation.

But what else can leaders do? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Make it clear to employees that transparency is a company value and integral to company culture. Formalize it in company policies, recruit the support of employees to meet established standards, and ensure leaders are also reflecting these values in their actions.
  • Facilitate an ongoing open dialogue with team members, providing clear lines of access to superiors to convey issues or concerns.
  • Make sure employees have access to policy documents, for example, via an online portal, where they can see their employee rights and company values.
  • Give employees opportunities to offer input on major decisions, taking time to explain the intentions and expected consequences of significant changes.

Remember, trust is integral to business operations

These bullet points might seem onerous, but remember employees that feel they are in a high-trust working environment have been shown to be more productive, collaborate better, and stay at their companies longer than those working in low-trust environments. High-trust employees also demonstrate reduced rates of chronic stress and higher levels of happiness. Such a culture of trust is a boon for businesses and has been proven to heighten creativity and innovation. 

So, employers have a significant role to play in determining the level of trust within their company, and, by fostering the right culture, they promote employee wellbeing and encourage the success of their own operations in the process.

Be specific too:

There’s good news and bad news when it comes to trust and digital transformation.

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The good news is that according to PWC UK, about 90% of CEOs globally are taking steps to build trust and awareness among employees. However, concerns over job loss (85%), including worries that automation or innovations will take jobs is threatening the current level of employee trust in employers (77%).

The only answer is to specifically address this. There are many misconceptions surrounding the effects of integrating intelligent automation. For instance, many workers falsely believe automation will be used to replace human workers when often it’s used to maximize the capacity of human capital, which is the most valuable asset organizations can have.

By opening a dialogue and making clear to employees that combining human and digital skills will allow them focus on the parts of work that require their creativity, critical thinking and direct engagement, employers will bring employees along on the journey of digital transformation. In doing so, they will make ‘them’ part of the process – an essential part of change management.

I particularly like what many organizations are now starting to do to bridge the gaps between digital and human workers – which is to create a Center of Excellence (CoE) team of skilled knowledge-workers that can help integrate intelligent automation across the business, easing the transition by illustrating the value of working with IA and showcasing best practices from within the employee base. Existing employees are integral to the successful deployment of emerging technologies and are crucial for the successful rollout of intelligent automation at scale.

A business’s organizational health impacts growth and development. A culture of trust is a large contributing factor to this. To build such a culture, opening dialogue and transparency is key. It allow your workers to be part of the conversation and journey. By trusting your workers to be part of the journey, they will reciprocate by trusting you.

Patrick Finn is president & general manager of the Americas at Blue Prism.

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