5 Things I’ve Learned About Managing Change for Digital Transformation Success

Big change is coming. Your new technology launch will unite systems from across the organization, on one streamlined platform. It will make workflows simpler, information more available, and save time for employees across the business. It will arm you with the latest digital capabilities and provide a competitive edge. But it comes screeching to a halt when that technology lands in the hands of employees who say, “No thanks – we prefer our old systems, and they work just fine!”

Change is tricky. Companies often begin a digital transformation project with the best of intentions, yet over 70% of such initiatives fail.

More often than not, that failure isn’t a technology problem. It’s a change management problem. It’s a tug-of-war between an effective new way of running your business and a perfectly human resistance to change – and it can be solved with good planning and leadership.

Digital transformation success means adopting good change management practices

Thinking about digital transformation as a change management problem means you can use change management solutions to shift behaviors, sway opinions, and increase your chances of success against resistance to change. Here’s what I’ve learned through my experience helping companies through the process:

1. Tie change to your customers’ needs

It’s easy to think about the costs we save. The time we get back. The way technology connects our business. But what about those you serve? Your organization’s goals certainly matter but lose sight of your core purpose – your customers – and you stand to lose their trust, not to mention the confidence of your own people, as they wonder whether a change is really necessary.

If your customers want a better experience and faster service with less friction at lower costs to increase their own productivity or effectiveness, listen to them and find out what, exactly, they care about. By connecting your technology change to a meaningful purpose that aligns with your customer’s needs, you not only win over your customers but also empower and motivate your employees as they work toward a bigger, shared goal that has a clear purpose and measurable impact.

 2. Communicate, communicate, communicate

The worst time to communicate a change is right before it happens. Approaching digital transformation as a “big bang” event that develops in the dark until you suddenly flip the switch is a sure way to leave employees feeling overwhelmed with a lot of new information at once, confused about what’s expected of them and frustrated (or even devalued) without the chance to offer helpful feedback mid-process.

Time is a friend to change, which is why it’s important to bring employees along for the ride. Involve them from day one and they’ll have plenty of opportunities to wrap their heads around what’s coming – and their role within it – without surprises down the road. To do that, consider these three rules:

  • Communicate early: Start talking about the “why” of your digital transformation in the first stages of the initiative – and reiterate those points to help employees internalize the benefits they can expect from it.
  • Communicate often: Create a consistent cadence of communication to help employees understand what’s coming next and what’s required of them. This is also a great opportunity for employees to submit questions, ideas and feedback throughout the process.
  • Communicate wins: Start defining, measuring and gathering stories about your wins – from mini-milestone to large-scale success – and share them broadly within your organization. Talking about change will sway some minds; proving its power will sway more.

3. Meet resistance by rallying support

For every excited early adopter of your digital transformation, you’ll have naysayers and employees sitting on the fence. It could be apathy, burnout, anxiety or even change fatigue that holds them back – whatever its root cause, you need to listen to their concerns if you’re going to build confidence in your decisions and win them over.

Leadership support is a key piece of that puzzle. Implementation needs support and ownership from across business units, from team leads to CEO, from finance to customer service. Leaders and executives are your communicators who lead through example and set your company’s culture. But your early adopters and front-line fans have a role to play, too. They need to share their voices and demonstrate their support first-hand.

4. Foster employee accountability and ownership

Your digital transformation team is accountable for keeping your implementation on-track and keeping your employees in the loop. Your employees have accountability in the process, too, when it comes to taking personal ownership over the results. That kind of ownership simply can’t be forced via directives and protocols. It needs to come from within, from those who have skin in the game.

After all, it’s up to each individual to overcome the urge to resist change (“I knew this wouldn’t work”) and instead embrace their own problem-solving capability (“Here’s how we can close this gap”). Solving this comes back to your “why” – tapping into employees’ desire for purposeful action in something meaningful. It also requires leadership to communicate that meaning clearly and consistently.

5. Expect setbacks – and adapt to them quickly

Murphy’s law states that, if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Even with thorough planning, your organization can’t foresee every new piece of information, every trend set to explode, every world-changing event on the horizon or every leadership change that could put the project at risk. If your organization can’t absorb the shock, the project – and all you’ve invested in it – could run off the road.

Success, then, relies less on whether setbacks happen and more on how you deal with them. Agility means adjusting quickly in the short-term without losing sight of that long-term “why.” It means staying both flexible in your methods but consistent in your approach. It means keeping the momentum going at all levels of change.

Change starts with your core values

When you approach a large implementation such as a new ERP system, lead with your core values – not a pursuit of the next shiny object – keep the lines of communication open with your employees, rally support across divisions and roles, tap into your teams’ sense of ownership and adopt agile strategies and you’ll set yourself up for digital transformation success.

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