No organisation is immune to digital transformation, and those that think they are will undoubtedly face a future filled with uncertainty. How does an organisation ensure that the successful adoption of digital transformation is underpinned to each strategic undertaking? Karen le Roux, head of project management at Decision Inc explains.

The interesting thing about digital transformation is that there are both practical and emotional implications that are often overlooked.

How do you define practical and emotional implications? Below is a high-level explanation of each:

  • Practical Implications: All mechanical or operational changes. This could encompass anything from hardware or software changes, process changes, organisational structural changes or as simple as adjusting employee seating arrangements
  • Emotional Implications: Addressing all human responses serving as resistance to change. It is human nature to resist change. The best way to address this is to ensure inclusion throughout the change process, identifying and understanding why the change is needed, enabling the individual to adapt to the change (i.e. training) and clarifying the implications of the change to the individual. Lower level staff will often not understand why digital transformation is necessary and may have fears and concerns regarding the impact that the transformation will have on them personally, which is often perceived as a threat

When you embark on your digital transformation journey, it is likely that you will start envisioning how the transformation will influence the organisation as a whole. In my experience, this is traditionally where many transformational initiatives fail, due to resistance from the middle and lower management who may not have a clear understanding of the reason behind the change.

It is possible that they might not fully understand how the change will improve their organisation and more importantly what ‘threat’ this change will bring to their daily existence. It is important that your digital transformation journey starts with a business impact analysis.

What is a business impact analysis?

This is an assessment used to determine and evaluate potential effects that change, or disruption can cause to an organisation and is a critical component of an organisation’s business continuance plan.

As the saying goes “you need to know where you’ve come from to know where you are going”. By gaining an understanding of and documenting current processes and roles, the change manager will gain greater insight into your organisation and current challenges. By doing this one can accurately pre-empt future requirements and proactively identify which teams and individuals will be affected by these changes.

The reality is that digital transformation can and will cause disruption to an organisation over a relatively short period of time. Learning from past experiences on how to manage and deal with this change is a solid first step. It will equip the change team with insight into what the organisational approach has been to change in the past, and what worked and what didn’t.

Knowing how much change the stakeholders have undergone recently will indicate the change saturation in the organisation and flag possible resistance due to too much change occurring in parallel. As mentioned previously, change prompts fear and uncertainty and if there is too much change running in parallel, it could negatively impact the overall effectiveness of the change initiative.

To gather this information a change manager would conduct extensive surveys, facilitate both one-on-one interviews and group discussions, run workshops, undergo observations and review current documentation within the organisation to gain a complete understanding of existing processes and procedures. It is best to apply a holistic methodology, making use of several different information gathering techniques, at different levels within the organisation in order to retrieve the most qualitative and accurate data. In my experience the more honest and realistic the feedback, the more successful your change management intervention will be.

Unfortunately, there are many case studies documenting scenarios where change initiatives were poorly co-ordinated, resulting in the communication of conflicting messaging going out to teams from various different channels. There is very little that could adversely affect the success of your digital transformation project as severely as the confusion and frustration as a result of change occurring that is not complimentary or worse, contradictory. Keep in mind that not all changes are at an organisational level, there are also less significant changes being implemented at a team level that need to be taken into consideration.

People need to understand what is in it for them.

I strongly feel that it is important to be entirely transparent about the impact of change. Should there be structural changes that will occur in the organisation due to the project, it is better to get these changes communicated early on to avoid mixed messages at later stages of the project. Those that will be affected will not be ignorant to the possible implications especially if it will affect their own positions. The sooner these implications are clarified and communicated, the faster stakeholders can start adjusting to the newly proposed positions and structures.

As with most things in life the more planning and understanding you gain regarding a topic upfront the better equipped you are to execute on your plan successfully. Fully understanding and planning for the what, why, who and how of change, can mean the difference between a successful implementation and a costly unsuccessful implementation.

As much as planning is important, executing on the communication, training and support plans will be the true test of your change management success. Teams and individuals must have open access to the change management team to address any concerns or questions that emerge throughout the project. The faster the change management team can respond to queries, the less uncertainty there will be among the stakeholders. Uncertainty creates fear, which could lead to resistance or underlying resentment which could have been avoided.

Your management teams support of the entire digital transformation journey will ensure more credibility to the plans and better communication, as the team and staff would be looking to their leadership for confirmation and support during this period. Any halfhearted or negative statements about the transformation process will raise questions pertaining to the integrity of the plan.

Just as a digital transformation strategy is not a static event, change management is not a once-off event during your journey and is a continuous process that must be evaluated throughout the implementation phase.

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