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Change management strategies for successful transformation

March 3, 2022 Article 4 min read
Danielle DeLonge
Change is no longer optional. But in the age of digital disruption, leaders can control whether they prepare their organizations to fail, or equip them to succeed. Here are some best practices for building a manageable roadmap for digital change.
A business professional pointing at a computer monitor screen.If the pandemic proved anything, it’s that change is inevitable: organizations either fall backward or move forward. The same holds true of digital transformation. The degree to which leaders effectively manage organizational change during times of digital disruption can drive adoption rates, determine their strategy’s success, and influence a project’s speed to ROI.

Fortunately, the change management discipline has evolved to meet the pace and realities of modern business. As we guide clients on the path to digital transformation, we’ve identified practices that help build a manageable, yet impactful, roadmap for change.

Start managing change long before implementation

Digital transformation neither begins nor ends with the launch of a new technology. Leaders must first honestly — and objectively — assess their organization’s capacity and willingness to change. Skipping this step is a perilous move. We’ve seen multiple organizations launch top-of-the-line technologies, only to reach out for help 6–12 months later with dismal adoption and ROI statistics because their internal structures and teams weren’t ready to absorb such dramatic change. Conducting upfront change readiness assessments across the organization can identify a proper pace for change. If an organization is highly change-resistant, it’s a signal to slow down and take more deliberate steps over a longer period of time. That might mean a series of small pilots, more extensive employee upskilling, or the establishment of a program management office that will formally guide the organization through the change.

Leaders must first honestly — and objectively — assess their organization’s capacity and willingness to change.

Meet your teams where they are and bring them forward with you

By the time executives are ready to kick off a digital transformation initiative, they‘ve already discussed it numerous times among themselves, conducted market research, built a business case, engaged with outside consultants, and possibly presented it to their board. Employees, on the other hand, are in the dark. It’s critical for leaders to remember that the rest of the company is hearing about their plans for the very first time. Front-line workers may not be aware that the organization is facing a new competitive threat or an “adapt-or-die” disruption. Questions will arise, anxiety will spike, and pockets of resistance are all but inevitable. That’s why we counsel clients to consider both “bookends” — the executive and the end-user — when developing their change management plans. Our implementation framework keeps people front and center, identifying early adopters, engaging internal champions, and ensuring an effective context and cadence for communicating the case for change throughout the organization.

Accept that change is ultimately an inside job

External partners can provide invaluable expertise, best practices, and much-needed objectivity. They can deliver a plan to help leaders expand teams’ core capabilities and embrace innovation. But even the best consulting firms can’t wrap up and deliver a brand-new culture that engages and energizes every corner of your organization. That level of deep and lasting change must be lead from within. Transformation inherently impacts people’s feelings and futures, and they’re going to turn to the leaders they know and trust for clarity and assurance. How will your organization work with leaders in different places along the change continuum? What levers can you pull to help top performers feel safe and valued throughout the process? What are the operational impacts, and potential job changes, that will result from digital transformation? Each organization must answer these questions for itself as it learns to manage change effectively from within.

Take “change fatigue” into account

Employees have faced an incessant barrage of change for the last 20 months across every aspect of their lives, and many are weary of being expected to constantly adapt. As you prepare to ask them to pivot once again, be realistic about what your teams can take on. Who is burned out and ready for something new? Can high-potential employees enter career rotations to gain new exposure and skills? Is there a mentor/mentee role that would play to team members’ strengths or  desire to learn? Is there a way to compensate staff for successfully embracing growth and change? The current labor market demands that organizations consider these questions carefully — or risk losing the people they need to make their transformation a reality.

The current labor market demands that organizations consider these questions carefully — or risk losing the people they need to make their transformation a reality.

Be ready to enforce accountability

On the flip side, leaders need to be prepared to follow through on replacing the people and processes that stand in the way of successful change. For example, digital transformation requires a digitally literate workforce. Employees who are given appropriate opportunities to upskill, but fail to do so, will likely need to transition into a different role or out of the organization altogether. The same holds true for leaders: a manager who undermines change or slides back into “doing things the way they’ve always been done” is not a strong fit for an organization pursuing transformation. Processes may also need to be reevaluated. If business units were accustomed to going to IT for one-off “exceptions” and special configurations, leaders need to clearly define what is and isn’t acceptable as new technologies roll out.

Effective change management requires forethought, discipline, and fortitude. But by guiding your organization through digital transformation, you’re preparing it for the unknown disruptions that lay ahead — and unlocking new opportunities for future growth.

Managing change begins with a human-centered strategy

Learn from our experts as they discuss factors that contribute to a successful IT and digital transformation.

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