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Six change management essentials for digital transformation success

(Image credit: Image Credit: Chombosan / Shutterstock)

70 per cent of digital transformations fail!*. This is a statistic that businesses are too familiar with - I hear it cited on an almost weekly basis. And the reason for this? Technology is over-prioritised, whilst everything that makes technology actually work - people, processes, culture, and mindset - are undervalued.

Change is a fluffy term which many organisations find difficult to fund, mainly because the value is basically impossible to quantify. This difficulty in quantifying the benefits, together with the inability to physically see the outputs of a change programme, is the main reason why there is underinvestment in this area compared to other expenditure. But there are some key areas that we can consider that make a real difference to operations, and ultimately ensure that digital transformation, or the successful adoption of technology in an organisation, can be improved.

The term change management may have earned itself a bad reputation over the past few years. It is especially hard for business leaders to understand in the context of digital, because we are repeatedly told that many enterprise technologies are off the shelf and need limited management. Perhaps the first thing we should do is reconsider this opinion.

This is not to say that these enterprise platforms are not off the shelf, but whilst easy-to-use, intuitive consumer platforms (Airbnb, Spotify, Uber et al.) are being readily adopted into the mainstream outside of the workplace in day-to-day life, it’s easy to imagine that acceptance of new enterprise technology might be on a par. However, if you take a deeper look at why these consumer platforms are so easy to use, you’ll see that adoption is usually central to the technology’s product strategy. Consumers don’t want to be calling up for support or logging tickets. They want answers now, in the application at their fingertips. This ideology of making adoption part of the technology product, or technology-enabled change, is central to the future of successful digital platforms within the workplace. But change and adoption go beyond just use - particularly in the workplace - it is all about acceptance and advocacy; often political and mostly much more difficult.

So, for now, consumer and enterprise technology should not be confused and that is why digital transformation must be accompanied by a change programme. Change is essential for success. Here are six key things to consider when approaching your digital transformation project:

1. Plan to be flexible

We all love Agile working, and change management should be no different. Ensure the work that the change team is doing is managed through Kanban by getting the tasks that the team is doing up on a wall for all to see, prioritise, and track. Encourage a culture of flexibility, iteration, and ownership in the work that the team is completing

2. Find people who will advocate the journey

You will find it hard to manage change if it is just you alone. And there will be people embedded throughout your organisation who have the energy, skills, and passion to help push through that change of mindset, thinking, and learning. Identify these change agents, train them and provide them with messaging. Keep change messages focused on the customers’ benefits and not the organisation’s direction. It’s all about the endgame, not an end in itself.

3. Change is a capability, not a project management tool

Change management usually gets bucketed as a project management activity. We should shift our thinking of change as a capability in itself - something that the business needs to be able to do and deliver to ensure the programme is a success. For it to be a capability, we must build it into our operating models, assign resources to it and give it a roadmap. Make it as important as everything else.

4. Make change tangible

Contrary to what many think, change can actually be very tangible. You can see change is happening when people understand, question, and digest. Bring the programme into your people’s daily working lives - get them talking about it at lunch; learn from those who are undergoing the change journey. Print posters, deploy leadership videos, run engagement workshops, and ultimately ensure people are trained effectively. These are tangible deliverables that ensure education and the winning of hearts and minds.

5. Make meaningful conversations your communication strategy

Change is the human side of your transformation, but people are not a pushover and can be hard to convince. The only way to truly engage them is through meaningful conversation - understanding their views, apprehensions and ideas through meetings, feedback forms and workshops. People usually resist when not engaged, or through rumours and scaremongering. Remove this by being honest and transparent and involve them in designing the end solution and making leaders and change agents known.

6. Technology and change as one

Your development sprint cycle and change-oriented activity should be aligned. This elevates the importance of the activity in the minds of technologists, and also of sponsors. It makes neither successful unless both are delivered in equal proportion. It also ensures that change is directly influenced by what technology has been built, so that change managers understand how technology should be embedded in an organisation. Equally, it makes technology teams understand that the journey doesn’t end at acceptance criteria.

At the end of the day, the level of success of the organisation’s digital transformation depends upon the perfect marriage of technology release, mindset shift, process implementation, and education and training. The goals of digital transformation - usually driving improvements in brand equity, consumer engagement or online/offline revenue - are only achieved when an organisation is able to deliver a platform on time and then use it properly in a business as usual scenario. As much as technology can be considered a hard deliverable, the reality is that it is your teams that will deliver the value. It’s time to put more value into engaging the people that really drive digital transformation success.

Daniel Painter, Digital Operations & Enablement Consultant, Cognifide (opens in new tab)
Image Credit: Chombosan / Shutterstock

Daniel Painter is a Digital Operations & Enablement Consultant at Cognifide, a world leading marketing technology consultancy working with some of the world's leading businesses to deliver exceptional customer experiences.