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Six ways to overcome blocks to change before digital transformation

Almost every organization says that it is trying to change to meet the increasing demands of customers. This means adopting new technology, or even embarking upon a wholesale digital transformation.

Too often, these efforts flounder. Half of all change initiatives fail outright, and just 34 percent are a clear success, according to Gartner.

Customers are noticing it too – just 19 percent say they see a significant improvement in the service providers like banks and hospitals are offering. The reasons for change failure can vary from poor sponsorship to attempting too much change at one time.

The real problem might be something more fundamental: your organization is anti-change by design.

The good news is that the discipline of Organizational Change Management (OCM) offers research-based steps that can help organizations master the people side of change and significantly boost the likelihood transformation will stick.

Some common organizational traits that block change:

Your organization is a strict hierarchy. According to Gartner research, flatter organizations have a 24 percent greater chance of change success and see implementation time decrease by as much as one-third.
Overcome it! We recommend building a sponsor coalition that expands the team of stakeholders invested in a successful change.

IT and project management functions are isolated. These crucial functions can become inwardly focused and may not have the deep relationships with other business units whose support is needed to achieve disruptive change.
Overcome it! Make sure that project and technical staff engage business subject matter experts in other departments at the outset.

The mission of your organization is too critical. Organizations with public safety, health, or social missions can be so devoted to the cause that they don’t allocate time to embrace a change initiative, even if it would enhance their ability accomplish the mission.
Overcome it! Spend time before launching the change to show everyone how adoption will increase mission accomplishment.

Your managers are not equipped to lead people through change. Strong technical skills can be the main reason someone wins a promotion. But a tech-savvy manager may not have the background to guide their teams or other stakeholders through a difficult change.
Overcome it! Give managers specific training in the people side of change. The Prosci change management methodology includes a focus on the emotional impact a significant change can have on individuals and how to help them through it.

Assuming that an innovation-focused organization is comfortable changing itself. “Innovate or die” is the mantra for many organizations that thrive on delivering new products and services to customers. But this doesn’t mean your employees are comfortable with internal innovations that impact how they do their jobs.
Overcome it! Don’t assume that staff will roll with whatever you throw at them. Make sure your transformation is deliberate and follows a change management plan that informs, engages, and equips employees for the transition.

Senior leaders with conflicting or hidden agendas.  Even after a change initiative is launched, leaders with different priorities or who are competing for finite resources may directly or subtly try to undermine the effort.
Overcome it! Create a strong sponsor coalition that follows a clear roadmap and provides training in how to identify and respond to resistance.

Bonus Item: You have unionized workers. Organizations with workers covered by collective bargaining agreements need to take steps at the outset to determine whether the planned change touches items covered by contract language. Reach out to your organization’s labor relations team and union leadership early to build trust and understanding.

Like people, organizations have personalities and habits developed over many years that can be challenged by change. Although the future hasn’t arrived, it’s coming. Have a deliberate plan for managing the people side of technology change and ensure your organization doesn’t get caught in the anti-change trap.

Michael Sponhour is a senior consultant at Avaap. A Prosci-certified change leader, Michael works with organizations to address the human side of change and incorporate a disciplined approach to change management to meet intended project outcomes. Learn more about how Avaap can help you get results by connecting with people.