5 ways empathetic leadership can make digital transformation real

Employees don't have to suffer through technological change. Use this research-based insight to inspire innovation culture.

By thought leadership, Dell Technologies 

According to a new survey by Dell Technologies, workers are exhausted. The pace of change within organizations (combined with the protracted COVID-19 pandemic) has been a perfect recipe for burnout. More than 40% of companies surveyed said the people they count on for innovation are wrestling with poor mental health, and their work is suffering as a result. Nearly 60% said they don’t always have the motivation to act on important tech modernization efforts in the workplace.

But employees don’t have to suffer through technological change. A more empathetic approach on the part of leaders can create a better experience for end-users and employees alike. True innovation begins with empathetic leadership and technology that frees people from unfulfilling toil and helps them find purpose. Here are five ways this research can inform empathetic leadership and lead to digital transformation.

1. Prioritize employee well-being

Dell surveyed 10,500 people, from senior leaders to IT decision-makers and employees involved in digital transformation efforts. The results are clear: If organizations want to contribute to a better future for all, they must recognize that business success and employee well-being are inextricably linked. Businesses can prioritize their employees’ well-being by providing support and access to health services, promoting work-life balance and offering adequate resources and training so employees can upskill and advance their careers without sacrificing their outside interests.

2. Balance a top-down culture

A hierarchical culture that undervalues employee voices or even makes workers feel like it’s too risky to speak up stunts employee development and fractures digital transformation efforts. Nearly 70% of survey respondents believe their organization underestimates “people requirements” when planning transformation programs. The shortcomings of a top-down culture have broad repercussions for workers and the results they’re tasked with achieving.

3. Create inclusion and belonging

The Breakthrough study revealed that many workers don’t feel included. Their perspectives, identities and company status factor into their ability to succeed and feel heard. Some 83% of respondents said their leaders overlook different viewpoints, while more than 30% said their leaders treat staff as dispensable. And 60% said they do not experience fair, merit-based decision-making or equal opportunities in their roles. This lack of inclusion can be deleterious to organizations by leading to low morale, high resignation rates, and inhibiting a culture of innovation at the core level. Inclusion should be prioritized in all organizations. Allyship on the part of leaders can create the pathway to innovative culture.

4. Promote accountability in leadership

Clearly, a culture change is necessary to build a productive and loyal workforce, and it requires leadership’s full support. To be successful, leaders need to be sensitive to how their words and actions impact others, and develop a greater sense of self-awareness. In fact, 39% of senior business decision makers believe their fellow leaders need to develop a higher level of self-awareness and consider how their behavior might impact others. When planning change, consider how leaders can earn your people’s trust.

5. Listen and learn

Deeper, more meaningful communication can help leaders recognize more subtle preferences, which, if overlooked, can become challenges. For example, a significant portion of the workforce dislikes being hurried. And there’s potential for a workplace culture clash between the 65% of the workforce that considers itself methodical and the 35% that say they are not. Genuine dialogue allows leaders to better tailor change programs to employees’ individual skills.

Dell’s Breakthrough study revealed that empathy isn’t a corporate buzzword; it’s a necessary element of innovation. When leaders take the time to know how comfortable their people are with change, they can ascertain what support, encouragement and training they need to carve out new habits and learn new skills. Being more empathetic will not only help companies rebound from the last two years, it will also enable them to find their authentic voice and become an unstoppable force in technology and business.

Lead photo by Getty images