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How to lead digital transformation through change management

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Wichy)

There’s so much information concerning operational evolution and how businesses should undergo such processes in order to remain relevant.

But before delving into the powers of a well-executed project, such as digital transformation, the first step that’s required is to understand what it is – or rather, what it’s not.

For example, such a program shouldn’t solely revolve around moving infrastructure into a public cloud, buying the latest – and greatest – application nor simply deploying a SaaS solution in place of something on-premise. In fact, digital transformation has its roots more in the business as opposed to the IT department itself.

With any misconceptions outlined, the next step is to define what is true digital transformation? Firstly, it aligns both the company and customer requirements to the right technology, at the right time. It enforces organizations to challenge what isn’t working – and develop a plan to remediate. It’s about understanding current operations and enabling product owners to articulate what technological adoption and advancement is required.

A digital transformation’s focus should be on automating practices to address operational efficiency because – when executed well – an organization can enhance the way in which it is run and ultimately prioritize people, processes and technology. Adopting a holistic approach is more likely to realize a firm’s desired business benefits.

The evolution of diversification

As more enterprises move to a digital-first world, the role of change management must shift at the same pace to meet fresh challenges. For example, methods that focus on the human impact – such as user experience and design thinking – must now be front and center of any transformation program.

So, where do organizations begin when embarking upon such a revolutionary project? Here are five practices to consider.

1.            Employees must be at the heart of any transformation

Traditionally, IT departments have left the integration of change management as a final step. In other words, the focus has previously been on implementing technology and then tackling how it would influence a firm’s processes and people. It’s here where modern-day thinking has to be slightly reimagined.

Engaging with employees about what is working well – and what is not – must be a priority before performing any aspect of digital transformation. In fact, workforces should be the ones to provide the reasons for change in the first place.

Addressing real operational issues for users should, in turn, help to drive support and generate excitement about the proposed program.

2.            Build senior level support from the outset

Obtaining non-IT leadership backing is another important phase – and one that is often ignored. Could this be because of a perceived language barrier between the business and technology? Perhaps.

Therefore, it’s vital to communicate with all colleagues and underline the benefits and material business impact as a result of any change. If this step isn’t taken seriously, the wider company may be more resistant to new ways of working.

To get senior leadership on board, change managers should understand the enterprise’s pain points and provide practical solutions. This can be addressed throughout – there’s often no need to make a dramatic modification that will turn a company on its head. Additionally, that means all employees are presented with the opportunity to adjust because they’ve been part of the consultation from the beginning.

3.            Understand the technology on a deeper level

One of the most critical stages of any digital diversification is explaining to staff how it will alter the way they currently work – and ensuring they can continue to do their jobs whilst the project is in full swing.

Again, communication is key, so program leaders must ensure they have allocated the right resources and support to provide teams with the correct training, so they understand new processes – and also why change is necessary.

4.            Failing to plan is planning to fail

For any operational shift, having a strategy in place is vital – but it must be agile to meet ever-evolving demands – whether that concerns customers, employees or the marketing in general.

It is always risky to have a plan ‘set in stone’ because embarking on this kind of project demands flexibility. Having the confidence to tweak the framework accordingly enables the program to adapt to of-the-moment requirements, and also prevent it from becoming completely redundant.

5.            Focus on the company culture

Several studies have shown that developing a positive internal environment can fall behind the processes and technological elements when it comes to digital readiness. However, transformation should always influence how a business operates on a cultural level. Ultimately the adjustments brought about by the project should enhance both user and customer interactions.

If executed well, digitalization brings clarity to operations and can provide the catalyst for a collaborative environment. Of course, it doesn’t always come easy but change management means creating open – and effective – dialogue with colleagues to keep them abreast of inhouse developments.

With a focus on team togetherness and remaining stakeholder-inclusive, managers can help their cause when attempting to convert any traditional ‘naysayers’ within the firm, alongside helping to promote innovation and reduce program delivery time.

Digital transformation is a complex task

Such a program requires entire teams to be prepared – and for communication to remain a priority. Managers must be able to articulate a clear vision for the future, but understand that this project isn’t a company’s final destination because it takes much more than a single revision to continue innovating.

Undergoing a process that embraces more automated, efficient operations, cultural change and effective communication can help companies to reap the overall business benefits that a successful digital transformation project can deliver.

Mike Lewis, solutions director, Solutionize Global