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How to pay for digital transformation

Updated: Oct 24, 2019

A productivity goldmine in your backyard

Challenges for Leaders in the Digital Age

Much of the urgency behind digital transformation is based on a simple truth: companies that don’t adjust to shifting customer needs could suffer the same fate as Blockbuster. As the digital movement continues, leaders are coming face-to-face with two big challenges: 1) How to pay for the shiny new technology, and 2) How to transform their people along with the technology.

Communication Waste: The elephant in the room

The solution to both challenges lies in the massive waste that’s built into the way companies and their people communicate. Here are the two biggest sources of communication waste I’ve uncovered in my client research:

  1. Email overload is one of the greatest efficiency killers of all time, with the average employee spending 25% or more of the day managing the inbox. Email began as an efficiency tool that would one day lead to the “paperless office”. Instead, it’s become 25% of the average employee’s job description, and 25% of your company’s payroll.

  2. Back-to-back-to-back meetings. Many teams rely on meetings to collaborate, develop new products, and make decisions. While some groups thrive face-to-face, many people complain that meetings are unproductive, irrelevant, and a total waste of time. You can hear them grumble as they walk from one meeting to the next.

While email and meetings are the two most visible issues, the same type of inefficiency is built into almost all our communication channels: long reports, proposals that don’t sell, presentations that put you to sleep, and the list goes on. These bottlenecks come from a past age, when things moved more slowly: our communications are stuck in the 1990’s.

For the longest time I struggled to understand how this could possibly be our reality. How could some of the most profitable companies – with the most educated, experienced leaders – allow their entire workforces to be so inefficient? They certainly don’t stand for such bottlenecks in their other production processes. And there’s a strange dynamic, because everyone complains about email and meetings, but few do anything about it.

Why Smart Leaders Allow Communication Waste to Drag Down Productivity

After interviewing dozens of senior leaders at Fortune 500 companies, I started to understand the root cause behind this persistent issue.

First, leaders aren’t held accountable for communication; it’s not measured, and they aren’t compensated in any way for efficient communications. As the old saying goes: “I’ll REspect what you INspect”. Without inspection, nobody cares. We need to connect communication to the bottom line and make sure leaders are held accountable.

Second, leaders have multiple, competing priorities. It’s easy to ignore communication in the face of business-critical projects. However, for anything to change, we have to recognize that communication is a process to be optimized like any other.

And third, leaders have no idea where to start. Communication habits, attitudes, and processes are specialized topics, and most teams don’t have in-house experts who are qualified to fix the problems.

So communication gets swept under the rug, and the employees do whatever they want, without guidance or coaching.

Almost every company has this hidden goldmine worth at least $10,000 per employee. You can reallocate the savings however you like: reduce payroll, add capacity, boost productivity, focus on innovation, whatever works best for you. But in the process, you’ll completely change the way people work and immediately create a better employee experience and prepare them for the digital age.

So before laying people off, before cutting services, before raising fees and damaging the customer experience, take a hard look at the way your company communicates. Eliminate the waste, shift your culture, and you’ll look like a rock star.

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