Digital transformation is a necessity for practically all organisations today, whatever their type and activity. With fast-changing practices, generational imbalances and the current health crisis, there are many reasons to embrace digital.
Besides the daily challenges it poses, what if this forced transition produced employee overload? What if it was actually counter-productive? Most companies are working on their digital transformation. And they manage this necessary step with varying degrees of success. Events such as World Mobile Free Day, held on the 15th of April, highlight simple observations in the world of work:
Normality is now based on constant change. Business leaders' strategies are now supposed to be based on 'directions' rather than 'goals'. This means defining a path to a destination that is never really known, which can be somewhat disorienting! For employees, whose careers are getting longer, adapting to the acceleration of changes, in order to handle them better in the future, is a question of balance. Finally, companies are under financial pressure and must remain innovative, productive and profitable. None of this is really conducive to feeling relaxed!
Change and transformation should not be confused. Change is generally seen through the lens of projects. More often than not, they are numerous, occur simultaneously and add up. Projects involving change are generally initiated by the Information Systems Department and are seen as "obligatory". Because there is a form of urgency (real or perceived), they are given a beginning and end date, but in many cases they suffer from disorganisation, stop-and-go progress and poorly identified targets, while collaboration rituals celebrating project completion have less value or disappear altogether. Furthermore, various forms of change may be involved, including unexpected situations that we have experienced and know how to respond to, and more chaotic changes that we have never encountered and catch us off guard. The latter cause the most difficulties and sometimes damage.
Transformation, on the other hand, is cross-cutting It includes a set of projects, without a precise time frame, and takes place over the long term, through changes in behaviour, attitude and lifestyle among employees. When these collective changes and transformations become greater than the company's ability to "absorb" them, overload occurs, as well as the accompanying disengagement.
In terms of projects, they enter into conflict with one another, there is no segmentation over time, and they come in rapid succession, without the time being taken to celebrate successes. In terms of employees, emotions get out of control and are expressed in various ways, including fear of not managing, resigned but fundamentally unwilling acceptance, or a feeling of powerlessness, disorientation and rejection. These emotions understandably bring with them stress and uncertainty, and highlight the courage that needs to be demonstrated to tackle changes.
This is where change management comes in. Introduced at the beginning of each project, alongside project management, this is an essential component, mainly focussed on human aspects. When based on a suitable methodology, this approach can ensure the following:
The 2018 PROSCI longitudinal study reveals that "projects with excellent change management were six times more likely to meet objectives" and "by accelerating adoption among employees, excellent change management ensures that project budgets are met and there is a better return on investment."
Seen through the lens of the highly unusual year that was 2020, when changes came fast and digital uses grew rapidly, change management is a clear choice. People have had to learn quickly and efficiently, and adapt more than ever. Certain forms of resistance to change have disappeared altogether. That said, employees still need to be supported. Now that people are forced to work separately, it is essential to use actions/formats that create time for sharing and co-construction, which facilitate change management: communication from the management team, identification of needs, assessment of systems implemented, training and events. All of this with the spirit of benevolence, appreciation of competencies and gratitude that is essential in everyday life.
As for managers, they now need to adapt to their teams' new ways of working and learn how to operate in an uncertain environment. Communication plays a crucial role here. Messages from the CEO or a member of the management team are essential to explain the reasons and aims of expected changes. They should be widely disseminated. To communicate about change, managers can demonstrate their intentions by "telling the story":
First and foremost, managers need to take into account their own resistance. How can they win over their teams if they are not convinced themselves? Next, resistance should be managed collectively: communications should be addressed to the group, and sticking points should also be dealt with in the group. Individual resistance should be addressed last. It should also be anticipated as far as possible. If this is not possible, it should be identified when it is expressed by employees. Here, the ADKAR1 method is particularly relevant and can be used to manage, and even rapidly resolve, weaknesses and/or issues that generate resistance.
When they build a wall to protect themselves from a frightening change, employees can be reassured and encouraged to move forward by management teams that adopt a methodical, confident and benevolent approach. They will then willingly contribute and take part in the adventure. They will be proud to do so. This is the ultimate sign of a successful, overload-free transformation.
Alix Howard, Change Management Consultant