10 steps Starlight took to get staff to embrace digital transformation

The not-for-profit organisation's people and culture leaders share how they got employees to embrace technology change

Most organisations know by now that digital transformation is less about the technology, and more about the cultural and changes necessary to introduce a new, digitised way of working. What’s less obvious is how to ensure staff are taking the journey with you.

During an interview with CMO to discuss its digital shift and CRM platform implementation, Starlight Foundation’s head of people and culture, Susan Henry, and talent manager, Maryann Groth, detailed the approach taken to help employees not only adjust to digital change, but revel in the opportunities it presented.

Here, we detail 10 key ways the not-for-profit ensured its people welcomed, rather than feared, a digital technology revolution.

1. Get your staff to want technology change

According to Henry, technology has repeatedly received the lowest satisfaction scores in Starlight’s annual staff survey. The organisation asks three questions relating to technology: If the organisation has to up-to-date technology; if staff have the skills to get the most out of technology; and if they have the technology to do their jobs.

“We knew as an organisation that technology was an issue, but the team told us that too, so we were all already on the same page,” Henry said.

“At the beginning of each year, we also have experience workshops around the country where we share results from our previous year, as well as get people across Starlight’s plans for the next year. Then there are one or two topics we put in to consult on. One was the technology, and we asked people what we really need to be doing, what technology is required, and so on.

“We really engaged and consulted everyone in the organisation and knew what was on their minds, so people felt part of that change process. We’d tell them about our plans, get their input, and started off with everyone on the same page.”

2. Make change an iterative process

Henry said Starlight has done away with ‘change management’ as a term, instead focusing on the ongoing evolution of operations and culture as core values. So it was this same approach that came into play when it was time to get gear up for the CRM and digital technology overhaul.

“Change happens every day, and those old notions of change as a one-off event doesn’t hold true anymore,” she claimed. “We repositioned this as implementation and we’re quite action-oriented.”

3. Have cross-functional, embedded people managers

Another facet to Starlight’s internal communications strategy was keeping employees informed and engaged at every stage – and even before the right technology solutions had been identified. To do this, Starlight tapped into its network of people managers sitting across functional groups responsible for ensuring every staff member has a great employment experience.

“People managers are our key communication conduits, and these are people who manage teams, are cross-functional, and who report to the executive leadership team,” Henry explained. “They have a real role and responsibility for implementation of organisation-wide plans and projects that are in our business plans.”

Starlight adopted people managers as an organisational design element back in 2010. The organisation has also structured itself around ‘human instincts’, a principle that recognises everyone wants to be belong to a team, that there are ideal team sizes, and that you need a leader for each team, Groth said.

“We subscribe to a philosophy that people don’t resist change,” Henry continued. “But change is either gaining or losing, and you have to manage that to an individual level. Our people managers had a responsibility to ensure everyone knew what was coming, what is changing and why, how it affected their roles and what they needed to do. Some people take more time to come on that journey, so there’s no blanket approach.”

4. Strive for inclusiveness and honesty

In team meetings, Henry , Groth and people managers then strived to get people excited about what they could be doing or would be able to do with the new CRM platform.

“Yes, there was a bit of disruption, but we managed that in a fun way,” Henry said.

This was complemented by transparent messaging and honesty. For example, Starlight told staff it would backfill roles if things got too much.

“We gave ourselves a big deadline, but it’s not going to be perfect from day one. Everyone needed to chip in and it was clear this is where we’re going – everyone was a part of it,” Groth said. “There was acknowledgment we’d need more from them.”

In addition, technology champions were appointed in each functional team, who became go-to people when the new CRM platform went live. These individuals had extra training and were identified by executives as being interested and curious about technology, and who could communicate and troubleshoot with staff less knowledgeable. Each functional team had a champion as well as a people manager.

As well as identifying technology enthusiasts, Groth said Starlight looked for the positive energisers in each team, who embraced change and who held influence with their peers.

“We also put a role spec out through people managers, but we already had an idea who would be the champions,” she said. “We got them to gather, did a couple of teleconferences, then we worked out chatter was better for this group as they were so digitally driven – we could get them on to the new technology before everyone else.

“We gave them a role, purpose and also gave them t-shirts with the hashtag, #Ilovecosmos, which is what we called our CRM system.”

5. Make change fun

It wasn’t just tech champions who had fun with the new system. Henry said it held a competition to name the CRM platform.

