We live and work in an era of constant change. Against a backdrop of continual digital progress, the ability to adapt and evolve is essential.
Every time a new technology enters the market, every time enterprise applications are updated, and every time new features are introduced, employees are faced with change.
You’d think that by now organizations would have gotten pretty good at implementing change, since it happens all the time. But no, on the contrary, 70% of change efforts fail.
When it comes to digital transformation, change managers must take a human-focused approach to technology implementation and learn to overcome the recurring barriers to successful change management.
2 major problems in change management
1. Poor communication
Lack of communication, unclear or inconsistent communication can destroy your change management efforts. However carefully laid plans are, they can be ruined by the rumour mill and employee gossip.
When digital change is on the cards, however minor, employees need to know what’s going on. Uncertainty is a great killer of workforce productivity.
Whether you coordinate regular meetings, set up brainstorming sessions, or conduct a CEO Q&A, communication should be transparent and two-way.
During periods of great change, the CEO often steps into the role of Chief Explaining Officer. The C-Suite must lead the charge in terms of promoting and embodying the vision for the future, and help employees to understand their role in achieving it.
But many business leaders mistakenly think change management is not their responsibility and leave the task of communicating the change vision to someone else.
It’s common to resist change because naturally we’re more comfortable with the familiar. It’s usually synonymous with security.
Resistance needs to be addressed on a psychological level and a physical level by removing any barriers to action. Ways to do this are:
- Provide proper tools and training
- Allow enough time for employees to adapt
- Reassure people and boost morale by celebrating successes
Resistance is particularly common in situations of digital change, since studies show that at least half of your workforce are likely to be slower than average to adopt new technology.
Unless you take the time and effort to understand how digital change affects employees, you’ll battle with resistance.
5 change management principles for the digital age
1. Senders and receivers
Change can be looked at in terms of senders and receivers. Senders give out information about the change, and receivers take it.
Oftentimes, the message that is sent by senders doesn’t align with the message received. It’s often due to miscommunication, which results in misunderstanding.
One way to avoid this is to communicate to senders with a clear set of instructions, so they can pass on the correct information to receivers. Managers should then monitor what and how communication is being received.
2. Types of resistance
It’s important to expect resistance to change and try to identify its root cause. For example, it could stem from personal history, job stability, lack of skills, and so on.
Then there’s the difference between natural resistance and ongoing resistance. Issues will arise if ongoing resistance prolongs the change process and threatens its success.
3. Flexibility and vision
Flexibility is critical to digital transformation. There’s even a term for it now: digital dexterity. It’s important that even the biggest enterprises can be as agile as startups.
That said, long-term plans are also necessary. The way to achieve both is to progress towards a clear, strategic vision, rather than working through a detailed step-by-step plan. That way, adaptations can be made without halting your change efforts.
4. Celebrating success
The best way to get employees on board is to welcome their participation and feedback, and incorporate it into your change management process.
And while new technology is being implemented, make sure you share any successes, benefits, and improvements that have come about as a result.
According to Gartner:
“Since most users won’t be actively reminding themselves of the improvements they get with the new system, someone else needs to make the improvements visible.”
5. Take a user focus
Prosci’s ADKAR Model provides the foundations of successful change:
- awareness of the need for change
- desire to participate and support the change
- knowledge on how to change
- ability to implement the required skills and behaviors
- reinforcement to sustain the change
These five building blocks must be present in your digital users in order for good adoption to occur and your change management efforts to be successful.