Digital Transformation = “Change Management”
Unfortunately, “change management” is a massive buzzword. It’s one of those corporate words that doesn’t even mean anything anymore because it’s so overused and hackneyed.
That being said, “change management” is exactly the problem with most digital transformation attempts. With 70% of digital transformations failing, business really need to ask themselves “what does it take to succeed?”
To start with, you need to manage change correctly. In the age of digital transformation, more than half of businesses cite “change fatigue” as their most common frustration.
This is why we’re going to discuss the 6 reasons why change generates so much tension and the best practices to move from resistance to acceptance in your digital transformation.
1. Digital Transformation Causes Friction
Friction can seem like an abstract term in business. Really it just means anywhere in your business that things are running smoothly. As an example, customer experience is an area where friction really matters. 96% of customers expect a response within 5 minutes when they reach out to a business by phone. When you’re dealing with hundreds or thousands of customer service calls, any friction at all gets in the way of that 5 minute response time.
Let’s use cars as an example to illustrate the problem of friction and how to get around it.
We all want our vehicles to run smoothly. Those vehicles are made up of hundreds, if not thousands, of individual processes. When those processes are not working the way they should we have friction in the designed process.
The appropriate reaction is that we should attempt to repair and/or remove the unnecessary friction restoring the performance of the vehicle, but all too often we simply turn up the radio, not listening to the indicators that something is wrong.
A common everyday example of this is when your vehicle begins to “squeal” as you are breaking. This is not only unnerving for you, but also everyone around you as well. Your natural desire is to get rid of the embarrassing noise so that you can drive in peace, but you are hampered by the fear that the repair is above your pay grade.
To eliminate that hurdle you must understand the process that is causing the noise. By starting with a simplistic overview you come to understand that the braking process on the car was causing friction. Expanding on this revealed that stepping on the brake pedal caused the brake pads to grip the brake disc to slow the vehicle. The brake pads were designed so that when they became worn to a certain level they would “squeal” to indicate that the pads needed to be replaced.
To replace the brake pads, the wheel and the caliper, which holds the brake pads, needed to be removed. After installing the new brake pads, the caliper and wheel could be replaced. Through basic attention to the “squealing”, the vehicle is running at its intended level of performance without the friction, which left unattended could have resulted in thousands of dollars worth of unnecessary repairs.
So what is it about change, that friction in our business process, that causes us to cringe? Why do we have this internal dread that moving from business as usual carries so much risk? We can clearly see the bottlenecks in the process where information or materials become backlogged by choke points, but we’re still terrified of “rocking the status quo.”
Even when you can clearly see the bottlenecks in the process where information or materials become backlogged by choke points. Even when you are able to calculate this inefficiency in excess time, wasted money, and the inefficiency of your people. You know that you are not hitting the key performance indicators of the company. All the while thinking that there should be a better way but you are still paralyzed to initiate any efforts to change.
Intuitively, businesses see the need for change but people don’t like to walk into the unknown. Friction is slowing down your business and costing you time and money.
2. Digital Transformation Makes It Hard To Keep Control
Its human nature to want to influence the course of events that happen in our lives. Unfortunately rarely are things really in our control. We see external events affecting our situation. We feel a sense of hopelessness. We wish that we could simply change things back to the way that they were. The reality is that we can’t and we need to figure out a way to navigate through the current turmoil.
Navigating change of the magnitude of a digital transformation is a monumental task. It’s not easy and it’s not simple, but the alternative is failure. The only real control that we have in our business is control over our response to what is going on in the market. Right now, the digital workplace is becoming a reality. Those businesses that fail to acknowledge this and make changes in their business to adapt will not exist in the near future.
We need to look for the silver lining during these times of disruption in our lives. Seeing past the way that external events impact our lives is a challenge but not impossible. If you start to map out the current situation you will begin to see your way through.
3. Digital Transformation Makes Your Future Unclear
Have you ever walked into a dark, unknown room? You can’t see so you stumble and fumble to find your way. You dread that there could be something lurking for you. All the while thinking that you really should be able to see where you’re going. This is how changing a process can feel for stakeholders. They don’t know what they are walking into. They can’t see the pitfalls and they are hoping that someone can shed some light on why they are being asked to make the change.
One of the biggest fears of digital transformation is the fear of being replaced.
You want to be able to shed light on every step of the transformation process. Regrettably not all employees have their eyes open. They like being in the dark, simply existing in their little space. You can eliminate the fear of the dark by over communicating the necessity of each step of the change process. This will remove that concern that something is lurking in the dark.
4. Digital Transformation Is Full Of Surprises
If we are completely truthful with ourselves we are all control freaks to varying degrees. We hate any disruption to the planned flow of our day. If we can admit that we view the success of our day measured by work in and work out, then these unexpected interruptions cause a reduction in the throughput of our efforts.
