Managing Your Team Through Digital Transformation

by Nicolas Costa
Blog Post

What’s the number one roadblock to any sort of change in your business?

For many companies, the answer to that question is some variation of “the people inside the organization.” For most people, change is hard! We like to develop our set patterns and ways of doing things – next time you walk into a regular team meeting, note where everyone is sitting. Does each person tend to sit where they always do?

Obviously, the changes that come through a digital transformation have the best interests of the future of the company at heart, but that doesn’t mean you won’t experience some form of resistance or reluctance to change.

Managing a team through digital transformation well can make all the difference to the success of the transformation. Here are a few thoughts on what that might look like:

Maintain transparency

Usually, one of the first things a company will do when considering a digital transformation is take stock of their current situation, then identify where their challenges and opportunities lie. There are many excellent cases for forging ahead with digital transformation, as these statistics compiled by Present show:

  • 87% of companies see digital transformation as an opportunity to develop a competitive edge
  • 67% of executives believe that digital transformation is a “question of survival” for their business
  • 77% of IT managers believe that digital transformation helps to increase customer satisfaction.

These are all good reasons to be making the transformation, and transparency about these issues with your employees will help to prepare them. No one likes the idea that they may lose their job, but in many cases, that’s exactly what a company may end up dealing with if they don’t adapt and transform.

There are many examples in the past of companies not making vital transformations, then paying for it later. Look at the railroad companies that went bankrupt after the proliferation of motorcars. Many of these wealthy companies had thought themselves too big to fail and didn’t acknowledge that cars were a threat to their business model. The many workers who lost their jobs probably would have been willing to adapt to a new way of doing business, particularly if it kept the company going.

Bottom line: while people are often opposed to any sort of “change for the sake of change,” they can get behind change they see the value in. Communicate that value with team members.

Digital transformation

Have a clear vision

In a direct follow-up to assessing the situation and having transparent “whys” for digital transformation, successfully undergoing the process means being able to unite team members, department heads and various stakeholders behind a clear vision.

An Accenture Interactive and Forrester Consulting report found the following:

“…many companies have considerable ground to cover on their path to becoming digital enterprises. They’re challenged with setting a digital vision and strategy, getting the right people in place and measuring digital success.”

It’s important to have a clear vision of the end-state in order to unite everyone around achieving that vision. Some companies suffer where there is disagreement over who should set and oversee that vision. This is something to decide early and to ensure that senior members get behind.

Deal with fear and aversion

Aversion to change usually has some sort of fear at its root. In most cases, the digital transformation is going to mean that employees have to change how they do work, learn new things and perhaps meet new standards of performance.

Team managers can help through transparency as described, but also by actively being supportive of employees as the change takes place. Expect there to be a teething period and deal with it accordingly.

Remember that it takes time to master new concepts or learn new technologies and procedures. A theory known as the “W Effect” has been observed with digital transformations in companies. This is where, when a new technology is introduced, employee productivity follows four distinct trends:

  • A sudden drop in productivity when the technology is implemented;
  • A slight productivity improvement after a few weeks, but still lower than the pre-change productivity level;
  • A second fall in productivity – less severe than the first – after a few months;
  • An increase in productivity to above pre-change levels once the implementation is fully complete.

You can expect this to happen, so be prepared for it. Create a supportive environment for employees going through the digital transformation period, rather than any sort of punitive action over temporary drops in productivity.

Have a change management strategy

Rather than the focus of digital transformation, which is on the company as a whole, a change management strategy focuses on your team members. The aim is to have a clear pathway for easing your team into the change. For example:

  • How will you communicate the change and any updates?
  • How do you expect employees to react to the change and how will you manage that?
  • Will training be required? How will you manage the training?
  • What resources will employees need at their disposal to manage the change?

A change management strategy is virtually as important to have mapped out as the digital transformation strategy itself.

Recruit some “evangelists”

There will be team members who greet the change with enthusiasm – these are the people to recruit early on and use as evangelists among the team. For example, these might be the first people to be trained in the technology changes, then used as “subject matter experts” to train others.

It’s also good to have these people as communicators, gathering and passing on feedback, concerns or compliments from other team members. They can help the team to feel that they have a voice in the process and to “convert” the undecided to the cause.

Be prepared to listen to feedback

Whether you have evangelists enlisted as feedback gatherers or not, it’s important to give the team an avenue for feedback. Of course, the other important part of that is that you need to be prepared to listen to that feedback and assess whether any adjustments need to be made.

Team members at the frontline of the company tend to be good sources of feedback for what works with their everyday duties. For example, they can tell you if a technology initiative might be adding unnecessary extra steps, or if it is somehow too complex to use effectively. It’s important to have that real understanding of the impacts of any change.

Digital transformation

Final thoughts

There are many potential roadblocks to successfully implementing a digital transformation in your company. Managing your team well through the transformation is a possible hurdle that you can get over with some good planning.

It’s important to get people onboard with the transformation early on, by assessing the business need and being transparent about why it is necessary for the change to happen. While people might not be fond of change, they definitely understand that it’s sometimes necessary.

Create a change management plan and put resources in place to deal with any fear or resistance to change. Keep people involved in the process and give them space to learn the new technology, as well as contribute any feedback.

Studies show that overall, companies aren’t managing digital transformation particularly well, but your company doesn’t have to be part of those statistics if you put the time into planning.

Koombea helps build amazing apps which assist in digital transformation. Talk to us today about how we can help you.

by Nicolas Costa
Blog Post