In July 2018, American media streaming company Netflix cemented its place at the forefront of the television industry as it ended rival HBO’s 17-year streak of receiving the most nominations for the annual Primetime Emmy Awards. To put this achievement into context, Netflix didn’t start to produce any of its own content until 2012, and was actually founded in 1997 as a DVD mail-order business. Two words can be used to define Netflix’s ability to continuously innovate and challenge the established norms of entertainment: digital transformation.
Whether a business wishes to seize on new opportunities in their specialised field (Netflix), or simply maintain a stronghold in a highly-competitive industry (banks such as ABN AMRO or news outlets such as The New York Times), the need to adapt a company’s culture or modernise working practices often sees C-Suite teams turn to digital transformation as a much-needed solution. Writing for British newspaper The Guardian, data and analytics expert Howard King states that, “Businesses don't transform by choice, because it is expensive and risky. Businesses go through transformation when they have failed to evolve.”
Jon Rauschenberger, co-founder of Clarity Consulting, writes that, “The most challenging aspect of digital transformation isn’t the technology; it is effectively managing change and getting people to embrace it.” Whether business leaders intend to introduce ground-breaking technology into their company, or simply upgrade their current digital infrastructure, the question of whether the change will be a success or failure rests not on the technology; rather, it ultimately depends on the engagement levels of two groups of people: customers and employees. However, before planning on how to sell or market the changes to customers, businesses must first encourage employees to buy-in to the transformation.
Once the decision has been made to introduce digital transformation into a workplace, be it through the upskilling of current staff members or the automation of certain processes, plans must be put in place to stem the flow of misinformation or rumour throughout the company, as to not set off the fears of employees. Over time, workers who have long developed routines and who have collectively enjoyed success can develop a sense of inertia, and can become resistant to any form of change, especially that of a technological nature. To counter the possibility of employee angst or shareholder unease, it is vitally important for a company to quickly and confidently apply a series of change management strategies to make sure all those affected by the transformation are aware of not just the consequences, but also of the desired results.
Leading from the front
Change management, at its very core, is a fine balancing act between allaying the worries of employees, and progressively moving towards the desired outcome. When done successfully, change management can spark enthusiasm within an office, galvanising employees to embrace new practices whilst still working towards a common purpose, or as Kevin O’Marah calls it, “a [company’s] North Star”.
To ensure change management runs smoothly during a period of digital transformation, business leaders should adhere to the following guidelines:
- Enthusiasm for the desired change should come from the top down. When a shift in direction or an adjustment of operations takes place in an office, employees often look to those who they trust (bosses, senior colleagues) for guidance; therefore, leaders should be prepared to outline why the transformation is taking place, and how it is going to happen. Factual information and research data can help to serve as proof that a change is necessary, and if done correctly, worthwhile.
- Involve every layer of the company in the change. As well as making everyone feel like their voice is being heard, this method also helps to align everyone’s aims and to potentially identify the next generation of leaders, as those willing to advocate for change often emerge as workplace ambassadors or “change agents”.
- Communicate, communicate, and communicate. Arguably the most important aspect of change management is to consistently inform everyone involved in the change of how the process is going and what the next steps will be; without honesty and transparency, difficult questions and divisional splits can start to arise.
Change for the better
Often heralded as one of the key models of change management, John Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change can be applied to many professional scenarios. From the first step of creating a sense of urgency, to the generation of short-term wins and the final step of instituting the change, Kotter’s model has helped many companies achieve their aims and has stood the test of time.
As digital transformation is happening in almost every industry right now, with customers requesting a world filled with ‘The Internet of Things’, it is imperative for a company undergoing a period of digital transformation to always focus as much attention on their employees as on the end result. If a business can successfully introduce change into their company whilst also keeping their employees informed, involved and interested throughout the transformation by using Kotter’s or another management model, they are well on their way to retaining their ability to shape their own future.