Successfully driving change during digital transformation

Dealing with the implications of digitalization for your business’s systems, processes and people is not without its challenges. And it’s even more difficult if you’re also trying to defend or improve market position. Simply identifying game-changing strategies will not be enough. You need to focus on how to implement them successfully, and change management is a key enabler for successful change in times of disruption and digital transformation projects in this area, we have identified the three key challenges they need to address to ensure success.

8 Minutes By Bernhard Stadler and Antonia Stelzl-Goetzl Agribusiness 11/18/2020

At a Glance

This article discusses the three key factors that can suppress the true benefit of change management:

  • When it is considered a risk factor.
  • When change management is perceived as low priority.
  • Lack of focus on behavioral change.

It also provides three proven approaches that can help you overcome them:

  • Start with the purpose. Connect it to daily activities.
  • Let the wider organization help design the journey.
  • Take time and proceed step-by-step.

Go beyond strategy into implementation

Today’s business environment is characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (also known as VUCA world). These factors can impact digital transformation and organizational operating models. And of course, change often brings further uncertainty amongst teams. This means the social dimension of strategic change implementation is critical. So be prepared to handle staff resistance and potential conflicts that can emerge between departments.

Change management requires commitment throughout the process

This is how it will deliver the desired impact. It is not a last-minute, quick-fix solution for a project that may not be progressing as planned. When properly understood and applied, it’s a key enabler for successful change in times of disruption and digital transformation.

Three key factors that prevent realizing the full potential of change management

1. It is considered a risk factor

Change management requires upfront investment in terms of time and personnel resources. Especially from the leadership team. And you tend to see the benefits over the long term. This can conflict with short-term business pressures. It also doesn’t provide deserved credit to the leaders and change agents and that can be a blocker.

2. Change management is perceived as low priority

As soon as a project’s results imply changes to business strategy, structure, processes, or mindset, change management must become a priority. But this is not always the case. All too often, it can be deprioritized to the last point on a project meeting’s agenda. And as these meetings can run short of time, it might not even be considered.  Additionally Senior management may de-prioritize it because they feel the organization has already undergone a change process.

3. A lack of focus on behavioral change

Last but by no means not least, there is often no distinction between operational and behavioral change. Some people see milestone tracking and regular steering committee review meetings as holistic change management. But this comes with an expectation that middle management can effectively cascade information and communicate required changes to teams. This approach is doomed to fail. Because it doesn’t explicitly define and address the necessary behavioral change required across everyone involved in the project.

How to realize the full potential of change management

These three best practice recommendations have proven to be successful with clients across multiple industries, in addressing organizational shortcomings.

1. Start with the purpose. Connect it to daily activities

You need to win the hearts of affected parties to get buy-in for the implementation process. This starts from the very top. It needs to be a senior management priority. The key is to help people understand the ‘why’ of a project. And more importantly the ‘why’ for them personally. If you achieve that you’ll find the project moves forward with added momentum.

For example, a client was in the midst of implementing a digitization project to deliver higher levels of standardization and automation. However, things came to a halt due to internal resistance. This was fueled by some team members’ fear of losing their jobs and concern about impacts on their day-to-day activities.

To get buy-in we started to work with a core group, clarifying and articulating the overarching purpose of the project.  We focused on defining the project’s ‘why’ rather than the ‘what’ and ‘how’, which had been covered heavily previously. Initially we did this at an individual level and took time to also explain how it related to daily activities. People began to see the value to them and the organization. This generated positive momentum and brought broader buy-in.

2. Let the wider organization help design the journey

Responsibility for change needs to be shared across those that are affected most. And it must happen alongside capability-building efforts. So, make sure it starts early in the process, especially for middle management. They’ll play a crucial role during implementation. By enabling teams to shape the company’s and their own future, you’ll enjoy higher levels of engagement and motivation. Change Management tools such as ‘timeline work’ in combination with ‘appreciative inquiry elements’ can be very useful here.

3. Take time and proceed step-by-step

Progress in change management can seem slow. Just remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day! Colleagues in charge of implementation may be doing this on top of their daily operational work. So be realistic in terms of progress, whilst ensuring objectives are being realized.

It’s also worthwhile noting that many organizations can make great progress at the beginning. But the big challenge lies in maintaining and building momentum throughout the process. And that’s especially pertinent when the project hits tough periods. Applying an iterative approach has proven to be most impactful in such situations. This allows you to take and roll with the challenges of the VUCA world.

About the authors

Bernhard Stadler is Co-Managing Director and Hub Lead for the a-connect DACH office. Bernie passionately serves clients in life sciences, agribusiness, food and chemicals as well as the PE sector. In addition, he’s leading the global a-connect team in his capacity as our firm’s Co-Managing Director. Bernie holds a BA in business administration from the University of St. Gallen and an MBA from INSEAD. He is based in Zurich and works with colleagues, Independent Consultants and clients globally.

Antonia Stelzl-Goetzl: Antonia is an Independent management consultant and executive coach with more than 10 years of international experience. Antonia’s main areas of expertise are change management, organizational design, team and leadership development as well as HR.

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