How technology is transforming change management from an art to a science

9 minute read 3 Mar 2020
By Carl Rhodes

EY Global People Advisory Services Managing Director & EY Global Change Insights Leader

Social scientist. Entrepreneur. Leader. Father. Minnesota Vikings fan. Poker player. Believes in the power of ideas, data, and technology to improve the working world.

9 minute read 3 Mar 2020
Related topics Workforce Innovation

Combine purpose with emerging technology to power the human enterprise and enable your business to become continuously ‘change-capable’.

Corporate cultures and the human beings that occupy them have long been dismissed as too intangible and complex — ephemeral, even — for any sort of rigorous approach that could deliver meaningful change in a consistent, predictable fashion. As a result, change management has been regarded as an important but very soft science — at best.

But as Bob Dylan said, ‘the times they are a changin’.  Innovative, bespoke change programs — rooted in purpose and underpinned by vast quantities of data tapped by new technologies and methods are enabling leading companies to turn the ‘soft’ science of change management into something decidedly more precise and fact-based.

Change practitioners now have more tools for understanding when, where and how change is taking place — or not taking place. Progress toward the realization of core strategies and objectives within change initiatives can now be tracked, guided and adjusted where needed based on a 360-degree, data-fueled analysis, all in near real-time.

In a working world marked by continuous change, HR and transformation leaders are looking for answers in delivering change projects within an organization. By combining a purpose-driven approach to change with tools and insights that guide the journey, organizations can transform change into opportunity for people and ensure successful outcomes for change projects.

  • Four key traits to a successful change experience

    • Purposeful: All activity is aligned to the ‘why’ and the delivery of tangible and sustainable business value through relentless focus on outcomes
    • Interactive: The way organizations take people and through the change experience is immersive and deliberately designed to accelerate business adoption and ROI
    • Personalized: Individual needs, perspectives and expectations are considered to customize the journey and cater to preferences
    • Insightful: A diverse data set and powerful analytics set strategy, guide approaches and drive the right interventions throughout the change journey

Purpose charts the course, data reveals the experience

Smart organizations understand that the experience of change remains a human one, and people respond to change in vastly different ways. The key, therefore, to delivering effective change management programs lies in creating an experience that is purposeful, insightful, personalized and immersive. Beginning with and continually revisiting the ‘why’ throughout the change management experience sets a powerful condition for success.

With a purpose defined and continually communicated, it then becomes critical to know how the proposed change is ‘hitting’ an often large, complex population of people.  Here technological and analytical advances are having a significant impact on the ability to intelligently segment a change population, understand how they interact and work, and track their experiences with a proposed change, all in time to intervene and enable as needed.

Consider segmentation.  Traditional methods were limited by the analysis of factors, such as level, title, function or business unit.  But new approaches enable these demarcations to be supplemented by psychological factors as well, measuring whether a group tends to ‘lean into’ change or shy away from it, or how they like to consume and process new ideas and information.  And the combination of traditional segmentation techniques with the new is proving to be particularly powerful.

New methods and technologies are also revealing the ‘true’ organization as well:  who talks to whom, who influences whom, and the specific people that must be brought ‘onboard’ for the change to take root and stick.  It is often the case that the real leaders of an organization are not always the ones listed on an organizational chart, and that information flows in ways that are very different than official channels.  Knowledge of both provides critical influence.

Finally, we are much better at measuring and analyzing not only how a change program is affecting a given population, but what they think and feel by supplementing traditional survey-based methods with new ones rooted in natural language processing of unstructured data — the very words employees use when they speak in their own voice.

This ultimate impact of these advances is that leaders can understand how capably their organization is handling change, both at the macro and micro levels. More importantly, they can point to areas where action is needed; where transformation is stalling, or where key groups need more direction, earlier inclusion and participation, or clearer communication to become more fully immersed in the change’s success.

Making a science of the art

Digital technologies and new analytical techniques are helping change practitioners to turn the art of change management into much more of a science, and we are at the beginning of what will surely be a long journey.

Over the long term, the effectiveness of these tools will improve exponentially as businesses gather increasing volumes of change and people-focused data. Similarly, as artificial intelligence is more deeply connected with human intuition, companies will be better positioned to initiate, track and manage change. Managers will have clearer insight into placing the right people in the right roles — and be armed with real time dashboards that keep track of what matters. Combined with a people-focused, purpose-driven approach to change management, these technologies are playing a powerful role in creating employee experiences that not only survive change but thrive in it.

Summary

In an era where the only consistency seems to be change itself, change-capable organizations will dominate their markets—turning their change management capabilities into a critical driver of competitive advantage and overturning long-held assumptions on the limits of understanding and reliably changing cultures, organizations and people.

About this article

By Carl Rhodes

EY Global People Advisory Services Managing Director & EY Global Change Insights Leader

Social scientist. Entrepreneur. Leader. Father. Minnesota Vikings fan. Poker player. Believes in the power of ideas, data, and technology to improve the working world.

Related topics Workforce Innovation