“Part of our culture is to celebrate where we have been and where we are going,” Groth commented. “We had a farewell party for the old system on the Friday and on Monday, we had another party to welcome the new system. We had national playlists, t-shirts, faux cocktails and more.

“It was a celebration of where had got to - we had this new technology and there was a clear alignment to strategy.”

Some people also wrote messages in a box to farewell the system, Henry said.

“We had a lot of fun around it and it was symbolic,” she said. “When staff came in on the Monday, there were big #Ilovecosmos posters up, team champions were in the t-shirts and easily identifiable, and everyone was smiling.”

6. Adopt a matrix training model

Starlight launched a national program for CRM training, prioritising teams that needed to use the platform the most. Yet everyone was trained in the essentials and dependent on their role, either engaged in a half-day or two-day session. Step-by-step guides for all processes were also in play from day one, and are up to 188.

Today, 150 people are accessing CRM in the Starlight office, using core applications in Salesforce, along with another 150 people involved in hospital programs.

7. Encourage peer-to-peer learning

Complementing formal training is Starlight’s chatter feed, which is open to all employees. Groth said staff have introduced different hashtags and initiated campaigns, to share knowledge about using the Cosmos system. Employees are also encourage to share highlights from their experiences using the system.

“People first questioned us having another tool, but it’s just an additional component where people are relating, sharing, its work-based and it’s fun,” she said.

“People feel included and less remote,” Henry added. “It’s been embraced far more than we thought and for the right reasons. We have a culture of sharing stories, but now the whole organisation can see what’s happening in a hospital at Westmead today. We don’t have to ask people to do that. It triggers ideas and initiatives taking off, people are putting in place elsewhere.”

8. Allow people to make mistakes

Starlight is careful to make sure employees know it’s OK to make mistakes too. Groth puts this down to the organisation’s overarching culture.

“It comes down to your relationship with managers, forgiveness and moving on,” she said.

In the case of the CRM platform, staff knew it wasn’t going to do everything from day one, but it was better to get it in and work with it, rather than try for perfection, Henry said.

“Where we fail is where we to try and get things to be perfect,” she said. “We are collaborative and consultative.”

9. Recognise cross-functional impact

While Starlight staff have embraced their new digital capabilities with aplomb, what has become obvious is the need to implement a role with oversight across wider business practices.

“It has become obvious that you can’t do anything in isolation, as it has an impact elsewhere,” Henry said. “We have a project group, but we don’t have that one mind that can say ‘this affects everything else, or that one thing will not only help that functional team, but others as well’.

“We have it there as a question – do we need that digital expertise? Which don’t know which shape or form it will take. We have a digital advisory group and that’s great, but we’re coming to the point where we need one person connecting all the dots.

“To some extent, this transformation has formalised structures and thing that happen in functional teams, as no one was previously aware of what was happening in each of them. It’s a big change – you’re saying to people you can’t just email members every week, it needs to fit into a structural plan.”

Whatever role is introduced in the future, what the CRM platform has done is enabled Starlight to shift from manual data entry to automated processes that allow staff to focus more on relationships.

“In some areas, data entry into a CRM was huge – when that goes in at one point and populates everything, and you can search and use it, you can shift what you’re doing, so roles have changed,” Henry said. “In the volunteer group for example, it’s about the relationships – for example, creating commentary, bringing that together and sharing stories. Staff didn’t focus on that as much before as we were too busy keeping up with adding in the volunteer names.”

Groth noted individual capabilities have been rapidly building up as several employees have taken a real interest in the emerging digital and data capabilities CRM has brought into the organisation.

“In online community engagement for example, there are different ways of reading reports and analysis and we have three people who are now in system analysis roles who’ve come from internal teams,” she said. “We’re playing to their strengths.”

10. Don’t do it all by the book

Throughout Starlight’s digital transformation, Henry and Groth said the biggest learning was that it was all about the people.

“We resisted all notions of traditional change management methodologies - people wanted consultants engaged, and telling us we were crazy, but you have to know the organisation in order to do this,” Henry said. “They would have had us doing very bureaucratic things, such as changing people’s job descriptions.”

Groth admitted this approach met with plenty of opposition.

“That was a big sticking point – they wanted those things changed, and an impact analysis on every individual, whereas we looked at cohorts and different things,” she said. “And we just spoke to people.

“Not every message had to come from our CEO either. Louise’s [Baxter, Starlight CEO] support was incredible and amazing, but the message had to come from the team, to the team. It was a change for them, and that’s what we brought it back to.”

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