A culture of change that supports continuous transformation? Yes, you can!

Jun 24, 2021

These days, change management increasingly takes the spotlight during digital transformation programs. But how can you pro-actively build a culture of change that supports continuous transformation?

Caroline Hillaert and Barbara De Vos, change managers and business lead and team lead of the delaware Change Management & Communication team, help their clients with implementing new digital systems. Caroline: “Recently, we have started noticing that the importance of change management as part of digital transformation projects increasingly grows, even to the point where a separate budget is allocated in purchase requests. This is a great evolution. Regretfully though, many companies do so because of being burnt before. Before, timings were not met, adoption of the new way of working proved insufficient or targets were not attained because the change somehow just stalled.”

In Caroline and Barbara’s experience, based on the projects they have run, the level of maturity of change management remains rather low. Barbara: “Investing in a culture of change by no means is some ‘fluffy people thing’. Change is driven by people, so you need their buy-in to bring the targets of your digital transformation process to fruition and to actually yield the return on investment of the efforts of your company. Or to maybe accelerate the pace of return, even. A successful, fully endorsed change management approach clearly has its advantages:

  • Increased productivity and faster adoption (increased performance)
  • Easier project implementation
  • Happier workforce, including a better employee experience

Boosting change management leadership

A solid change management approach, according to both change managers, focuses on 4 topics. Today, the main points of attention in transformation programs are communication (the core message, what changes and why) and training (building competences and expertise regarding the new way of working). The third important topic is organizational readiness. Are corporate structures, processes and systems ready for the envisaged changes? Does the current organization match the new way of working? First, mapping the most significant impact of the new technology has to be finalized, to then prioritize and allocate what needs to be done to the respective responsible managers.

Caroline: “In our opinion, a lot of gains are to be had by looking into the fourth theme, which is change management leadership. With leadership, we on the one hand refer to identifying designated sponsors for the project, as well as leaders to support the transition at the respective organizational levels. Do they know what tools and methods to use and implement efficiently? Are they aware of resistance to the changes and how to tackle this?

Let us pick an example to clarify, since resistance can stem from all kinds of causes. A rational cause for instance, as in not understanding the change. An emotional driver, where the person in question is not in favor of the change and would rather stick to their habits. Or even resistance that comes from distrust. As a people manager, in order to progress, you need to be able to pinpoint the causes of resistance, how to uncover and get to the root of these causes and know tactical ways to lower the level of resistance. Resistance can even come from the project team; those team members, when a choice for a technology they are not familiar with has been made, can start to feel threatened and display resistance.”

Gains with middle management and hr

Especially at the level of middle management, by reinforcing change management skills, there still is plenty of leeway. Barbara: “These people leaders are responsible for implementing the change and are in the front line when it comes to resistance from their employees. Hence why change management skills should be part of the coaching and development process of leaders.

The same is true for HR. When in an organization HR acts as change expert and actually as change driver, they will be a true business partner. We still encounter many cases where this is unchartered territory for HR. Apart from that role: the advantages of people managers with well-developed change management skills are perfectly clear: the better they are able to support their teams, the stronger the resilience of these teams in times of change, now and in the future. More resilience equals more well-being and less burn-outs.” 

Pro-active investments as strategic advantage

Caroline: “I would like to take this even one step further: we believe that when a business invests in their change management maturity, in a structured and pro-active way, they have a strategic advantage. They become agile organizations in which a culture of change becomes a driver for growth.

On many occasions, we hear ‘we plan to implement SAP, so we need a change management approach.’ In that next maturity stage though, change management maturity has been widely embedded in the organization, as part of their culture. Only then should the choice of technology be made.”

Barbara: “A concrete example: in the past year, many businesses have started using Teams as a communication and collaboration platform, forced by the Covid-19 situation. We notice several differences. Some organizations implemented the basic applications, such as chatting and meeting, and leave their employees to it, without much support. But other organizations, with a more mature change management culture, actually did grasp this opportunity to develop a clear vision on digital collaboration, to invest in the adoption of all features of Teams.”

Step by step

Barbara: “Increasing the change management potential of your organization does not have to equal a ‘big bang’. Organic growth, slowly making its way into the organization via a dedicated project that is properly facilitated and during which leaders and being trained and coached, is just as effective. A great moment also indeed to identify the change management experts within your organization and to decide how to let them grow by for instance adding external experts. Building such skills does not require huge, company-wide projects; small initiatives are just as good and change management skills are still as useful there”.

Get going

Increasing the change management maturity in your organization? Curious how to go about this? delaware can help you. Our change management consultants will always align their approach with the specifics of a project and apply pragmatic techniques based on past experience. They work as one integrated team with our technical and functional IT consultants.

Caroline Hillaert (caroline.hillaert@delaware.pro) and Barbara De Vos (Barbara.devos@delaware.pro) are more than happy to explain this further.

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