PART 6 | Digital Transformation: A Change Management Perspective

DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION: A CHANGE MANAGEMENT PERSPECTIVE

Part 6: Who led Digital Transformation within your Organisation?

" Acknowledging to your teams that you too are feeling pain makes you look more human in the eyes of your staff ".

- ​​​Dot Fernandez-

Who led Digital Transformation within your Organisation?

A: COVID-19

B: Chief Technology Officer (CTO) or

C: Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

Introducing Dot Fernandez, Change Management Specialist at Omni HR Consulting

I have been a Change Manager since 2005 and joined the Omni team in 2015.  My portfolio is a blend of project and change management which is different to most portfolios in other organisations. At Omni, because we are slightly different, I have a foot in both spaces. 

From a Change Management point of view, we are finding that the rate of change that we have been experiencing has been quite progressive, but I think that within the last two years the pace at which change has happened has increased significantly. We have reached a place of unprecedented change where we don’t have a blueprint that we can look at as in the case of the pandemic, that guides us on what to do. What we are mindful of, is that this change does impact our business, not only for us as employees of Omni, but also our clients and our learners.

Q:  A lot of companies had to adapt because COVID-19 came at a time when they were not necessarily ready to implement Digital Transformation. What should people (organisations) generally consider when trying to implement any kind of change process? Are there general rules that apply?

DF: The first thing to be aware of is that, the minute when changes are announced (in any organisation), it is our instinct to have a bit of resistance and that this resistance is normal. It is there because it is our human nature to be comfortable with our status quo so we like things to remain the way that they are. In these unprecedented times, we cannot afford to be doing the same things we did before Covid-19 because it will produce the same results which can’t afford to do this going forward into the “new” normal that we will return to our places of work based on the magnitude of change that has taken place.   

Any change that you implement in any organisation, considers your processes, your people and your product or service that generates your revenue, but for change to be successful, you need the buy-in from your people. You need to ensure your people are ready to receive the change. People naturally resist change because they are unsure of what the future looks like.  What does make a significant difference is making sure that the people who lead us are there to support us  - this is critical. Ensuring that your management and your leadership buy into the change so that they can be role models for and involved the change, is equally vital to move the people in the direction that they need to be going.

Communication (not necessarily only on e-mail) but formal and informal communication modes are essential so that you can get feedback from your people in terms of how they are feeling. When people feel that they are being included in a process because they are involved,  they are a lot more committed to making change happen. This will only happen though, once people understand what the change is,  how it impacts them and more importantly what the future will look like for them. These are all aspects that need to be put in place to make sure that people are prepared to move with you on this change journey.

Q: In an Omni context, how has Change Management been woven into the implementation of Digital Transformation?

DF: If I look back to when we started our Digital Transformation journey, it may have been something that at a strategic level was a focus amongst our senior leadership team, but it wasn’t something that was a secret to everyone else in the organisation.

What was key to us from the onset, was to spend a significant amount of time with our people, especially those that were impacted by the change, making sure that they were able to adapt and that they were ready to receive the changes that were coming.

Changes that were implemented were not only digital - it was a fundamental shift in the way that we worked at Omni, which meant that it impacted our work situation, from the work that we did to changes in reporting lines to the people that we worked with. We made sure that our teams were involved from the get-go in building the new.  We ensured they had the necessary skills that were needed to adapt to the change in work processes and they also gave input into what those work processes would be and that was one of the biggest success factors we had. As leaders, we had an understanding of what needed to change but involving the people who actually do the work meant that we had a much clearer view in terms of the level of detail of how the changes needed to be adopted.  

If I cast my mind back, we had our Managing Director introducing the Digital Transformation journey to all our staff, particularly those in our Operations space because we were most impacted by it.  Our MD was readily involved in the process but so too our other executives.  We had regular communication sessions with our national teams hosted by our Operations Executive who was the sponsor. One of the big things that I do feel was a big success factor was the level of involvement of our people across all levels.  Because of team involvement, we got real-time feedback which provided an indication of what was working well, areas where we needed to improve and what we needed to adapt so that our processes remained compliant and that they were efficient and effective.  We provided a protective environment for learning so when mistakes were made, we used the opportunity to learn by correcting it and putting contingency measures in place to mitigate risks in these areas.

