13/08/2018 |

Why Digital Transformation Isn’t About Technology

About the role that fear plays in accepting and adapting
to the ideas behind digital transformation.

ship wheel

Does digital transformation have less to do with IT than with people? Asked differently: is technology enough to carry out successful digital transformation? This question has been answered best by companies that have recently introduced new software in order to meet the demands of a digital market: Technology alone is not enough.

Digital transformation is a change process, and change processes only succeed when everyone is on board, and that means employees AND management. However, in different roles.

Management must stand behind the transformation process . . . fully!

Launching and advancing new initiatives while resisting setbacks within a company requires the full commitment and will of the management team. This is because it impacts the company’s vision, strategy, culture, and of course, the way everyone works. The right culture is one of the core elements of a successful change process, such as the one sought after by digital transformation.

No matter how good a strategy is, if the corporate culture is not designed for it, it will not be implemented.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

This sentence by Peter Drucker puts it in a nutshell: no matter how good a strategy is, if the corporate culture is not designed for it, it will not be implemented. The challenges of digital transformation require special cultural characteristics. Thus, structure, processes and agility must be combined in order to, not only be able to cope with the rapid adjustments that the market demands, but also to build on a foundation that is solid while at the same time willing to change.

Fear of change is the biggest opponent of digital transformation

Most people are afraid of change because it brings the unexpected — new things that they cannot assess and are afraid they will not be up to handling. For employees, digital transformation is not simply “a change,” but a continuous and constant process of change and adaptation. This means having to adapt to new work processes, to become faster and more flexible in thinking, and above all to make decisions without always having the required information. This creates a significant moment of risk and the possibility of innumerable mistakes. In our results- and performance-oriented working world, this is something we would rather avoid. If we hold on to this attitude, however, neither a well-prepared strategy nor change process can be used, so it’s important to help employees overcome their worries.

Awareness that this process of change is a positive development rather than an arbitrary one.

Measures that increase the acceptance of change

As Google has shown in a multi-year study, “psychological safety” is a factor that makes it easier for those involved to accept and adapt to the idea of change. To ensure that this exists, companies need:

  • Transparency and sincere communication about what the goal looks like and what actions should be taken to achieve it. Obscurity, misinformation and misunderstandings lead to resistance to any change. For employees (and also the management) the goal has to be clearly defined.
  • Awareness that this process of change is a positive development rather than an arbitrary one. Digital transformation requires companies to constantly reconsider steps, to rework measures that have been initiated. When this gives the impression that there is a constant need to reorient oneself because nobody seems to know where to go, it means that communication may not have taken place properly or the company may have failed to build a positive attitude among employees.
  • The possibility to make mistakes without suffering a loss of reputation or being ridiculed makes it easier to open up new opportunities, learn something and generate added value for yourself and your company. It is precisely this, namely a good culture of mistakes, that is one of the most important prerequisites for the successful implementation of change processes and which should demand the full attention of senior leadership and department managers. One must change thought patterns, away from creating guilt and placing blame to ones that embrace learning and growth. If we internalize the fact that in every mistake there is a chance to improve something, or even to optimize it, mistakes take on a completely different, positive status. We create an environment in which deviations from the target are welcomed as an opportunity to gain insight, new ideas are developed with greater readiness and are implemented faster and – most importantly – ideas are also readily rejected.

When it comes to digital transformation, the main things are to act quickly, recognize and eliminate non-functioning elements at an early stage, and pursue future-oriented thinking. By focusing on people and culture, instead of software and computers, you’ll be able to reach these goals in your own organization.

Photos: Joseph Barrientos on Unsplash

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