Do more with less. Make better decisions faster. Reduce paper and improve processes. A corporate Digital Transformation (DT) program promises improvement like these and more. It’s easy to see the why DT is attractive to industrial construction companies. Organizations are dedicating significant resources towards implementing DT initiatives in an effort to greatly reshape their operations.

Yet in spite of all of the time and money invested, many initiatives fail to take root and grow as necessary to deliver on their promise. It turns out that any transformation, especially digital, is not very easy.

In this series which we’ve titled Why Technology Fails, we’ll lay the foundation for understanding the dominant factors that influence a large corporation’s path through a digital transformation effort. We will discuss:

  • The major factor which derails transformation efforts.
  • How an organization’s structure will influence program success.
  • How basecamps make huge leaps possible.
  • An example connected worker roll out using the base camp approach.

Session 1: Setting Up to Succeed at Digital Transformation

The Perpetrator

There is a familiar figure in every case of failed digital transformation: resistance to change.

You know it when you see it: employees ignore or inconsistently use a new product, managers resent change to the status quo that makes work predicable and do not enforce the change, owners arbitrarily set a timeline to judge success and then get none of the expected results. Each is an action which comes from a state of mind rooted in a very natural resistance to the new. Individuals by nature tend to be resistant to change and the effect of that resistance is multiplied over and over as more people are added to the equation. As such organizations, as a whole, have a very hard time dealing with change.

But Mount Everest can’t be scaled on a whim and neither can organizations easily change their culture and the processes which may have played a part in creating a successful business. To be successful and persistent, change must be managed. And the larger the change, the more it needs to be managed.

What do we mean by “managed”? Start with a great deal of pre-planning. Account for the human element. Break change down into manageable increments by establishing separate and distinct base camps. Finally, ensure stabilization at each base camp before proceeding to the next.

So, it’s that easy?  Well, no.  You will need to understand the key concepts and variables that influence all change processes as well as your specific desired area of digital transformation.

The Organizational Landscape – People, Processes, and Technology

Introducing change into an organization will create turbulence in the interactions of the people, processes, and technologies that define the organization. Accounting for both the intentional and unintentional interactions of all three is necessary to avoid process breakdown pitfalls.

People: When presented with a need for change, people have both emotional and rational responses. The emotional response provides the energy required to sustain a change effort. The rational response gives direction to the energy applied. In the book Switch – How to Change Things When Change is Hard Chip and Dan Heath refer to this as the Elephant and the Rider. If change is either accelerated or forced without a person having first processed and decided to engage with the change, the negative emotional reactions will tend to increase.  The elephant must be accounted for within user adoption and communication planning. Even a technology change that performs perfectly will fail if the response to it from the impacted personnel are not accounted for.

Processes:  Organizations frequently have highly developed, rigid processes to ensure uniformity. While such processes help manage normal daily operations, they can work against efficiently executing change. Documenting an organization’s current state and determining which existing processes will be impacted by the technology change is necessary for successful implementation.

Technology:  How will the new technology interact with the existing technology already depended on by people and processes?  Where are the common touchpoints both physically and in data outputs? Answering these questions along with vetting the proposed technology initiative is critical in ensuring successful implementation.

Organizational Silos

Most mature organizations are divided into specialized units, or silos, with each silo focusing on a unique area of expertise. Every silo may have their own combination of processes and supporting technology. As changes to technology impact the people, processes and existing technology of an organization, multiple silos will be enlisted to ensure new technology will minimize risk and maximize improvement.

From the very start of the DT initiative, understanding the risk/reward value proposition for each group – whether they are more risk driven or reward driven – is critical. This will determine whether you will gain their support in building momentum or encounter both inertia and friction.

In the next session – How the decision cycle influences change management.