Empowering Digital Product Leaders
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How Digital Transformation Affects the Manufacturing Industry

How Digital Transformation Affects the Manufacturing Industry

  • Podcast /
  • Product Led Growth /

Jonathon Hensley recently visited with Amanda Dolby on Manufacturing Tomorrow’s Workforce.  As with all industries in this era of the COVID pandemic, the manufacturing field is exploring the need to provide more readily available remote technology that empowers their people. Jonathon shared the essential elements for success in facilitating digital transformation.    

Digital Transformation in Manufacturing

There are a couple of key areas that we hear people exploring right now across all industries, especially in manufacturing. One is: How do we leverage technology to empower our employees?  Really thinking about the employee experience. Not only how we think about people that may need to work remotely, but also about bringing those key people back into our facilities in a safe way. How do we support them? Letting them know that not only do they have a safe work environment, but they can trust and effectively interact with the facilities, the equipment, the people, the processes and systems that they need to with all of the changes that are taking place.

The other big area is: How do you engage your customers in the space? A lot of organizations are used to working with modern day technologies and teleconferencing. But the ability to demo or get on site, or changing the way that we interact and engage with our clientele has changed. 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? Potentially, in achieving support in the overall manufacturing supply chain with the customer, and what kind of transparency and engagement that you want to examine.

Another key area of exploration 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 the Internet, creating 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 so that they can actually then support themselves by providing better information, better interaction and engagement? All of these things fundamentally impact the business model of an organization. This is a really important consideration, not just during the time of a pandemic, but especially as an organization looks at change and modernizing for long term relevance. Many of our clients are using service blueprints to solve this challenge.

Getting Your Team to Buy In to Digital Transformation

There are 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. That has to come from leadership. Leadership has to understand the current state of the organization, and where they want to be. There has to be a clear destination and vision of what that looks like.

The next step is to make the changes 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. You can help every employee at an individual level understand the importance of that change, and how their contribution will make a difference in helping the organization get to that goal and achieve that strategy. That becomes really important. That’s empowerment. Empowerment allows people to start to embrace change. That clarity gives them a path to purpose, understanding what that change, and successful change will look like. That really helps people to overcome some of the fears and anxieties that come with change. So we need to start there.

Secondly, we really need to look at team alignment and how to 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. Digital transformation 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? How do we effectively collaborate together through that change? And that’s usually pretty loosely defined. More often than not, it’s thought of as: “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.” It’s true, the people are fantastic. But if they don’t have that bigger product strategy, and that really clear understanding of what the objectives are, you get a lot of rework and a lot of false starts, where you’re just not making progress and you feel like you’re failing, because you’re not making that progress. Organizational leaders really need to take responsibility to champion that change and address the missing gaps that are that lead to product failure and transformational failure.

One of the things that we see a lot of at Emerge is that technology is purchased or implemented with a big technology strategy goal. And a goal is not a strategy. It’s really important to help employees understand the technology and what it means, more subsequently than just how does this help achieve a goal? Then, when we start to plan, we can explore: How do we introduce this new tool to our team? How do we train them on that? How do we then support them through that process? It’s usually: “Here you go, here’s this new tool. We’re going to do some seminars, maybe hear some tutorial information.” Typically, there is missing context in that approach and training. We’re learning how to use the tool. We’re not learning, teaching people why the tool is important. They have to know why that is the right tool. We have to do a better job on helping employees embrace this change and their concerns; really helping them understand why that tool is being invested in, and why it’s so important.

By giving employees an opportunity to really embrace the opportunity, it makes learning, retooling, and rescaling far easier because they can connect it to things that they know. Institutional knowledge such as a senior, tenured worker in a factory is just incredible. You can’t replace that knowledge. Their experience and insight into what they do is invaluable. In the most effective digital transformation, we see that employees are actually part of solving the problem with the existing system.

Those same people that are going to be trained on using this technology are being brought in early to the process to develop the requirements for the technology. 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. When that gets missed, then you usually see extremely poor adoption, and really underwhelming usage of the new technologies. We have to bridge that and address those concerns more proactively by getting them involved in the process.

Leveraging Digital Products in the Modernization Process

The current environment with the pandemic has accelerated the urgency for many organizations, as well as those that have been late to adopt some of the new modern opportunities and ways of engaging with customers and supporting employees. It’s a significant undertaking to make some of these investments and changes. 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. It’s been risky business for some to maintain stability. In some cases, it’s a thin margin that’s based on volume. It’s been really important to support continuity and not just employees, but the communities that these organizations call home.

I think right now what we’re seeing is, with the overall situation, both here and around the world is the necessity to modernize. The expectations of consumers at all levels are rapidly being pushed to the forefront. In order to maintain relevance and actually be able to effectively operate, organizations need to embrace modernization.

A really simple example is where a website for many organizations is thought of as more of a brochure, it’s just a marketing tool. That website actually becomes a product itself when it becomes essential to the product or services that you deliver. The way that you think about it, the way you manage it, the way that you deliver that is transformational in itself to an organization. Once you start treating it like that, you unlock a lot of potential and opportunity.  You could argue that currently, for many organizations where this is now the front door to their organization, they find the website as a product is grossly underperforming.

“You can coordinate with anybody, but you can only collaborate with people that you trust.” 

Steven M.R. Covey. From The Speed of Trust

Many times there are different mandates, different objectives. You have to bring those into alignment when you’re asking your teams to collaborate. You have to make sure that you have a common goal and shared understanding of what you’re trying to achieve, and why it’s important. It becomes essential that you each need to come together to help solve the problem effectively. The other thing that we see often is: Is there enough trust or rapport being built between the different teams and functions?

To really collaborate and to solve these tough problems, to move these big initiatives like digital transformation forward, it takes bringing the different disciplines together, and making sure they have a trusting relationship and a shared understanding of what needs to be accomplished. This needs to come all the way from the top. You have to have CEOs in these organizations that can go to all of the team leaders and say: This is what we need to be doing, why we need to be doing it, and making sure that those leaders are communicating that information down through the organization. Leaders really need to focus on unifying the common goal, and making sure that there’s that shared understanding. That communication itself is very complex and a hard thing to do. It always sounds simple, but the more people you have involved, the more complex it becomes in maintaining that over time. Many of these initiatives do take quite a bit of time. It’s a very tough thing to do. 

Right now, more than ever need to slow down to speed up. They need to really step back and understand the problem that they’re facing, how they want to address it, and how they can build resilience for the future. Bringing the team members into that process, and leveraging that incredible knowledge and skills that they have in their areas of expertise that may not have changed for a decade, or even two decades. We need to stop and validate that. Leveraging that to really understand it’s full impact of changing that process and what that could look like. That should be part of that upfront conversation to really ensure that there’s a path toward success.

Forward. Digital. Thinking.

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