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How many times have we heard the words “transformation is not about the technology but about the people”, yet, how many of us really understand the practical application of this?
For those who have been on a transformation journey (digital or other), or are currently experiencing its challenges, you’re aware that the most challenging thing about transformation is not the technology, but rather getting people to embrace the change and the speed at which that change occurs.
Transformation, after all, is about a fundamentally different way of doing things that orients an organization in a new direction and involves radical change. The principle of ‘organizations don’t change; people do’ supports the importance of people throughout this journey. Digital, in this regard, is about the pace of work, not the platform– and that means agility.
So how do we get the people to change at pace?
As I embark on another transformation, I’m reminded of prior learnings. Having spent a lifetime in the area of people and change, I find my experiences from the past are invaluable in informing the future. Although every transformation has its own unique elements, there are common themes which if applied, make a huge difference to connect the heart and minds to enable greater success.
At the forefront of my learnings is the statement, “organizations don’t change, people do . . . or they don’t”. How many times have we heard people say, the organization needs to change – well, we are the organization – you and I, but the challenge is seldom the change itself, rather, it’s about the period of transition, which starts with the expectation to let go of current behaviors and work practices and adopt the new, often unknown future expectations.
As we immerse ourselves into this position, we can begin to sense the uncertainty, discomfort and even fear it can create as people embark on their own personal change journeys to deal with these emotions – the impact of which should not be underestimated. The imperative for successful transformation is therefore in the way we understand our people and how we support them through their personal change journey - one at a time, if necessary; it’s about the trust Leaders build that enables this to happen and the alignment to a common vision that has purpose and meaning to each individual.
Successful transformation is therefore not simply in the design and delivery of a brilliant strategy, but more so in how we emotionally engage our people and how we unlock our human capability to both lead and process the change.
To support this, another key learning that has prevailed over the years is “the right answer is not enough”. Simply arriving at the right solution is not sufficient to bring people on the journey. Employee commitment and buy-in does not stem from the right answer, but rather from the ability for individuals to progress through a journey where authenticity, communication, involvement, and transparency (as best as possible) offer them the opportunity to adequately process information. This appears simplistic, but is often the thing that is not given adequate time and thought, resulting in employees not having the answers to the real questions they have during times of change – this causes an unraveling of emotion and a disengagement which can present a significant risk to the success of the transformation.
Lastly, “change is everyone’s responsibility”. If we wish to enable change agility, we need to ensure that change management competencies begin to permeate all levels of the organization.
Leading change is about enlisting people in the change and keeping them committed; it’s about influencing and enthusing others through personal advocacy, vision and drive and it’s about managing the uncertainty, fear, and distraction whilst supporting people through the transition.
As leaders, we must be able to counsel, educate, encourage and coach teams through role modeling desired behaviors and attitudes.
It goes without saying that the behaviors of leaders during transformation, their sponsorship, authenticity, and visibility are core ingredients for successful and sustained change.