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In 2022 leaders need empathy to drive positive digital transformation – IT Brief Australia

Article by Dell Technologies Australia and New Zealand senior VP and MD Angela Fox.
The past two and a half years have been a period of rapid change, permanently altering how we do business; Australian and New Zealand businesses have adopted new technology to support business continuity during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, when businesses focus on modernising technology to overcome challenges and embrace the new digital economy, they often forget to support the most integral part of a business – employees. 
Statistics by Asana reveal that across ANZ, nearly 8 in 10 employees have felt burnt out. A new Dell Technologies Breakthrough study confirms it: workers are exhausted. The pace of change within their organisations, combined with the ongoing struggle with the pandemic, has been a perfect recipe for burnout. 
Prioritising employee wellbeing 
Over half of Australian and New Zealand companies surveyed as part of Dell Technologies Breakthrough study said the people they count on for innovation are wrestling with burnout and poor mental health, and their work is suffering as a result. 66% of companies said employees don’t always have the motivation to act on important technology modernisation efforts in the workplace. 
Technological change shouldn’t be something employees suffer ‘through’. If that’s the case, they’ll give up early or use only a tiny portion of the new technology’s features. A more empathetic approach on the part of leaders creates the best possible experience for end-users and creates a more positive and productive workplace.
Dell Technologies surveyed 10,500 people globally, including 400 Australians and 200 New Zealanders, from senior leaders to IT decision makers and employees involved in digital transformation efforts at companies ranging in size from 100 employees to more than 10,000. The results are clear: If organisations want to contribute to a better future for all, they must recognise that business success and people’s wellbeing are inextricably linked. 
Innovation starts with empathy 
In 2022, true innovation begins with empathetic leadership and technology that frees people from unfulfilling tasks, allowing them to focus on work that leverages their unique skill sets. Empathy can break through employee resistance to encourage acceptance of change, putting companies on a sustainable path to technological advancement.
Unfortunately, many Australian and New Zealand leaders appear to lack soft skills like empathy. In Australia, a  2021 survey by YouGov found that 65% of workers said their manager struggles with soft skills and reports that young workers are increasingly seeking employers that lead with empathy and emotional intelligence. In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern consistently talks about the power of leading with empathy, saying, “We need our leaders to be able to empathise with the circumstances of others”.
A hierarchical culture that undervalues consultation or makes employees feel like it’s too risky to speak up is a costly miscalculation that stunts employee development and hinders digital transformation efforts. 
The numbers from the Dell Breakthrough survey are striking: 56% of the respondents don’t believe their organisation knows what it takes to transform the workforce. 74% believe their organisation underestimates “people requirements” when planning transformation programs.
The numbers don’t get any better when we dig a little deeper. The shortcomings of a top-down culture have broad repercussions for the workforce and the results it is tasked with achieving.
About 83% of respondents to the Breakthrough survey said their leaders overlook different perspectives or viewpoints. 36% of employees involved in digital transformation said their leaders treat staff as dispensable. 60% said they do not see fair, merit-based decision-making or equal opportunities in their roles, and 38% said their leaders only consult specific teams or disciplines.
Digital transformation requires a cultural shift
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 the Breakthrough survey, more than half of senior business decision-makers admitted they simply assume employees understand why it’s essential to adopt new technologies and modernise.
Deeper, more meaningful communication helps leaders recognise subtle challenges, like the significant portion of the workforce that does not like to rush or the potential clash between the organised and non-organised employees.
Genuine dialogue allows leaders to better tailor change programs to employees’ individual skills. When leaders take the time to know how comfortable their people are with change, they are better able to ensure success for the large number of employees that may require more time, support, or incentive to change habits and learn.
In the modern workplace, people want to feel valued and supported; to get the best out of people as the world transforms, our leaders need to transform with it. 


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