A look at some of the things you can do to help staff get on board with digital ways of working and running services.

If you want your charity to succeed with digital, it’s really important to get staff on board.

This is often an issue when a charity introduces new technology or tools or ways of working. For one reason or another, staff may have reservations, and have to be persuaded.

It’s a big problem. Because if the people who work at a charity won’t use digital, it’s useless.

Many charity digital leads said in our Digital Journeys research that this was one of their biggest barriers. Many said they wished they had addressed it earlier in the digital journey.

Staff may not engage because:

  • They are reluctant to learn something new. They’re familiar with the current technology, and they want to keep using it.
  • They worry about getting it wrong, and not doing a good job.
  • They’re wary of being asked to do more work, and sceptical that digital solutions will help.
  • They’ve had a previous bad experience, and they fear the new solution may not work. 
  • They think digital change may interfere with their way of working.
  • They simply don’t see the need for change, if things are already functioning well.
  • They feel threatened by the process. They worry that jobs are at risk.

All of these are reasonable concerns. Staff are justified in feeling this way. So it’s important for digital leads to engage with staff teams, and find ways to address these issues.

Here are some ways to get staff on board, as recommended by digital leads at other charities. Many of these are similar to those involved in getting leaders on board.

1. Understand their culture

The first place to start is with a general understanding. It’s important to know what makes the charity tick. Change happens differently in every organisation, and you need to know how it works in yours. That means a digital lead needs to understand the approaches and attitudes of the staff. It’s good to know how they like to learn, and how information moves about the organisation.

2. Understand the detail

One first place to start is with a practical understanding of people's jobs. Understand what they do, how they do it, why they do it, and what frustrates them. This will help you make sure any new digital tools or processes will add value to people's jobs. It will help them trust that you've thought about this.

3. Find the most influential people

You will need digital champions in your organisation. Think about who the most influential people are. They’re often not the people with the most senior job titles. They may be your biggest sceptics. Try to reach those people, understand their motivations and pain points, and work out how digital can help them. If they become advocates for your way of working, things will go much more easily.

4. Involve staff early

You can’t communicate too much. When you’re introducing new digital systems, it’s easy to get caught up in technical processes and external research. Digital often starts off with intensive work on one system, in one corner of the charity, involving only a few people. But it’s never too early to talk to everyone else, and explain what’s going on.

5. Co-design with staff

In the long run, you will have to involve staff if you want to succeed. They are experts in their service users and in their charity. They will have strong views about how services should be run. They have to use the technology.

Digital philosophy stresses that it’s important to co-design with service users. But that means working with internal stakeholders too. They will have requirements that have to be included, and they will have insight that you need.

6. Show them the evidence

Staff want to know that you’ve done your homework. As mentioned above, most staff have seen failed IT projects in the past. They may have low levels of trust. Staff will also be worried about the implications for service users. They will worry about excluding people, and leaving vulnerable individuals stranded.

But if you can show them the user research, and show them that these are things that service users actually want and need, this will go a long way to reassure them.

You can also get support from other places. Show staff that you are following processes that have worked in other charities. Or get support from external experts and consultants who can back up what you’re saying.

7. Embrace people's concerns

Digital leads work hard on new services and systems. It can be easy to get defensive when those system are challenged or questioned. It’s a natural reaction to try to dismiss any worries.

But this can be counterproductive. There are many reasons why staff reservations are reasonable and valid. Digital often brings with it big changes and it can have significant impacts. Challenge may feel like a personal criticism of the digital lead, but it’s very unlikely that it really is, and it’s important to remember this.

8. Get a small win

It’s much easier to get people on board if you can show that it’s already working. We already recommend that you should start work on digital with a single system. It’s much easier to make all the mistakes when doing something small. But this has the added advantage that once you’ve done that small thing, and made it work better, you can then show everyone. If you have a handful of happy users in one corner of the office, they can spread the word throughout the organisation.

9. Make your motivations clear

To charity staff, motivation is often as important as results. It’s easy to be mistrustful and think that decisions are being made to save money and not to deliver better results for staff or users. If you can show that change is happening for the right reasons, staff will show much more trust and engagement. 

10. Get support from leaders

Similarly, if you want staff on board, you need the backing of the senior leaders in the organisation. If you can show support from the chief executive and the board, things are likely to go much more smoothly.

11. Test and change

Once you’ve listened to staff, you’ve got to show that you’re doing something about it. Things won’t be right the first time. They never are. The whole philosophy of digital says that it’s important to test things, make changes, and iterate frequently.

With staff, this is an opportunity. If you listen to what they tell you, and do something about it, then they are far more likely to engage with you next time. And you’ll have a better service, too.


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