POINT-of-WORK:  Navigating Digital Transformation with Transformational Change

A few years ago I was blessed to speak at an IQPC Talent Management conference on a topic of “Change Leadership – When Change Management Is Not Enough.” My speaking invitation came from a post titled “Managing Change or Leading Change: Does It Matter?”  I guess they liked the post and topic idea because IQPC interviewed me prior to the conference. The post is hyperlinked above and contains the interview transcript they provided. I share all this because it is the perfect lead in to navigating transformative initiatives be they large and complex like Digital Transformation or as small as a simple training request. Size does not matter because on either end of the complexity spectrum Change will happen. Will it be transformational? I say yes, every time, enterprise-wide and complex, or small and simple, because if Change happens attitudes and values shift leading to a shift in thinking…and of course…thinking differently drives new behaviors and measurable performance outcomes. In all Change scenarios, something gets transformed.

I chose Digital Transformation as the key focal point in this post for a reason – Research by Business Wire shows that 87% of enterprises are engaged in Digital Transformation initiatives with 41% of them showing positive impact in early stages. Two questions popped for me:

#1 – Why only 41%?

#2 – Will the transformation initiative(s) make it to successful, sustainable completion?

The answer to question #2 is important if only to make a point and support the purpose of this post. In a recent Forbes interview with Michael Gale, we learn 84% fail…and that makes a very compelling and crucial point.

Why do nearly as many fail as start the journey? If only there were easy answers to that question…

Here’s another interview snippet from Forbes that I found revealing – “…this is a fundamental shift in how people had to think about how they interact, how they collaborate and work and if you don’t spend time changing people’s behaviors, you don’t spend time changing culture and how people make decisions, all of this falls flat.” Beneath the surface of these shifts are layers of technology acting as catalysts for Change.

Here are some additional fun facts that should raise some red flags signaling Digital Transformation and all the moving parts are not going away:

  1. More than 50% of digital transformation efforts fizzled completely in 2018. (Forrester)
  2. Michael Gale in a Forbes Interview: Virtually every Forbes Global 2000 company is on some sort of digital transformation journey. Some are getting it right and others struggle. Basically, one in eight got it right and then there were ranges of failure to really whereby more than 50 percent just did not go right at all. In fact, their expectations were neither met nor exceeded and the gap between expectation and meeting were so enormous it was considered a failure.
  3. 70% of digital transformations fail, most often due to resistance from employees. (Mckinsey)
  4. Only 16% of employees said their company’s digital transformations [did not improve] performance and [were not] sustainable in the long term. (Mckinsey)
  5. At least 90% of new enterprise apps will insert AI technology into their processes and products by 2025. (IDC)
  6. Internet of Things (IoT) had the largest share of the overall digital transformation market in 2019, but AR/VR technology is predicted to have the fastest growth until 2025. (Research and Markets)
  7. 87% of companies think digital will disrupt their industry, but only 44% are prepared for potential digital disruption. (Deloitte)
  8. From Gartner’s perspective,the transformation journey is taking large enterprises especially at least twice as long and costing twice as much as they originally anticipated.” In large part this is due to cultural readiness — “53% of the organizations surveyed remain untested in the face of digital challenge and their digital transformation readiness therefore uncertain.”

The last item in the list above holds a key component contributing to failure – Cultural Readiness. How do we address “readiness”? First of all, never confuse being “ready” to pursue Change with being in a state of “readiness” to pursue Change. How is “readiness” achieved? This may sound like a contradiction, but we need to know who in the workforce is “ready” at a head and heart level to endure the journey and are “bought in” to the transformations to come. To me, this points to the critical need for effective Change Leadership not just Change Management. What is the difference? Change Leadership is what “sells” the change from positioning a compelling business case at all levels, whereas Change Management is more tactical during Deployment and post GoLive refinements and tweaks that surface during Implementation. Bear in mind, this is not an either-or situation – Transformational Change Leadership is wrapped around the core components of the tactical nature of Change Management. We need to best of both disciplines as described in the earlier post “Managing Change or Leading Change: Does It Matter?

Point-of-Work Dynamics

Figure #1 – Phases of Transformational Change

Five Phases to Successful Transformational Change

Let us look at the phases of any Transformational Change effort. Bear in mind these five phases are intermingled with continuous and iterative elements of Change Leadership. This post would be too long to address the ten elements of effective Change Leadership so I will again point to “Managing Change or Leading Change: Does It Matter?”  for those details.

1 – DISCOVERY – Discovery is where the journey begins. Too often Deployment (reaching GoLive] was the starting point when a request is made to affect Change and too often seen as the end of the effort when Deployment is successful. Everything starts in the first phase – DISCOVERY. If we have not completed holistic DISCOVERY at Points-of-Work using a (Point-of-Work Assessment – PWA) we cannot accurately frame or benchmark “current state“. Without current state identified how can we accurately measure progress to future state?

