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Digital Transformation: It’s About Your People


If there was ever any doubt, 2020 has proven that digital transformation is here, and it’s here to stay. The reality is, it’s been here for some time, organizations have just been painfully slow to accept it, weighted down by other priorities, old ways of thinking, and red tape. But in a matter of months, and in some cases days, businesses have had to adapt to new customer needs, new ways of working and selling, and introducing new business models to survive—all at the speed of digital.

If you are feeling the pressure, you are not alone. All this change has led to companies dealing with greater levels of complexity, ambiguity and the searing pace of change. It’s more important than ever that we get digital right. But too often organizations are so focused on the nuts and bolts of systems, technology and processes that they neglect to address the major reason why digital transformations fail—ignoring the human factors of change.

Here are three major pitfalls that often cause digital transformation efforts to fail.

Reason 1: We don’t meet people where they are 

As is painfully clear in 2020, people experience a variety of emotions including stress, anxiety, lethargy and depression during times of change. But too often these factors are not considered, causing transformation efforts to stall and fail as people shut down when you need them the most, or return to what feels safe, such as old ways of working. Having an understanding of where your people are can help you better position the transformation in a way that resonates with them and provides clues to how you can best support your people, so they can rise to the occasion.

Organizations need to start by listening to their people and tap into their mindsets, emotions and motivations. For example, change is always better when one has a sense of control, rather than feeling like it’s being imposed from above. This can mean building in psychological safety by creating spaces where people can share ideas and viewpoints around the change and then publicly recognizing those who do. This helps ensure your people aren’t afraid to raise their voice to say what’s working and what’s not. Instead, they are encouraged, so you can fine-tune and accelerate your transformation efforts. Organizations also benefit from tapping into what motivates their people. Often times, a simple motivator like empowering your people to make decisions and help drive the change can make the difference between success and failure.

Reason #2: The change is confusing and mind-numbing

Digital transformation is, by its very nature, complex.  It may seem clear from the top, but as you make your way down the levels of the organization, that message gets muddled and lost in tons of details, mixed messages, and the mind-numbing minutia of training, which leads to the horror and frustration that many of us have experienced when being forced to change our habits and the tools we rely on every day.

We’ve got to keep it simple and tell a story that puts people at the center. Context is everything, and without a clear story around the why, the what and the how of the transformation, without a promise of a hopeful future, it will be impossible to create alignment, cut through the clutter and create the needed energy to successfully drive the change.

Reason #3 – Leader’s aren’t leading

Leaders are the driving force of change, but so often they are not given the information, guidance or runway needed to drive it. Not only that, but with the current global environment, leaders’ jobs have become increasingly difficult as they try to navigate new ways of leading and managing teams virtually. We know from research that the majority of leaders today are struggling with how to lead remote teams in a world that will never return to what it once was.

The good news is that the fundamentals of supporting leaders hasn’t changed. It’s just as important today to involve leaders early so that they build up a clear understanding of the change, work through their own issues and understand how they need to lead differently. It’s about making them accountable for the change and providing the information, support, coaching and incentives they need so that they can lead by example and guide their people with energy and in a positive way.

And what is different for leaders now? A few core principles need to be dialed up. At the top of the list is practicing empathy. The speed, complexity and pressures which employees can be under at home and at work can be immense. Leaders who take the time to listen and empathize will see huge benefits in their peoples’ ability to navigate and help drive the change. In a similar way, leaders should focus on reinforcing the story, keeping things as straight-forward and bite-sized as possible for those who are trying to navigate their own transformations at work and home. Doing so will help their people focus on what’s really important without worrying about the enormity of the full transformation.

So, what does this all mean? 

Taking a people-centered approach to your digital transformation will help you avoid these common pitfalls. 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 people-led approach will ensure you can transform faster and more successfully than ever before.

Remember, digital transformation is about your people.

To hear more from Michelle and Edson, watch their presentation from the online Digital Transformation Conference, or reach out directly to Michelle Mahony or Edson Chaves.

Michelle is the Managing Partner & President of Daggerwing Group, as well as a member of Daggerwing’s Executive Leadership Team. In her role, Michelle leads all global client relationships and delivery of Daggerwing’s consulting services to ensure change is done right the first time, and sticks. She also ensures that Daggerwing’s consulting leaders are effectively driving career growth for our consultants, continuously building capability and experience. Michelle’s breadth of expertise in the people side of change includes facilitating Executive Alignment on every type of organizational transformation, orchestrating enterprise-level culture shifts to deliver on a CEO’s strategy, and helping clients custom-create and bring to life their Future of Work strategies. Michelle is passionate about creating leaders and employees who are energized, rather than exhausted, by the opportunities change creates – ultimately helping clients succeed by fostering a culture that delivers the desired experience for customers and enables employees to thrive. In her private time, Michelle enjoys singing 70s pop songs badly while playing her ukulele, buying musty old records, and spending tons of time in the woods and on snowy mountains.
Edson is a Principal at Daggerwing Group. He has worked with a variety of Fortune 500 companies and global organizations to deliver business results by changing customer and employee behavior. Edson helps companies redefine business strategies and redesign their organizations to address business challenges by looking through the eyes of the stakeholders that matter most – customers and employee – and develops and implements practical plans to drive change. Edson loves to stay active by biking, playing soccer, and cutting it loose on the dance floor.