Digital Transformation Can’t Happen if We Don’t Address Emotional Change

From an employee perspective in 2020, our ‘stop’ and ‘fast-forward’ buttons have pressed repeatedly. And given the current global environment, there’s more pressure than ever before on businesses and employees to transform and adopt digital ways of working.

Collaboration and interactions with customers and colleagues have become virtual. That means employees must adopt new ways of selling, co-creating and connecting. Agility has come to life by necessity, demonstrated by a range of rapid pivots to new business models. Meanwhile, in-progress digital transformation programs have been accelerated, and new ones launched, leaving employees to deal with greater amounts of complexity and ambiguity than ever before.

But systems and processes aren’t the defining factors behind successful digital transformations – people are. Now more than ever, we must focus on the human change factors that govern adoption, resistance and performance, or we risk falling short of our ambitions.

There are many reasons why digital transformations (or change programs in general) might fail to meet business expectations. We’ve identified three rising human factors, and below, we’ve outlined how you can address each one to deliver human-centered change: 

  1. Common cognitive biases are not being spotted and addressed in employee populations. 
  2. Leaders are not equipped and engaged to lead the change effectively.
  3. The mass does not accept the change as it contradicts the organizational culture.  


There are different types of common cognitive biases which are typically not spotted or addressed in employee populations. Left unchecked, they create resistance and get in the way of change. Here’s how you can help emotional bias embrace change.  


What is it? Demonstrating a preference for things to stay the same by doing nothing or by sticking with a previous decision – even when only small transition costs are involved, and the importance of change is great.

How can you manage it? Communicate a strong ‘mission statement’ from leadership. Encourage co-creation and the sharing of opinions via task forces and influencers.


What is it? A preference towards avoiding losses instead of acquiring the equivalent gains. Some studies have suggested that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains.

How can you manage it? Readdress this perception from ‘loss’ to ‘gain.’ Bring the reality of your transformation benefits to life for individuals and demonstrate empathy and understanding around their perception of the ‘losses.’


What is it? A tendency to make decisions based on readily available information, which has been recently or frequently heard. For instance, “Every company is accelerating in digital to stay relevant – we need to take it seriously!”

How can you manage it? This is a bias to leverage instead of combat. Increase the novelty or drama surrounding a change event so it becomes more available in peoples’ memories. Communicate stories around your desired behaviors for digital adoption, especially about colleagues living them, to encourage more of the same.


The good news is that the fundamentals haven’t changed. It’s still important to involve leaders early so that they build a clear understanding of your future vision and digital transformation roadmap. It’s about providing tools, support and coaching so they have the information to deliver the right messages and make the right decisions. But most importantly, give them the accountability for change-making.

But what feels different now? A few core principles need to be dialed up at this time. At the top of the list is practicing empathy. The speed, complexity and pressures which employees can be under in their home and working life can be immense. A leader who takes the time to listen and authentically empathize will see the benefits of greater attention being applied to the transformation. In a similar vein, there is a need to keep things as straight-forward and bite-sized as possible for employees who are beset with multiple changes at work and home. Working on tone and clarity in communication will allow employees to focus on what’s really important without worrying about the enormity of the full transformation.


Sometimes, a collective workforce does not accept change because it contradicts organizational culture. But you can actually harness cultural preferences to overcome this resistance if you understand them in the first place. Start out by acknowledging that different employees advance through a journey, from awareness to advocacy, at different rates. The journey stages around hearing, believing and living the change. We use different interventions at each stage of the journey, and whether they succeed or not comes down to the tactics’ suitability for the culture in question.

To decrease the chances of prevailing culture rejecting your approach, we can take the lead from personality profiling. Just like different individuals have different personality types, different types of organizational cultures can be identified by the same psychological means. Think personality color types, like those used in the Insights Discovery model based on Carl Jung’s psychological theories.

Different types of organizations will respond better to varied approaches that drive digital adoption. For instance, a yellow organization at the hearing stage of their digital transformation would benefit from applying a pioneering, visual storytelling approach to communicate the change roadmap – e.g., an augmented reality digital workplace of the future – whereas following a similar approach within a blue organization that expects detail and data is ill-advised. Taking the time as a program team to think about the profile of the organization as you plan your change tactics can ensure you avoid the culture trap.

So, what does this boil down to?  

In short, human-centric solutions can remove the barriers to achieving your digital transformation outcomes. As we said in the beginning, there is more pressure than ever before for businesses and employees to adopt digital ways of working. Sticking to the fundamentals of behavior change and applying a human-led approach will ensure you can transform faster and more successfully than ever before.

To hear more from Andy, watch his presentation from the online Digital Transformation Conference, or reach out directly to him.

Andy is a Senior Principal and a member of the global leadership team at Daggerwing Group. In his role, Andy serves as a source of strategic counsel to Executives of many of the world’s largest companies facing major business transformation challenges – from mergers, acquisitions, and spin-offs, to enterprise-level changes to culture, ways of working, and operating models. A specialist in the people side of change, Andy brings almost 20 years of experience helping drive Executive Alignment, leadership change readiness, and effective employee engagement to ensure change happens and sticks. Andy is an active speaker, thought leadership writer, and catalyst for service innovation within Daggerwing. In his spare time, he is on a quest to try every cheese the UK produces.
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