CIO

Digital Transformation: Organizational Change Management Should be on Your Short List of Priorities

Change is good.  Change is bad.  Change is healthy.  Change is disruptive.

All of these statements are true, depending on the time and your perspective and on what you’re actually doing.  In an increasingly technology-driven business environment, it can be reasonably expected that the pace of technology-induced change will also increase, meaning that employees will be adjusting work patterns more often than they have in the past.

That can be really hard.  People get used to how they work and interrupting their habits can be detrimental to their productivity.  However, I believe that the ability to adapt to and even embrace continuous improvement and change will be a key skill for people moving forward.

It will mean that we need to rethink the hiring process, too.  I’ve seen people that have been in their jobs for decades pull out instructions on a monthly basis to do things like payroll.  To be fair, I’m a big believer in the use of checklists to make sure you don’t miss a critical process step, but not when that checklist is intended to replace actually learning and understanding a job.  More than ever, we’re going to need people that understand their jobs and how they fit into the overall context of the organization.  People need to understand the inputs to their role and the outputs that they are expected to deliver to the next phase of a process and why those inputs and outputs are important.

This won’t happen by itself.  Organizations that seek real digital transformation will have to face the reality that a renewed focus on more fully embracing the constantly changing world of technology will bring with it what are sometimes considered the downsides of technology.  There will be more services, more need for integration, more need for keeping services current, and, most importantly, more need for keeping up with the changes in those services and how those changes impact operations.

Although they may not be possible for every organization, I am a believer in the concept of an organizational change management function.  These aren’t the change management structures IT has become used to.  Under traditional IT change management, some kind of entity—a change control board, for example—is established to ensure that changes to systems have the least disruption as possible to the business. IT people often see this kind of change management as an impediment to progress since it slows things down, but it does so to ensure that the business remains operational.  Change management in this context is typically about the technology.

Organizational change management is about people.  Rather than avoiding change, such services will embrace it with an eye toward shepherding it through the organization and helping reinforce the mindset that continuous improvement can also mean continuous change.  With staff that are (hopefully) predisposed to continuous change, this structure helps to reduce the potential for operational impact.  It ensures that the people fully understand their roles and how those roles fit the puzzle of the organization.

I see consulting firms out there that offer organization change management as a one-off service.  They will do an analysis, and let you know where you are and help you define the steps necessary to get to your desired future state.  While this may be an important first step in organizational transformation, I see the digital transformation wave as requiring something more permanent.  Rather than a one-off activity, organizations need to reshape culture and make non-disruptive change a continuous activity.