Perceptions and expectations regarding the shift to digital at French companies differ between Human Resources people and top management on the one side and the operational workforce on the other.

Digital Shift : French companies need better internal communication

In discussions about the shift to digital at companies, Digital is often portrayed as a bogeyman before whom management and employees alike tremble. Nevertheless the digital transition is a step that all firms will definitely have to go through, as implementing digital technologies at all levels of the organisation constitutes a real opportunity to boost competitiveness.

In late 2014, Abilways Digital, which assists companies making the move to digital, teamed up with market research firm TNS Sofres to survey company employees on digital transformation at their organisations. A total of 273 employees in France working for companies with over 200 staff were polled for the study – 108 HR staff and 165 operations staff. Companies may well have embarked on the transition process, but it is not perceived the same way by all staff. The report reveals that 69% of the respondents stated that digital transformation was underway at the company, 87% saw digital transformation as a real opportunity for their firm, and 55% saw it as a factor that would have a significant impact on the business model. However, although all respondents appear to have grasped the fact that digital transformation is important to the firm, only 27% said they were comfortable using digital tools.

A gap between HR and line personnel

Everyone polled agreed that training was very important. Some 89% of employees – both operational and HR staff – felt it should be a priority to have a training plan to enable everyone to familiarise themselves with digital tools. However, views on whether information is available on the subject of training at the company differs widely. Some 61% of the operational staff polled either felt sure that their company did not offer this type of training or did not know whether it did or not, whereas 62% of HR staff claimed that such training was on offer.

Moreover, over half those surveyed, including HR people, doubt the ability of HR-provided services to actually assist employees during the various phases of digital transition. But the lack of mutual understanding goes beyond the training on offer to employees, as HR managers believe that one in three operational staff are hesitant about switching to digital channels, whereas the survey results report that 86% of operational staff are in fact extremely confident about the changes in prospect.

Although our subject here is the process of integrating the new digital technologies into the company work culture, the problems that arise during that process appear to be the same old ones that crop up on a regular basis at most companies: internal communication, change management and adapting to customer demands. However these days ″you can no longer sweep these factors under the carpet,” argues Marion Breuleux, an analyst at Abilways Digital. Staff have a variety of tools to hand for expressing their discontent to all and sundry. The firm’s decision-makers will then have to react, and fast. Anthony Poncier, Social Business and Digital Transformation Director EMEA at MSLGROUP (part of the Publicis Group), says the gap between employee and HR views is over-dramatized and needs to be put in perspective. The differences have narrowed since previous surveys, so there is evidence that the digital transformation is taking its course.


The digital shift: governance too vague

If objectives are not clearly formulated at the highest level of a company, and are then badly communicated, it goes without saying that line staff will be very vague about the transition to digital and the impact it will have. The survey results show that 63% of staff believe the firm is taking action in this field but that it communicates very badly on the actions it takes, or that more is going on than company management are revealing. Meanwhile the operational workforce feels this is a serious matter, with just under 50% believing that the changes will directly affect their own jobs.

The same degree of uncertainty is felt towards those leading digital transformation projects at the firm. Half of all staff polled – including both HR and line people – do not regard the management as real standard bearers of the digital transformation process and many staff believe that management have not made the digital shift in their own jobs. Even a year ago, company heads messaging on Twitter were still very much the ″happy few″, recalls Marion Breuleux.

Obviously, leading digital transformation at a company is about very much more than maintaining a high profile on the social networks. Nevertheless, ″companies’ communication techniques do need to evolve,″ stresses Anthony Poncier. Transformation will certainly take time because the issues involved are closely bound up with company culture, but company bosses need to send a strong message upfront. They need to show that they ‘get’ the issues around digital transformation, and they must align the firm’s operational policy accordingly so that employees can incorporate digital tools and approaches into their daily working lives.

En violet les opérationnels et en orange les RH.

 89% of employees believe that an appropriate training plan is important and should be a priority 

By Pauline Canteneur