Change Management in today’s digital age

Changing paradigm of change Management in today’s Digital Age

Change Management is a boring subject for many, but everyone expects a change! People are reluctant towards change, organizations are reluctant to change, but everyone expects results and big changes. Is there something wrong with the way change management is perceived, managed and delivered? Many leaders today who fear disruptions or interruptions to business, do not want to shake up the organizations and prefer to maintain status quo. But at same time, they talk big on podiums on managing disruptions, managing change in today’s digital age. To some extent, many organizations are playing safe as they fear failures would not be accepted in their company irrespective of the reality or DNA of the company.

In many traditional organizations, the paradigm of change have not changed dramatically over past many years, and that is the prime reason of failure of change initiatives in such organizations.

Let’s examine why companies needs to closely monitor this aspect.

Why not play safe, maintain status quo for safeguarding the company?

With the spur of Digital transformation initiatives globally, companies are struggling to get adequate value from its digital transformation projects. Many of the digital initiatives either fail or deliver sub-optimal results. The problems are not with digital aspirations, digital vision and strategies of companies rather with the change management discipline within the organizations. No one want to change or own the change citing the pretext of risk management or in other words people want to “play it safe”. People are risk averse, people are change averse and prefer status quo. But what would you do when the digital storm is inevitable? The obvious answer is we would prepare to face the storm rather than maintaining the status quo. But if that is the answer, why people are not supporting the change cause in the organizations?

As a human, many of us are inherently selfish and when we do not see immediate benefit for us (recall what’s in it for me (WIIFM) theory?) in change initiatives, we typically ignore it. Many people do not support the cause of change fearing the consequences and failures, and in most likelihood, if it change comes on their way, they oppose it. Are you also a victim of similar old school thinking and ready to risk those millions dollars of investments of organizations on the digital initiatives? Examine it yourself!

As per Mckinsey’s study, over 70% of change programs fails to achieve its goals in the organization. If that is the case, why companies are not learning from these failures.

Or in simple terms, why companies are so obsessed with roll-out of new digital programs that in-itself are large change management initiatives. Does it make sense to attempt something that has meagre 30% probability of success? ? Or does it make sense to “maintain the status quo” to protect those millions of dollars going waste? Or does it make sense to prepare the organization to face the change. Yes, it makes a lot of sense to prepare for the change in advance before it hit us hard.

Change does not come with any prior notice so playing safe or neutral is merely an excuse or poor strategy for not supporting the change cause.

Without change, companies simply cannot function and may even lose its existence completely. Play safe and maintain status quo mentality would also make companies reach the disaster state eventually in current digital age. Companies needs paradigm shift in change management discipline to survive, lead and thrive. Let’s assess why the proven change management models are failing today!

Why change management is getting difficult today?

We are living in a modern digital age that is driven by the millennial workforce who loves technologies and have different expectations from organizations. The millennial are tech savvy, have zero affinity to companies and does not care of employee loyalty. They love the fast changing pace and expects a dynamic work culture that can give them enough opportunities to grow, learn and excel along with good pay package. The process adherence and hierarchy are viewed more of a hindrance and burden by the millennial workforce today. The millennial’s attraction towards startup companies in the last 5–7 years is a good examples to assess the kind of environment or culture the current generation millennial expects from the workplace. In case millennial's do not find any of these aspects in work environment, they do not hesitate to jump out of the companies even without caring for a job in hand!

The people, process and technologies dynamics have changed in today’s digital age more rapidly than ever. Companies that are not able to cope up with these changes are struggling to deliver value and are facing digital challenges of today’s era.

The traditional people management and change management practices have become less effective today and kind of obsolete in today’s digital age. Many companies do not have leaders who can correlate to the changing millennial mix and related influence on organization. Many are not ready to change or adopt the “fit for purpose” leadership styles. Few leaders are still rigid with old school thinking of change management, eventually making the organization more vulnerable to failure for change. Most of the popular change management frameworks and best practices of previous era are failing today. The simple reason being none of those frameworks have undergone any changes in the past many years. Adoption is the best answer for change management. Let me explain, why the most popular and universally adopted “Kotter Change management process” is kind of irrelevant today for handling the changing paradigm of change.

