It's NEVER Too Late to Begin Organizational Change Management on a Digital Transformation!

Written By: Eric Kimberling
Date: August 11, 2023

In an ideal scenario, change management activities should commence prior to the initiation of a digital transformation. However, the reality is that many organizations only initiate their change management efforts once they are already midway through a transformation. In such situations, it becomes crucial to understand what steps to take. This discussion aims to address that specific scenario.

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One of our core service offerings and capabilities for clients is organizational change management. Often, organizations fail to recognize or prioritize the need for change management until they are well into the process of a digital transformation. While this falls short of an ideal approach, it's a reality for numerous organizations. Many change managers find themselves in a situation where they must play catch-up and compensate for the time lost due to insufficient early focus on change management.

Recently, I received a message on social media from a change management practitioner who expressed disappointment. Throughout her career, she consistently found herself brought in later during projects to address change management issues that had already escalated into significant problems. As a result, she became somewhat burned out and dissatisfied with her role in the world of change management. However, this dynamic is more prevalent than one might expect. Most organizations only grasp the significance of change management after experiencing the challenges, resistance to change, and operational issues during their digital transformation.

The purpose of this discussion is to outline what can be done if you find yourself in this position—already downstream in the digital transformation journey and just starting with change management. There is both good news and bad news in this context. I intend to provide a roadmap to help you navigate this situation.

The Good News

Let's begin by discussing the news in relation to situations involving midstream starts for change management. First, let's address the positive aspect. Despite the circumstances, your organization has finally acknowledged the significance of change management. While it might feel belated and falls short of the ideal envisioned state for change management, the positive point is that you still possess the opportunity to create an impact and guide individuals through the transformation process. This essence of change management revolves around assisting individuals in navigating changes, fostering comfort, and ultimately mitigating disorder and stress within the organization. Consequently, this contributes to enhancing and optimizing the business value derived from the digital transformation endeavor. Therefore, the advantageous aspect lies in the organization's recognition of the necessity for change management. Moreover, given that they have experienced the repercussions of neglecting timely implementation of change management, it's highly probable that they are now more receptive to the concept.

However, alongside this positive perspective, there is a downside—some ground to recover and unfortunate aspects to consider, which I will elaborate upon shortly. Nonetheless, the affirmative aspect remains that often, you will find yourself in a situation where the organization acknowledges the indispensability of change management and is more receptive to it than it would have been otherwise.

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The Bad News

Now, onto the less favorable aspect of this situation. The unfortunate news is that you are facing challenges. If you find yourself commencing change management midway or even further into a digital transformation, you are already playing catch-up. This situation places you behind schedule, which is the initial unfavorable circumstance. Additionally, the critical aspect to consider is that change management generally occupies the critical path in achieving a successful digital transformation. In simpler terms, among the various work streams involved, change management tends to require the most time. Unlike the technology-focused work stream that usually progresses swiftly, the adaptation of an organization's people to change takes longer. This reality places added pressure on you, whether you're a change manager or part of a change management team.

Notably, you are now not only dealing with being behind schedule, but even if you had started on time, change management would inherently be on the critical path. Consequently, this is the unfavorable news you must confront. While the organization's recognition of the significance of change management has likely intensified due to the experienced repercussions of delayed implementation, the challenge remains that you now have a shorter timeframe. The urgency to deliver effective change efforts is amplified. In light of these challenges and the realistic context you are in, I will delve into strategies you can employ to catch up and operate effectively. The goal is to prioritize your efforts and ensure both immediate and enduring value for your organization.

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How to Catch Up

The question that arises is how do we address this situation and catch up? Often, when you're introduced into a change initiative amid an ongoing transformation, the environment can be overwhelming. The pace may feel extremely rapid, accompanied by chaos, confusion, and an array of change management challenges. This sense of overwhelm can even affect seasoned change experts. The focal point here is: What actions should we take? How can we establish a sense of direction and focus? The aim is not to attempt a comprehensive overhaul all at once or revolutionize the situation overnight. Instead, we aim to generate both immediate and sustainable impacts on the organization.

First and foremost, the pivotal step is to conduct an Organizational Readiness Assessment. This assessment involves both quantitative and qualitative evaluations to comprehend the current state of the organization's readiness for change. It's essential to identify the potential sources of resistance, the underlying causes of this resistance, and the subtleties of the organizational culture. This includes understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the prevailing culture, and devising strategies to address the weaknesses. Furthermore, it's vital to recognize the elements that could exert significant positive or negative influences on the digital transformation concerning individuals.

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Typically, the Organizational Readiness Assessment follows a dual approach. One aspect involves an anonymous quantitative employee survey, while the other encompasses qualitative focus groups consisting of individuals from various departments or locations within the organization. This structured approach facilitates a systematic analysis of the existing scenario. The outcome is a comprehensive list of challenges and concerns that demand attention. However, considering your position of being behind schedule, it's evident that you won't be able to address all the identified issues within the available timeframe. Competing priorities and resource constraints make this a reality.

Given this context, the Organizational Readiness Assessment becomes a valuable tool. It enables you to sift through the multitude of concerns and prioritize them based on their potential for immediate impact. Without this methodical and structured assessment, the information at hand could easily devolve into subjective noise, driven by emotions and perceptions, making it challenging to take meaningful action. By adopting a structured, systematic, and objective approach to the Organizational Readiness Assessment, you can gain clarity on where to focus your efforts and time. This helps steer your actions in the most impactful direction.

The crucial aspect here is to discern how we can concentrate on the areas that yield the highest value. This approach ensures that we don't attempt too much within the available time frame and refrain from trying to tackle every aspect simultaneously. Here are a few illustrative examples of change activities that tend to offer immediate and substantial value:

  1. Change Impact Assessment: It involves comprehending how individuals' roles will be impacted during the transition from the current state to the future state. Articulating and communicating these changes can effectively address resistance and facilitate a smoother transition. Resistance is a typical occurrence during any change initiative, and this approach assists in overcoming such resistance.
  2. Clarification of Roles and Responsibilities: Providing clarity regarding individuals' roles and responsibilities, particularly regarding how these roles will evolve in the future, can significantly reduce uncertainty and anxiety. This clarity has the potential to ease the transition process more effectively compared to other change activities.
  3. Stakeholder and Executive Alignment: Evaluating the degree of alignment among key stakeholders and executives can highlight areas of congruence or discrepancy. Addressing any misalignments enables achieving a shared understanding of the direction the organization should take during the digital transformation. This alignment is crucial for driving the transformation effectively.

These are merely three examples showcasing potential high-priority change activities. However, the fundamental approach lies in conducting a comprehensive organizational assessment upfront. Following this assessment, you can allocate your resources, time, and budget to the activities that are most feasible and impactful.

In conclusion, the key lies in prioritizing activities that offer the most value considering your constraints. By performing a well-structured assessment early on, you can make informed decisions about resource allocation and focus. I trust this information proves valuable to you. Wishing you a productive day ahead.

I would enjoy brainstorming ideas with you if you are looking to strategize an upcoming transformation or are looking at selecting an ERP system, so please feel free to contact me at eric.kimberling@thirdstage-consulting.com. I am happy to be a sounding board as you continue your digital transformation journey.

Be sure to download the newly released 2023 Digital Transformation Report to garner additional industry insight and project best practices.

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Eric Kimberling

Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.

Author:
Eric Kimberling
Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.
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