Digital programs can be unwieldy. There may be over 100 people involved, and five operational silos. Poor communication, particularly between silos and teams, is the largest cause of failure for large digital programs. This can be caused by poor processes, or by teams not being able to come together to solve problems.

Fortunately, there is a secret weapon that can be the deciding factor between success and failure: empathy.

When delivering digital programs, there is a secret weapon that can be the deciding factor between success and failure: empathy

Enter Empathy

There are a few broad types of empathy:

  • Cognitive Empathy - the ability to understand another person's perspective or mental state
  • Affective Empathy - also known as emotional empathy; the ability to understand another person's feelings

Empathy in digital programs is the ability to understand other people's points of view. Starting from a position of empathy allows groups to collaborate and solve problems together.

In empathy for digital transformation, there are four core pillars to build empathy skills throughout the organization.

4 Pillars of Empathy Skills Graphic

Allow for Vulnerability

Vulnerability starts with you. To be aware of what others are feeling and experiencing, you need to start with what you are feeling and experiencing. 

We have all seen it happen. When one person, especially in a leadership position, lets down their guard, others respond by acting in kind. It is a type of emotional intelligence and management skill that team leaders can bring to the table. It also allows others to follow the leader’s example, and experience their own social and emotional learning. 

Build a Space of Trust

In order to create a place where people can be safely vulnerable, leaders must build trust. What does it look like for digital programs? Leadership must set the expectation of trusting their teams to be working in good faith towards the common goal. 

Every individual, group, and silo acts under the expectation that they are contributing towards a shared, common, goal. Conflicts and solutions are geared towards that shared goal, rather than individual or personal gain.

Take Ownership

The best way to take ownership is to create a work environment that rewards solutions, rather than blame. Imagine a Risk and Issues weekly call where everyone operated from this principle. The conversation would be a collaboration to create solutions, rather than blame individuals or groups.

It’s critical to note that there’s a difference between root cause analysis and blaming. Root cause analysis is an exercise to discover why something happened, to ensure it doesn't happen again. This can be very helpful, especially when it is focused on discovering problems, rather than assigning blame.

Empathy in Practice

The easiest way to learn these concepts is to show them in practice. Having a culture of blame and distrust creates an environment that stresses our senses. Building trust, practicing empathy, and becoming solutions-focused is an ongoing exercise. It's a cultural change that leadership can bring to the process.

Building the trust, practicing empathy and becoming solutions-focused is an ongoing exercise. It's a cultural change that leadership can bring to the process.

This has psychological impacts. For work cultures that have been focused on conflict and blame, we become wired for stress. In practicing empathy, we can undo this. 

Our amygdala (the fear center of the brain) needs to experience that working through difficult tasks is not life or death. It is not, actually, the same as the bear chasing us in the woods! Our amygdala also functions at a lower level than our logic center (the prefrontal cortex). Which means it "learns" through action rather than explanation.

From Work to Life

These concepts apply to a large-scale digital program. They also apply to team meetings, daily interactions, and even personal relationships. Living vulnerable, trusting, ownership-led lives helps us live happier lives of contributing to society.

Interested in rethinking your digital transformation? Let's talk!

And don't forget to check out this video excerpt: Why starting cultural transformation at the program level makes sense for enterprises driving a digital transformation. Watch the full webinar here.

About the Author

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Rohit Garewal


Rohit is a forward-thinking eCommerce evangelist, especially focused on re-energizing the B2B sector and merging the old disciplines with new technology opportunities. He is passionate about delivering profitable growth through people-driven digital transformation. Watch his talk on digital transformation.

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