Barriers to success in digital change
A lack of digital leadership, insufficient skills in the workforce, or unaligned rewards and incentives can all get in the way of effective digital change.5 On the people side, three main factors emerge time and time again in research as most likely to trip up digital transformation:
1. Perception of digital transformation as just being IT change
A common misconception is that ‘digital transformation’ refers only to the technological side of change.2 This ignores the crucial roles of the people, places and ways of working which invariably go hand in hand with the adoption of new technology in the workplace. So, leaders should make sure they’re clear on what digital transformation means to them, and how it impacts each and every individual in the business.
2. Lack of leadership role modelling and buy-in, ‘behind closed doors’
Talking about digital transformation isn’t enough. For success, leaders and key decision-makers must understand, plan for, and action the various components and considerations of digital transformation. Failing to do so risks undermining the hard work of those pioneering the digital transformation, by giving reluctant employees an excuse to stay offboard. Senior leaders should hold themselves and others to account on authenticity by calling out when anyone falls back into outdated working habits.
3. Resistance to change
The human brain is hardwired to be cautious of change, of which digital transformation is a prime example.6 Whether it’s a classic fear of failure or concerns over appearing incompetent, people’s defense mechanisms are likely to hold them back.7 Leaders will have to use their negotiation skills and emotional intelligence to navigate people’s concerns with compassion whilst continuing to encourage them through the transition.
How leaders can navigate the people side of digital transformation
These barriers, although important to acknowledge, are not insurmountable. To overcome them, here are a few actions to focus on to make digital transformations a success:
1. Focus on ‘the why’ and performance impact
Don’t get caught up in the excitement and novelty of the ‘how’ of digital transformation before firmly establishing the ‘why’. Being clear on their purpose will benefit leaders when assessing which initiatives are worth the investment, and which aren’t working out.
2. Show people what the benefits are
To help people visualise the rewards of your digital transformation, use strategies such as proof of concept or sprint-based improvement.
3. Co-create the transformation with people
Getting your organisation on board with any digital transformation is likely to involve some compromise. People need easing into change, and sometimes that means sacrificing the most efficient technology for what your workforce is willing to adopt. Although it may feel frustrating, this gradual introduction and co-creation will serve to make people feel heard and therefore increase their motivation.
4. Provide a crystal-clear narrative
Once the why has been established, leaders should iteratively develop a crystal-clear story about the digital transformation. This should include why the company needs to do it, what digital transformation means for each part of the business, the benefits of data and digital solutions, and the individual contributions required from the employees. This will help engage people in the work required to achieve your end goal.
What you need from your people for digital change
Each stakeholder has a role to play in a digital transformation. Below are some of the mindsets, behaviours and skills each group of workers may need:
- The digital leader: aspirational and grounded mindset, setting stretching goals whilst staying connected to what is achievable
- The executive team and leaders across the business: authentic role modelling and championing of digital transformation initiatives
- The digital workforce: adaptability in their behaviours so they can anticipate, adjust and evolve when facing the new challenges of a digital world
The digital era is well and truly in full swing, meaning that business must adapt to stay afloat, and leaders will need to acknowledge the critical role of people to accelerate new and better ways of working.