You may have heard that it takes 23 minutes to refocus after an interruption. This means that a 5 minute interruption is actually a 28 minute interruption. This is why interruptions and surprises frustrate us so much. Surprises commonly elicit reactions that range from “not fun”, to annoying, to living in fear of them. You wish they didn’t exist!
Suggesting changes to a process often brings out similar reactions. We need all the stakeholders buy in to make the transformation effective but some individuals have no desire to even talk about it. Breaking the change down into baby steps can help to eliminate this fear of surprise. Highlighting how each modification can increase the overall process throughput. This empowers individuals to be more comfortable and willing to release the control they have on their lives.
5. Digital Transformation Needs Good Habits
The underlying goal of processes or systems is to develop good habits that can be repeated to produce a predictable outcome based on the selected level of effort. Through the research of tracing these actions by neuroscientists, we see that these habits are formed in a portion of the brain called the basal ganglia. Further research provides us with the [21/90 rule](https://www.activeiron.com/2020/01/10/the-21-90-rule-make-life-better/#:~:text=The 21%2F90 rule states,it a permanent lifestyle change.&text=Commit to your goal for,a part of your lifestyle.). If an action is repeated for 21 days it will become a habit. If that habit is enforced for an additional 90 days, it will become part of your lifestyle.
Unfortunately, these habits always start off with the best of intentions but can quickly turn into bad habits for two reasons: stress and boredom. Stress generates paralysis by analysis and boredom spawns apathy. These external influencers are at either end of the spectrum but have the same effect of derailing good behavior.
Bad habits contribute to the friction that slows every process and diminishes their throughput. We need to remain diligent to not allow the formation of bad habits to turn into an unproductive lifestyle. This is accomplished by reinforcing the desired good behaviors, controlling the environment, having a support system and tracking progress. Starting out on the right path and staying there is much easier than trying to reverse the 21/90 rule with bad habits.
6. You Can’t Read Between The Lines
One of the biggest areas of friction when discussing transformation may never actually get spoken. It is a feeling that is so far below the surface that one may not be in touch with it but it is quite real. It gives the impression that the intended change is a direct result of the effort given by those individuals involved. They hear a deafening voice in their heads that their best was good enough. The lie that they hear is that they will never measure up. No likes to feel like a failure, so as opposed to putting forth more effort or attempting to innovate what they are currently doing, they simply shut down. If you had to choose between the carrot and the stick when presenting transformation think bunny rabbits.
When people hear that less than 30% of digital transformations succeed, they lose heart. Their motivation fails them. Their instinct is to settle for business-as-usual instead of risking failure.
Employees need to hear that they are valued and that their efforts are appreciated. Controlling the narrative between the lines can be extra challenging because we don’t have any idea what filters that they are hearing the message through. Whenever you are presenting change, remember the Oreo strategy. In between the cookies is the stuff. Begin with praise, layout the change and then compliment them some more. This will help to mitigate as much negative self-talk as possible.
Processes are a necessity in every business. Decision makers need predictability. They desire the ability to depend on a determined level of effort that will produce a constant level of throughput. The reality is that over a period of time changes in people, processes or technology can cause friction that slows or hampers these efforts. When this decline in productivity is observed a transformation is required to get things back on track.
Quite frequently the most friction or resistance to efforts to change can be experienced from the human component of any process. They exert attempts to withstand conversion because they feel out of control, they are afraid of the unknown, they hate surprises, they have developed too many bad habits and/or they have a negative impression of themselves. For transformation to be effective, full buy-in is a necessity of all parties involved.
The old adage is if you are not growing you’re dying. Transformation is a continuous process so that business can step equal with if not surpass the competition. If transformation is not a religious process in an organization then they will fail.
Far too often, people are friction that causes processes to make grinding noise. Eliciting a natural cringe response. To avoid this nature cringe response so high level steps can be taken to ensure any transformation:
Map out the current process and the desired process, highlighting required steps
Over communicate how when, where, and why this process is going to be changed
Focus on how each change will the benefit all of those involved
Reinforce good behavior by tracking them and rewarding them with the carrot and not the stick
Remember the oreos when introducing change. Compliments those involved, share the change and then compliment them again.
The Digital Transformation Paradox
Transformation is necessary to reduce friction to increase productivity but it can only be accomplished by eliminating the tension of changes so that people move from resistance to acceptance.
This process creates tension and friction to begin with, but this is an essential part of the process. In order to successfully navigate digital transformation in your organization, you must be willing to embrace the changes that need to happen.
Not only is digital transformation possible, it can revolutionize your business. You can’t afford to live in fear of change!