How individuals embrace change in their everyday lives will tend to align with how they support change in their working environment. The ability to adopt new concepts and adapt to new ideas affects not only that individual, but the organisations they work within too.
The attributes of a workforce are likely to determine the potential success, or failure, of an organisation’s ability to transform. Skepticism, resistance, enthusiasm and confidence, to name a few, all impact on change rates. The onus, therefore, should be on the adopting organisation to effectively communicate the need, desire and benefit of any change to their employees in order to drive maximum engagement, and in the fast-evolving landscape of digitalisation, the need for company-wide buy in to see a turnaround on value release has never been more imperative.
To deliver truly valuable and sustainable digital transformation within any organisation, the human element is the crucial piece of the jigsaw. Too often, organisations rely on the technology being implemented to generate employee behavioural change, and approach communication with a ‘one size fits all’ mindset. This can result in stalled adoption, project abandonment and an overall negative attitude towards digital transformation and strategic integrity. In reality, how organisations encourage internal engagement and motivate and inspire change adoption is the pivotal element.
To frame this discussion, the widely understood Law of Diffusion of Innovation will be used to provide context around human adaptability to change. By redefining the concepts behind this model as human characteristics, informed recommendations can be made as to how organisations can engage and support their teams through often confusing, fast-paced transition periods, where their roles feel under threat and their foundations rocked.
The law of diffusion of innovation
Although originally designed as a marketing tool for launching new products, this model is particularly significant when discussing how people react and adapt to new ideas that generates a personal change – and so becomes a useful tool in discussing digital transformation adoption. Using this model, we can take a more considered approach to how we engage our teams and make provisions for the variety of needs of individuals to feel psychologically ‘safe enough’ to move into new. The approach below is by no means exhaustive but is designed to be food for thought and a prompt for businesses leading the digital transformation charge.
These are easy to spot in organisations. They bring new ideas, want to be the first to try new concepts and have an entrepreneurial spirit. They tend to quickly understand the big new ideas and their benefits and are enthusiastic in communicating with others on why the new is amazing. They are essential to organisations in seeking and testing new ideas and should be utilised for these strengths.
The downside of innovators is that they are not great leaders of change. They can often jump from idea to idea, and with limited attention spans, they do not successfully lead others to a positive conclusion and can lack understanding when others fail to share their enthusiasm. Innovators will search for new solutions when digital transformation isn’t landing quickly and will look to implement these new ideas before change has matured and been sustained.
This group needs to be engaged for their strengths in forward thinking and adaptability, whilst they need to be carefully kept on track, be guided into fully thinking through their ideas, and assisted in engaging others to ensure the desired outcomes are made a reality.
The early adopters
Arguably the most important group in enabling successful delivery of digital transformation. They like innovation and are prepared to move early with new ideas, trends and technology. They are more considered in their approach than The Innovators are and can hold back initial excitement to think through the outcomes. Early Adopters are strong deliverers of change because they are superior in their explanation of the benefits and are adept at judging the right time move on new technology.
This group needs to be engaged early in the process to sense-check and refine new digital transformation projects. Once on board, leverage this group to test and review the project and encourage them to communicate progress with other employees; their enthusiasm can be infectious. The downside: if you don’t get buy in from this group, any transformation is likely to fail. Listen to their feedback as it will be valid ¬– and ignore it at your peril.
The early majority
This group is important in creating the serge needed to push through the ‘tipping point’ for change. Once this group is on board, the momentum for successful digital transformation is achieved – but getting them onboard can be a challenge. Passive resistance to change will emerge within this group, with their words indicating they are on board but their actions telling a different story.
This group will respond well to communication of the positive benefits of change and what it means for them. If the transformation requires changes to their role, be up front about this early in the process and provide ongoing support during the transition to enable a confident onboarding of any new reality.
One of the largest benefits of this group is, once on board, they can be massive advocates for digital transformation. Listening to their feedback will be key and showing a willingness to adapt if needed will go far. It will also be vital in getting the next groups buy in, The Late Majority.
The late majority
This group will need everything in an organisation’s toolbox – great communication, training, support, cajoling, positive encouragement and advocacy – to keep them moving. They are skeptical about change and are likely not to be digital natives, so new technology can be seen as challenging.
Experience has shown that, when people adoption is a key driver to its success, this is where most digital transformation projects fail. Without this group, only 50 per cent of the benefit is released. With this group, we have over 80 per cent. This breaks the value threshold for successful transformation.
Organisations must consider how to engage this group in a way that positively and safely encourages them to change by taking a more psychologically intelligent approach. Carefully consider how to manage resistance to change within this group in a way that actively encourages any resistance to surface in order to effectively address it. If we fail to do this, the resistance becomes passive and becomes much harder to understand and ultimately overcome.
You know where you stand with laggards. They don’t like change, take forever to get on board with it, have a general hate for technology and are more vocal with their opinions. Their resistance is obvious and will take pleasure in explaining why the change won’t work.
Positively, this makes them easy to identify. Organisations must engage with them early in the process and support with bountiful amounts of tailored communication, support and training. A Laggard engaged and on board early in the digital transformation process can be an incredible enabler for others to change.
A key play could be to identify any influential laggards and invest time in addressing objections they have head on. Be confident in driving clarity around how the organisation and their role will be better for the change. This group has an innate fear of change, but a leader who can communicate at the right level, backed by relatable evidence, will give them the confidence they need to buy in.
Adapt to transform
In summary, we must better consider the ways individuals within an organisation adapt to new ideas and processes inherent in the phases of digital transformation and move away from reliance on the technology to enable or lead change. This approach is by no means exhaustive but is designed to prompt consideration when leading digitisation. Instigators and Innovators of change may just get it, but unless we can engage all these groups in an emotionally intelligent way and truly understand what drives them, even the greatest of new ideas will just become the latest in digital transformation failures.
Jason Murphy, Managing Director of Global Retail, IMS Evolve