Guest Column | January 20, 2021

How Empathy Drives Technology ROI

By Alex Shegda, Point B

ROI Calculator

We need a new paradigm for our new era.

Organizations are spending more than ever on technology investments, largely driven by businesses that are increasingly digitizing their operations and creating new and better customer experiences. It’s a trend that was well underway before the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s only grown as more employees work remotely and more customers shop online for goods and services.

Yet studies show that about 70 percent of technology value-creation initiatives fail to fully deliver. Why is it so difficult to get the ROI you expected?

Several common challenges keep companies from realizing their expected returns.

First, their technology investment is disconnected from strategic business outcomes. If the IT team doesn’t understand how a system or organization is directly empowering the business to achieve strategic goals, there’s a danger of implementing systems that simply increase costs.

Second, modern systems require an entirely new architectural paradigm. There’s a tendency to assume the skills that got you where you are today are the same skills that will get you where you want to be tomorrow. This assumption doesn’t hold true. People must learn new skills to realize new value. And setting them up for success takes empathy—the ability to anticipate and respond to their cognitive and emotional needs.

Third, organizations fail to accurately quantify the value of an effort up-front, in the business case. Even when they do, there’s a temptation to forget it takes the right tools and KPIs to deliver that value.

Last, and most importantly, companies devalue how their employees will interact with the new technology. This is the legacy of an old paradigm that no longer serves customers, employees, or the bottom line.

Valued People Create Valuable Technology

Organizations must take a holistic and empathetic approach by building five capabilities that are key to value creation including:

  • Increasing customer value and lifting the revenue curve by using technology optimization to transform the way the organization operates.
  • Enabling best-in-class cloud solutions to reduce costs, improve flexibility and sustainability.
  • Maximizing the business value of applications and accelerating speed to market through our applications strategy.
  • Better understanding the business, suppliers, and competitors by enabling faster, deeper insights through data.
  • Using digital to drive differentiated customer and employee experiences based on a deep understanding of wants and needs.

Every step of the way, realizing the full value of technology is not only a technology problem. It’s about realizing the full value of your people.

Healthy Employee Experience, Healthy ROI

Digital channels are the most common way for companies to realize value from new technology-driven revenue sources. As such, most companies understand the importance of centering new technology around the user experience they want to create for their external customers. But many still overlook and undervalue the needs of their internal customers: their employees.

High employee adoption is just as important as high customer adoption of a digital channel. Companies need to bring the same level of empathy and understanding to employees as they do to their customers. What matters to your employees? How do you create a user experience that enables them to deliver the greatest return on your tech investment?

The New Paradigm Is Human-Centric

Decades into the digital revolution, it’s ironic so many companies still view and value “user experience” as the customer experience. Why does the employee experience still get deprioritized when it’s essential to realizing the highest ROI on technology spend?

It’s a legacy of the manufacturing age, the era in which most of today’s senior business leaders came up—the era of Drucker and Deming. Under this manufacturing-centric paradigm, companies defined great leaders by their ability to maximize the quality and productive output of widgets.

But the enterprise has changed. It is now completely wrapped around experience—internal and external. This shift from the manufacturing age to the human-centric age forces all of us to rethink not only how we organize the enterprise, but also how we affect change across it. While the old paradigm was hierarchical and concentrated power in the hands of the few, the new paradigm is democratized, inclusive, and diverse. Everyone is a stakeholder, everyone has a voice, and the people who work close to customers and know them best have the power to influence decisions.

Empathy Counteracts “The Slope Of Despair”

It’s important to understand the full user experience with equal consideration for customers and employees. This includes helping employees navigate “the slope of despair”—the downward curve that typically occurs when the initial excitement of a bold technology investment moves into the planning and action phase. At this stage, it’s common to get lost in the technical minutiae and forget that systems exist for people. This is typically the point of the project where the ability to realize value begins to erode. At this critical point, it’s important to steer the project to stay oriented around people. Prepare people to succeed and implement some quick wins that deliver significant value right away. Quick wins build people’s confidence in their ability to realize value and set them up for future successes, too. After all, when an organization fails to meet goals, people’s resistance to change increases. On the other hand, when an organization has experienced wins, people are more inclined and receptive to shifting gears because they’ve done it before—and succeeded.

Businesses are living in a new era and need to think differently about how to create value. Taking a holistic approach and anchoring it around the human experience—with empathy for your employees and customers—is the critical path to the greatest return on your technology investment. You’ll realize value more rapidly. Your employees will feel a greater sense of ownership. And your organization will gain the agility and appetite to keep learning and launching new technologies that create new value.

About The Author

Alex Shegda is a principal with Point B, a consulting company that helps organizations in the areas of customer engagement, growth investments, workforce experience, and operations excellence. He is an IT professional with 15 years’ experience building and leading global IT teams through change, and has led infrastructure, governance, strategy, and change management projects for small, midsized, and large organizations across multiple industries.