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IBM: Empower your most valuable asset - your people

Employee focus is critical to accelerate a successful digital transformation during COVID-19 and beyond, reports IBM

Janet Brice
|Oct 16|magazine8 min read

The acceleration of a digital transformation by organisations during the global COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in employee burn-out and stress, reports IBM. 

Business must now help their employees keep up with these changes in technology. This is the message from IBM who surveyed 3,800 C-Suite executives in 20 countries across 22 industries for their report On the Fast Track to Digital Transformation, Businesses Must Help Their People Keep Up.

“Executives need to focus on two critical areas on behalf of their people: processes and technology tuned to empower the people who use them and empathetic, transparent leadership,” said the author of the report Mark Foster who is Senior Vice President of IBM Services.

The paper shows six in 10 organisations have accelerated their digital transformation during the pandemic and two-thirds have completed technology initiatives that had previously encountered resistance.  

“A sense of urgency needs to carry over to any company’s most valuable assets - its people - as the users of that technology. We found that even as companies have rushed to adopt the technologies necessary not only to survive but thrive as business enterprises, too many of their employees feel stressed and even overwhelmed,” said Foster.

The biggest hurdles to progress are: 

  • Burnout
  • Inadequate skills
  • Organisational complexity 

“It’s one thing to nimbly retool and modernise the workplace. It’s quite another proposition to expect workers to quickly adjust to the upheaval in their lives and livelihoods,” points out Foster. 

But there appears to be a gaping chasm between what executives think they are offering their employees and how those employees feel. 

IBM’s survey found 74% of executives think they have been helping their employees learn the skills needed to work in a new way. And yet, only 38% of employees agree with that.

Executives said employee well-being is among their highest priorities. A total of 80% of employers said they are supporting the physical and emotional health of their workforce but only 46% of employees said they felt supported.

Empowerment and empathy

The report points out that the move to remote work can also undermine the personal connections that help define many corporate cultures. And the quality and reliability of work-from-home tools may lag significantly behind people’s needs.

“Leaders need to listen closely to what their workers need in terms of digital tools to be productive and serve customers well in this environment and to actually provide those tools,” said Foster. 

One example is Nationwide Building Society who have been supporting their frontline teams with a virtual agent - Arti - who handles over 10,000 online chat queries freeing up employees to deal with complex issues.

Flexibility, adaptability and compassion

The pandemic has meant that many employees now work from home while and overseeing the education of their children. One idea that has taken hold at IBM is their “work from home” pledge. 

“This started from a grassroots initiative of IBMers listening to colleagues with empathy and the desire to make work (and life) a bit easier. The pledge reassures and reminds everyone that working remotely requires flexibility, adaptability and compassion.

“How they are treated now will have an outsize impact on perceptions and value in the future. Clearly, there is massive opportunity for leaders who can get this right,” said Foster.

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