Old is not always gold: Change is about timely adoption

Many of us have read and practiced the world-famous “8 process step of change management” by Kotter’s https://www.kotterinc.com/8-steps-process-for-leading-change/. It was followed for over two decades across various industries and was once upon a time the “bible for change management” for companies. But today, you may argue it does not work or help with the realities on the ground and today’s dynamics. While the guiding principles and steps suggested by Kotter are still relevant, many companies have either ignored it or taken shortcuts towards its implementation. Let’s summarize why the golden rule of change management does not work today!

Kotter’s 8 Process Steps and Today’s reality check /Self probing

1. Create a sense of urgency

Everything is urgent or marked high priority today? Or does your urgency or priorities changes quite frequently?

2. Build a guiding coalition

Corporate politics and personal agenda’s driving the organizations? No one has time and motivation to guide, coordinate, communicate and share useful information? Is coalition exists on paper or a meeting jargon or a reality? Are there any change master(s) in the organization?

3. Form a strategic vision and initiatives

Vision and initiatives are available in plenty? Are they really needed? Is execution the main challenge? Are there many siloed projects and initiatives across the company?

4. Enlist a volunteer army to drive change

Are people are overloaded? Are there hardly any volunteer for change management? Forget the army, do you have the adequate resources and capabilities to drive change?

5. Enable action by removing barriers

Do you know the real change barriers in the organization? Is process or org hierarchy or capabilities the main barrier? Are the powerful individual(s) becoming a barrier or obstacles in the change? Do not know what to do in such cases?

6. Generate short term wins

Is the short term wins appreciated in the company? Who are the takers for such small wins? Are you celebrating those small wins or are there enough people to criticise you?

7. Sustain Acceleration

Is acceleration helping or hurting? Can you sustain the change acceleration without further inertia or motivation? Are people and senior management responding positively to acceleration/push? Is someone really concerned for change on the ground? Are you doing change for a namesake?

8. Institute change

Can you institute change with so many silos, gaps and differences across organization? Are you confused where to begin or where to hammer rightly for making a change?

It is very clear that Kotter’s above framework (like many other change frameworks) does not handle the need of millennial workforce, its influence and adoptive leadership styles for delivering change. There are many open questions and negative sentiments that reflect the realities of many organizations as shown in the above framework. With so many unresolved challenges, when companies try to attempt something new or big, it struggles with execution.

Change is more about the timely adoption within the organization to the changing realities (of environment, competition, technology, people, processes, customers etc). The quicker the organization “sense and respond” to these change realities and adopt and readjust itself, more successful it would be to face the challenges and future.

Digital change management is about building and reviving the culture

Change management discipline is continuously evolving today and needs new tools, methods, new management style, new leadership style, new capabilities and policies to face the growing challenges. While almost every company is taking the digital route today, the focus of them is mainly on outcomes and not on change management. There are hardly a handful of “change agents” and “change masters” in each organization (of any sizes) driving changes, making them vulnerable to failure towards managing large scale changes. There are a good number of companies in each industry today who have divided the organization into traditional business and digital business, without realizing them making a “cultural divide” within the organization that needs fix either today or sooner before things gets worst.

Companies often fail to realize that change management is a “human thing” and not about tools, capabilities, processes, structures, technologies and business alone.

Digital change management is about building and reviving the culture that should be aligned to millennial workforce, new leadership styles, new technologies and changing dynamics of customers and businesses.

The unfortunate part is many CEOs’ tend to underestimate the human behavior aspect of change management. Companies must balance the leadership styles, millennial workforce and motivations at different levels. Many times the business plans, future roadmap, vision or business cases information shared by leaders does not motivate people, in such cases companies must assess (and not assume or take it for granted) what can motivate its workforce at different levels to deliver the change. There is a need to understand the emotional quotient (EQ) also referred as emotional intelligence, i.e. ability to understand other people, what motivates them and how to work cooperatively with them.

Organizations must prepare itself for change management and do an honest assessment periodically of what is wrong or missing in the organization. Playing safe or neutral is not the option. Ideally, companies need an independent function(s) (under the “C” level leadership) that is not part of any business unit to drive the change across the organization with adequate powers. The bureaucratic functioning within the companies must be stopped to deliver the change. Innovation must be encouraged and failures must be appreciated for genuine efforts of the teams.

Unless an organization realize that change management is an important part of business and act on it proactively, change would remain an aspirational element for many.

The paradigm of change has changed dramatically in today’s digital age. Are you ready to change?

Girish is VP-Digital at Collabera with 20+ year experience. He has led digital transformation for many Fortune 100 companies while at Wipro, DXC, HPE, Mindtree.