Today, change is everywhere. Businesses must keep up with the pace of change or be left in the dust, especially when it comes to technology. Innovations are all around us and can be key to helping propel your business to the next phase of success; however, integrating a new technology can be daunting. Leaders know people may resist change, and that there will likely be many hiccups and challenges before, during and even after embarking on a digital-transformation journey.
To help create a digital transformation that sticks, here are four key tips to follow.
Leaders are a bigger choke point to transformation than most people might imagine. Employees see how informed, engaged or aligned leadership is and match their efforts accordingly. So, how executives “show up” matters. And often, especially when it comes to technology-related change, leaders get a pass.
Yes, leadership may have greenlit the investment, and, yes, they often talk a good game about operating in a new, digital landscape. But leaders often don’t rally behind tech-related initiatives the way they do with other strategic or cultural changes. Perhaps the topic isn’t in their wheelhouse, and they would rather focus on initiatives and functions that they are more comfortable with. However, executives should be the first and most critical audience to engage and mobilize. An organizaton’s digital transformation must go both up and down and involve every person in the business.
Integrating technology such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics or automation is pretty scary for a lot of people. It involves integrating technology that might displace workers across different levels of an organization. As such, it can be pretty hard to get employees to rally behind the introduction of these or other technologies that may be considered a threat to their jobs.
There is often a reluctance to talk about this type of implication with employees, and for good reason. It’s sensitive, fuzzy and potentially disruptive. But, if leaders aren’t having the difficult conversations, it doesn’t mean they aren’t happening anyway. They’re happening in hallways and at happy hours, packaged in a nice layer of gossip and rumor – and that’s almost always a worse version of the truth.
A great way to mitigate an issue like this is to engage employees in a conversation about the future landscape of their careers. (This is information everyone wants to know about, right?) For some, that conversation might be a source of comfort; for others, it might be an exploration of reskilling or alternative opportunities. Just make sure there’s one version of the truth out there. Leaders must be clear about how they plan to acquire, retrain or reorganize talent and share their strategy with transparency.
No one likes being forced to change by other people. Leaders cannot tell people to change their actions, behaviors or beliefs and expect them to do so with a smile on their faces. And when it comes to technology change, leaders often need their people to invest their energy and time in learning a new platform or digital process. It goes without saying that becoming proficient in a new technology solution is often time consuming and frustrating. So, what should a leader do to help employees embrace digital change?
It’s important to focus on shifting mindsets before focusing on developing skill sets. The best way to shift mindsets is through storytelling. To tell a compelling story that will motivate people to go on a “change journey” and willingly decide to adopt a new technology, consider this advice:
Digital transformation is not a moment in time. It’s not about managing one change, but navigating constant change. Leaders at all levels need to possess a change skill set that transcends multiple changes.
Several major institutions offer excellent “leading change” programs that are delivered over intense timeframes. The investment can be pretty intense, too! As such, those courses are normally reserved for senior leaders, which makes total sense. But, what businesses need to figure out is how to scale that capability to a much broader population, so that managers sheparding technology change on a day-to-day basis have the leadership skills to do so effectively. The people who most affect engagement in the organization are generally those with a closer relationship to the front line, so change leadership capability needs to flow deep throughout an organization.
In today’s uncertain environment, change readiness really is not an option – it’s a must. While the challenges will vary from organization to organization, there’s no doubt that all change and every digital transformation initiative comes with its own unique set of hiccups. The four tips above are designed to help organizations overcome these obstacles and create an all-organization movement supported from the ground up and top down. If all goes well, leaders will see their digital transformation is embraced and that their people are ready and willing to go on the change journey … and make it a successful one at that.
Chris Williams is a strategic change expert at Root Inc., with a particular passion for culture transformation and strategic onboarding. He has worked with a large range of global and local organizations on initiatives such as enterprise strategy deployment, operational excellence, IT transformation and culture change. Williams speaks regularly at human resources, learning and development, change management, and onboarding conferences, and is considered an energy amplifier in group facilitation environments.