Digital transformation has become essential for the survival of companies, but is very difficult to achieve. Without successful change management, efforts around digital transformation will yield few results. The software supplier will hopefully deliver good software. The system integrator offers professional project support and possibly also the hard support (read communication, training, measurements) around user adoption management. But only the organization in which the change takes place is responsible for the human side of change, the so-called organizational change management.
Bridging the gap between solution and result
The bulk of the attention and budget goes to the purchase or design of new technological solutions. A new CRM tool or an HRIS system costs a lot of money. After long deliberations, a choice is made and a solution ordered. And then they run out of money or think they’re done. They are convinced that the solution is so good that it will be used by the employees. Newsflash: that’s not the case. And there can be many different reasons for this, such as lack of time and not knowing that a solution exists or how to use it.
It’s not the technology itself that brings change, but the people who will use the technology
At least as much effort and resources should go to change management to ensure that these new solutions are used effectively. Not the technology itself brings change, but the people who will use the technology. Technology is the solution, adoption of that technology leads to results. It is only when the bridge between solution and result is built that you can speak of a successful change. And for that you need change management.
Technology does not work independently
It’s people that use technology. Successful transformation happens when people show new behaviour and start using new processes and tools. However, this does not happen automatically. A perfect technology is not enough. The human side of change will have to be facilitated as much as the technology project itself. This is often underestimated. Fortunately, more and more managers are aware of the importance of change management to get value out of new solutions.
Facilitating change and coaching people
Good change management that is focused on facilitating change and coaching people through change ensures that employees show new skills, values and behaviors that are necessary to achieve the business results. Investing in technology without paying attention to this human side of change is largely wasted money.
Leveraging the collective intelligence of employees is a critical success factor for digital transformation. Not only do many heads know more than one and does it lead to better insights and solutions, involving people also makes the resistance to change less present.
The message is to involve the people who are affected by the change as quickly as possible. A good change coach starts by understanding the perspective of the people who are affected by the change and involves them and these insights in the approach to change.
Agile versus extensive planning
Moreover, the change coach knows that extensive plans and checklists will not bring about change. On the contrary, by the time they are ready, they will be outdated. They are also often too theoretical and encounter resistance when implemented top-down, because they do not meet the real needs of employees to do their job well. The change coach (and the change team) starts from a clear vision and framework and works with people in the organization to realize the change, through experiments and especially through feedback from the organization on those experiments.
Remarks and questions about change are too often seen as resistance, while they are only signals that people do not understand the change or that something needs to be altered to the solution or approach. The more you plan and work out a change down to the last detail, the more resistance you will have. By picking up the change as a series of experiments, you can start faster and get feedback faster, even before too much time, energy and money has been put into the perfect solution. You invest to save money in the end.
Co-creation of change
Resistance is a natural reaction of people who are not heard in the change. This can be avoided by involving people in change, as soon as possible, preferably before the solution is made or selected. The change coach sets up co-creation to achieve this and coaches people through the change, not in the form of plans and checklists, but through a creative process and dialogue that leads to real change and results.
Starting with change
Change has no clear beginning, middle and end. You can start with a change strategy, but instead a clear step-by-step plan, it consists more of modular elements that are constructed along the way. Building the bridge as you walk on it. A roadmap can be drawn up and is sometimes necessary for communication and clarity, but the reality will always be different. The essence of change is that it cannot be planned. Especially in times of major change, organizations can only move fast enough if they start to organize themselves differently and facilitate change, instead of trying to strictly manage it. Change should start in days and weeks, not in months of planning.
6 indispensable elements for agile change
1. Creation of a change strategy
Design the building blocks of your change program: who are the users, what are the objectives, what is the scope, who are the main stakeholders, possible obstacles, etc. And especially think about how employees can be helped in their adoption of the change. Make it as simple as possible, focus on the essence. Not through lengthy documents and plans, but through fast co-creation with the change team.
2. Designing experiments
Use design thinking to understand the change from the perspective of the employee and create elegant solutions (experiments) to help people with the change. Not all experiments will work, but those that work are more likely to succeed in scaling up. Then learn from the experiments and make adjustments.
3. Creative and personalized communication
Change often does not take place because people are not or insufficiently informed about the what and why of the change. Do not always load the entire organization with the same (one-size-fits-all) communication but adapt according to target group and phase. Ensure simplicity in communication and make it as effortless as possible, for example by using nudging techniques.
4. Co-creation of solutions
Involve employees in the change as quickly as possible. This depends on the type of change and the chosen change strategy. Sometimes there is no choice and a certain change must be implemented immediately. Then people can be involved in how it is best implemented. But often there is also a possibility to involve people in the search for a solution (e.g. a new software) that offers the possibility to create a solution that optimally meets the requirements of both organization and employee.
5. Close monitoring with agile methods
Again, no long follow-up meetings full of powerpoints with checklists, but agile follow-up (via scrum or Kanban methods) to learn and adjust quickly, not from an ivory tower, but from the feedback of people who are changing. Although change can be understood backwards, it is lived forward. It cannot be managed mechanically, but it can be facilitated through interactions and feedback.
6. Consolidating the new behavior
Search for anchor points to make new behavior a habit. This involves looking for which adjustments are needed in structure, processes, performance management,… so that going back to old behaviour is no longer an option.
It is important to guide change in your organisation. It does not happen automatically. So make sure you pay attention to the human side of change in your digital transformation. It costs a bit, but the cost of a failing transformation is many times greater.
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