Digital transformation: 3 change management mistakes to avoid

The degree of change and the pace of change both pick up during a digital transformation. Don’t let these common change management mistakes trip you up
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Change can be painful for companies and individuals. But if you are undergoing a digital transformation, there’s simply no getting around it. In fact, the degree of change is greater, and there is a cascading set of consequences for these deep changes, which each require their own change management

At Everest Group, executives often ask us, “What is the most effective change-management tool or method for driving the necessary change in transformation?” Answering that question, I first point out two hard truths:

  • Executives cause their own problems with change management – often in three key areas – that make their efforts to drive change ineffective. As a result, they encounter big, expensive problems and passive-aggressive behaviors that delay achieving the objectives or even cause the transformation initiative to fail.
  • People don’t change unless they want to.

With those truths in mind, let’s focus on the mistakes you should avoid - and how you can be more effective in driving the accelerated change that digital transformation requires. 

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

3 change management mistakes to avoid

In digital transformation, changes are cross-functional, cross-departments/silos, and end-to-end. They affect processes, policies, procedures, risk-taking philosophies, organizational structure, and the talent model. The changes are overwhelming and disruptive. Traditional change-management tactics fail executives in three ways:

  • They overlook individual beliefs
  • They use ROI to force change
  • They build a detailed plan

1. Executives often forget that organizations are made of individuals 

That complicates trying to drive change. Each sees the organization through a different lens. They have different interests. They have different sets of core beliefs.

Each individual sees the organization through a different lens.

Typical change-management programs focus on trying to persuade people as to why they should change. But those reasons don’t align with individual interests and beliefs. As I mentioned earlier, people don’t change unless they want to. Why would they want to change into areas of uncertainty in building a new operating model? They have very little confidence in the new world because of all the changing components, such as skills, processes, procedures, and organizational structure.

2. Some executives use the return-on-investment (ROI) model to drive change

It’s almost like brute force – “I’m right, you’re wrong. I’m giving you ROI data to prove to you that this is the right thing to do.” The inevitable result of this tactic is passive-aggressive behaviors. Most individuals will feel they lost an argument, but deep down they still believe they are right. Or worse, they will believe the company doesn’t take their point of view into consideration.

[ Read also: How to measure IT ROI in the digital era. ]

3. That detailed plan may backfire

The third problem and key area where executives make mistakes is building a detailed plan. Effectively, this is a way of shouting “I’m right!” even louder. They build cascading plans with a lot of dependencies and then spend a lot of time on messaging to employees, trying to persuade them this is the right plan for moving forward. But these elaborate plans will inevitably go wrong when employees behave passive-aggressively.

How to drive transformational change: 3 tactics

So, how can your company get its employees to want to change? How can you establish institutional conviction – a shared belief – that the transformation change is the right thing to do, so that people will support the change?

1. Clarify the company’s beliefs or convictions that are important in adopting the necessary change

You then support those beliefs with data, evidence that tests and deepens the conviction. Keep in mind that people don’t want to be manipulated. You’ll need to go through an exercise of examining the beliefs and evidence you presented.

2. Bring a set of provocations

A provocation is something that causes people to stretch their thinking about a belief or conviction. It could be a question such as, “How would you change and evolve that?” or “What are the implications of that conviction?” Or the provocations might be an example from another company’s transformation or other issues that you want to take into consideration.

The provocation process needs room for debate. It must allow honest dialogue to happen and provide room for agreement and disagreement (but not arguments). Remember, people need to stretch their thinking.

Effective change management must allow honest dialogue to happen.

3. Acknowledge that the executives don’t know everything about the change upfront

Then, deal with the disagreement or controversies that arise from the provocations. Sometimes those disagreements are based on intuition or feelings rather than facts.

Like the provocations process, the controversies component needs to allow debate. In working through the controversies, recognize that some individuals may not understand an issue or may have a different viewpoint. Conduct further investigation to clarify the controversies. Be sure to bring in data for clarification rather than allowing an argument to occur.

Sometimes the change or implications may be further along in the transformation journey and data may not yet be available to resolve the controversy. In the case of these unknown factors, be sure to establish an ongoing dialogue to keep building and supporting the institutional conviction as you go along.

Building shared belief in change

This framework of conviction, provocations, and controversies is a highly effective change-management program. The results will be that the company has a shared belief or institutional conviction that the transformation changes are the right set of things to do. When the conviction is shared across the organization, people will support the decisions and support the actions.

[ How can open source principles help with your transformation? Get the ebook: Digital transformation, the open source way. ]

Peter Bendor-Samuel is CEO of Everest Group, a management consulting and research firm with headquarters in Dallas and offices around the globe.