The Rise of the Frontline Worker: Change Management in the Age of Frontline Digitalization

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Frontline Digitalization with Beekeeper

Welcome to part two of our blog series covering key topics from my new book, “The Rise of the Frontline Worker.” Click here to read part one.

The late, great David Bowie aptly summed up some of the reservations surrounding notions of “change” when he crooned “I still don’t know what I was waiting for…” When it comes to digitalizing our frontline workers, the line still holds. What are we waiting for?  

Ch-ch-ch-changes…in frontline digitalization

It’s time for companies to decide to either continue investing in legacy systems or embrace future-proof mobile platforms that digitally enable their frontline workforce. 

Beekeeper's guide to frontline digitalization

For many, the choice is obvious but knowing why we should change and how we should change are two different considerations.

Among the most mobile members of any workforce, frontliners not only need and deserve to be empowered with the digital tools necessary to accomplish their tasks effectively, but they also need them to assure their safety. COVID-19 has changed everything when it comes to frontline digitalization, and we are now at a crossroads. 

There are numerous operational, technical, and cultural reasons barriers that can impede frontline digitalization efforts. 

Here are the classic eight barriers to change we’ve identified:

1. Lack of Investment

Just one percent of global software venture funding is invested in technology that serves frontline workers — yet, these workers make up 80 percent of the global workforce.

2. Same Planet, Different Worlds

There is a misperception that desk-based workers are more strategic and important to an organization, whereas frontline workers are easily replaceable, less committed to the company, quicker to change jobs, and less educated. This is an antiquated mindset that prejudices the decision-making process when planning digitalization initiatives.

3. Lack of Technology

Desk-based workers spend most of their workday using technology and if they’re working remotely, they’re connected to the office via laptops, mobile phones, tablets, and other devices. The opposite is often true for members of the frontline workforce. Digitally speaking, the frontline workforce is inherently and woefully disconnected.

4. Varied and Complex Labor Laws

Labor laws are one of the most onerous challenges organizations face regarding their frontline workers. Managing and communicating the varied and complex labor laws have long been another barrier to the digitalization of the frontline workforce. One study revealed that businesses in the U.S. have at least an 11.7% chance of having an employment charge filed against them. 

5. Lack of Budget

For a variety of reasons, there has been a distinct lack of budget available in the area of digital transformation — among them, an unfortunate lack of prioritization for frontline technology or simply perceiving little to no value in equipping the frontline.

6. Bringing the Desk-Based World to the Frontline

Another example of a common mistake is simply giving your office workers’ technology to the frontline workforce. Doing so ignores the fact that frontline workers have fundamentally different needs, cultures, requirements, attitudes, and experiences than their desk-based counterparts.

7. No Holistic Overview

When organizations do attempt to digitalize the frontline workforce, it’s rarely from a unified and holistic perspective. These projects are generally initiated by HR or communications and lack true buy-in from the wider business and the people at the top. 

8. The Rise of Shadow IT

Because there is often an unaddressed need for frontline workers to communicate using digital platforms, they will sometimes improvise solutions and use apps and that are not sanctioned by the company. Unfortunately, using consumer-grade platforms like WhatsApp for workplace communication can mean that employees may be inadvertently violating numerous bylaws, security, and privacy protocols.

Nothing but ’Net

Another example of where digitalization frequently falls short of adequately serving the front line is company intranets.

In the most basic sense, an intranet is a computer network with its access limited to serving only those within a company using a variety of protocols and applications that were initially developed for the Internet. Commonly used to house important information and to provide a platform where people can receive top-down news, intranets have become very common in organizations for engaging a desk-based workforce. 

When it comes to serving frontline employees, however, intranets can be a user-experience nightmare. This is because they’re often not optimized for mobile users, which is overwhelmingly how frontliners access them.    

Frontline workers are resourceful, however, so when they’re not properly outfitted with digital tools, they’re apt to find their own. Though the initiative is laudable, the resulting cyber vulnerabilities are a definite cause for pause.

Use the Right Tool for the Job

Knowing how to manage change throughout your frontline digitalization process is key to its success. Change for its own sake, devoid of a real point or plan, is guaranteed to fail. Recent research by worldwide management consulting firm McKinsey & Company has found, 70% of digital transformation initiatives fail to meet their intended objectives. 

This is a staggering statistic and sure to raise the eyebrows of those tasked with seeing a digitalization project through to the end. What’s at the core of these failures? Usually, there’s a  critical misalignment between the goal the business is trying to accomplish and the tools implemented to reach that goal.

Let’s call this phenomenon “Shiny Object Syndrome.” This occurs when a new technology is released to the market, garners a lot of attention (including that of your company’s decision-makers), which regrettably leads to a hasty implementation. In this scenario, the new digital solution doesn’t undergo an assessment on how it can help the organization accomplish its goals.

To be able to realize the transformative power of technology, a company must align it with what their business is really trying to achieve. And here’s a truism: The only thing worse than providing no digital tools for frontline workers is providing the wrong tools. 

No doubt, equipping your frontline with the proper tools to ensure their success is an obvious win, one that will bring tremendous benefit to both the worker and your organization. Three key elements are vital to your success:

Three Lessons From Other Digitalization Projects

Organizations need a new way to engage their frontline workers, one that creates a happier, more seamless work environment for employees, which then translates into a workforce that is more productive and efficient. Mobile tools are the answer, and for any organization that is serious about digitalizing its frontline workforce, there are three key elements that are vital to success.

1. Involve the C-Suite on a Long-Term Basis

Your CEO and the C-Suite sets the tone for a digital transformation project. If company leadership is passionate, knowledgeable, and committed, then those qualities will be recognized and adopted by the frontline workers themselves. 

2. Instill a Change Management Framework

A Gartner study with CIOs revealed that 46% of respondents believe that culture change is their biggest barrier to success with digital transformation. Given that number, instilling a change management framework must be an intrinsic part of any digitalization project. Keeping your focus on the value for your frontline will help ensure their buy-in.

3. Ensure Digitalization is Aligned to Business Outcomes

It’s all too common for organizations to implement a new digital tool without evaluating how it fits with their business objectives, and how it might support achieving business outcomes. Iterative goals, however, allow you to make incremental progress and reassess your strategy as you proceed.

Beekeeper's guide to ensuring digitalization is aligned to business outcomes

Like the old carpenter’s adage, “Measure twice, cut once,” there’s much to be said for quantifying and accurately interpreting the data that results from the implementation of new systems. It’s vital for your company’s digital transformation to have metrics in place that measure how much not only the value these new ways of working are delivering to your frontline workers but how much value they, in turn, are enabled and empowered to provide your customers.

My new book, “The Rise of the Frontline Worker” explores the critical significance of the modern-day frontline workforce, and unpacks why these essential employees will play a crucial role in the global economic recovery process. Get it now on Amazon!

To learn more about how digitalization can empower your frontline workers, submit the form to download our Frontline Worker Technology Report.

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