Three years later and our teams are so comfortable with the change that they are now providing suggestions on how we can improve processes even further.  The digital platforms that were introduced are now being integrated more and more by the people who are working with them by identifying opportunities for us to improve the way we do things, so we are continuously transforming.

Because we had onboarded our teams so early in the process, they were willing to adopt it then and now we can see that they are willing to make it work even further.

Q: Many companies have not had the luxury of time to implement a Digital Transformation journey; they simply had to adapt in order to survive when faced with COVID-19. In that context, what advice would you provide organisations from a Change Management perspective?

DF: If we look at the impact of COVID-19 on us as a society in general, I think that even the most well-prepared firms with contingency plans and disaster recovery plans, could not have foreseen something as radical as this impacting us for such a long duration.

If you take a step back (and it can be overwhelming for many in our personal and business space), there are a lot more factors to consider because this change impacts every facet of our lives. I think as leaders particularly in this time, apart from focusing on strategies on how to move your business forward during this time, it is critical to remain close to your people because under any circumstance, be it this pandemic or be it under normal circumstances, it is our people that generate our revenue. And our people are fearful and anxious about how this virus is threatening their health, safety and their livelihood.

Business as usual and what brought in your revenue stream may not be the same going forward because of the changes that the pandemic has introduced.  Things like social distancing impact our ability to engage our customers going forward as something as simple as opening up a meeting with a handshake is no longer allowed.  Businesses need to adapt to a new normal and organisations need to ensure that our people’s mental stability and sense of security is in place.  This means pulling multiple levers in one go – one of which is looking at the strengths in your organisation and identifying people who are natural influencers that can influence positively and help people to remain connected.

There is an opportunity for leaders to be seen as human in the eyes of their teams; leaders are also going through the same pain from an impact point of view, based on what the pandemic brings. Even though our circumstances may be different, everybody is feeling some sort of pain. Acknowledging to your teams that you too are feeling pain makes you look more human in the eyes of your staff.  They will look to you for guidance, they will look to you for answers, and they will also look to you for a sense of security and comfort.

What is also important is that where you can have your operations normalising from a remote working point of view, (where you are able to adapt and depending on the technologies you have available within your organisation), you can still have a core group of people that run your business in the absence of being physically present in your office. That also goes a long way to ensuring your sustainability and keeping things moving.  Being digitally transformed allows you to respond sooner, be a bit more flexible with what you are doing and making sure that you can deploy quickly and effectively while ensuring that you are mitigating risks as you move forward.

Q: As mentioned, there is no singular blueprint that can be applied. Any closing remarks or encouragement from a change perspective? 

DF: As individuals, we wear many hats but what is important is finding that balance;  it’s about being real about the situation we find ourselves in, but also about being hopeful.  We understand the regulations that we need to comply with, but there is a very blurry picture of what the future holds. When you realise that you are not in it alone and that there are a significant amount of people who feel the same pain that you are, you start to realise that your response to this pandemic is natural, you are in a better position to absorb it and find better ways to make it work.

To leaders who manage teams, the sooner you acknowledge your emotions, confront them and deal with them, the sooner you will be able to be that advocate for change. Your teams are going to be looking to you to be the one that gives them comfort, a sense of security and points them in the right direction.

As a leader also make sure that you don’t generalise in terms of the impact that people face because this pandemic impacts people differently. For some, it is a huge frustration because they can’t go out and walk their dog or go for their morning run but for others, this impact is significant because their livelihoods are affected. Many people have lost their work as a result of it, so your approach should be with a certain amount of empathy, you must look at someone else’s circumstances because you can do more damage than good if you don’t.

Contributor: Dorothy Fernandez, Change Management Specialist, Omni HR Consulting


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