We frequently default to responding to requests without performing due diligence as to what motivations prompted the urgency to act. True, we have a request in hand…BUT…We do NOT have an accurate current state profile. We should accomplish due diligence first leveraging Discovery specific to answering several pivotal questions:

  • What needs to be achieved?
  • Why does it need to be achieved? What are the driving business needs?
  • Who engages at all levels to ensure achievement?
  • What are the current states of leadership readiness…workforce readiness…technology readiness…validation readiness…monitoring readiness…and cultural readiness?
  • What are the measurable results we need in order to validate and monitor achievement?
  • And most importantly…What are the underlying root causes preventing Change from being achieved at the role and task level?

2 -DEPLOYMENT – Deployment aligns with a moment in time referred to as GoLive. There is often a big gala GoLive party with clowns, 3-bite shrimp, face-painting, and possibly an open bar if the deployment is large enough…and IT has some budget left over. This is a celebration about the system going live and IT’s delivery to the business. Training relaxes because they met the unreasonable deadlines to get everyone through the training gauntlet and the count of butts-in-seats match the number of sign-on credentials issued.

Too often L&D’s role ends after the GoLive launch and we move on to attack the next order for training.

Many of us have plunged down this rabbit hole shortly after successfully reaching Deployment of a new enterprise business system…or a new product launch to the sales force…or releasing a new learning intervention to a targeted workgroup. The GoLive grand opening ribbon gets cut with a new course launch and the celebration begins. If new technology is launched somebody with a bull horn turns toward the IT Help Desk and screams, “INCOMING!” Not sustainable.

3 – IMPLEMENTATION – Deployment cannot be our final destination; rather, it should mark the beginning of Implementation. Implementation of any solution into the workflow at Points-of-Work represent the only area within our ecosystem where we will find verifiable evaluation analytics (measurable proof of impact) at levels three and four.

Reactionary damage-control and mad scramble by support staff, help desk, subject matter experts, emergency consultants are not sustainable activities. If post GoLive utilization by the workforce is marked with chaos, somebody may take a bullet. Should it be IT? Honestly, the technology does not fail…people do. This is a clear case of being ready and NOT being in a state of readiness. L&D may catch some gunfire from those in leadership who look back at Training with that look of disgust on their faces inferring we did a lousy job of creating a state of readiness in the workforce. Excessive finger pointing to place the blame on somebody…anybody else…ensues.

Slowly, with significant post GoLive errors experienced and mistake isolation delays and redundant rework occurring, familiarity of Implementation shortfalls build. The workforce learning curve is largely defined by trial and error creating unnecessary cost to the business, workforce frustration, and employee churn.

4 – ADOPTION – Implementation cannot the ultimate destination. We cannot overlook the prized goal and most critical phase known as full Adoption. We want routinization by users to reach unconscious competency…meaning they willingly use the systems as a matter of routine without threats or bribes of earning blue jean Fridays. Using the system must become as routine as sending an email…users do not even think about which application to use, they just do it.

Leading Change to full Adoption is a success factor to any solution whether complex Digital Transformation, simple training course-based, new policy integration, or any other intervention that introduces Change into the flow of work. This means creating critical mass and momentum of effective utilization of whatever behavior or thinking shift is involved in the solution.

5 – SUSTAIN – There must be steps taken to Sustain the state of Adoption. I am sure you can see how these phases line up nicely with new Enterprise Resource Program – ERP launches…or a Client Relationship Management – CRM system…or a new Electronic Health Records – EHR. BUT…and this is critical…these are all technology systems and likely moving parts of Digital Transformation.

L&D Resource assets (including actual training) should receive the same urgency and the same attention to establish protocols for maintenance and currency as IT employs on system maintenance, updates, upgrades, and post-GoLive tweaks to ensure system optimization. Protocols should exist to maintain visible, accessible lines of ownership to ensure currency of content via technology designed to track content development though the entire 5-phase process from pre-deployment PWA Discovery to ongoing Sustainability.

Closing Thoughts

Going back to the research showing most (84%) of Digital Transformations fail, I have to ask, “Would we have been more successful if we treated the initiative as a Workforce Transformation?” or replace “Workforce” with “People” if you like. The human component of Transformational Change is the wild card. Dynamic roles and myriad tasks create an avalanche of data points that confront any sense of easy Discovery. This is even more imposing when we need to be looking for patterns of failure at the role and step level. That is why “At least 90% of new enterprise apps will insert AI technology into their processes and products by 2025.” (IDC)

Technology does not fail…people do. The transformation is digital, no doubt about it, but if we neglect the transformational shifts at the human level and neglect to address performance restrainers in the workflow at Points-of-Work, we fail the people. My thoughts are that we need to navigate through the need for change by role and task within workflows to make informed decisions on what segment of Digital Transformation gets priority. In short, this transformation is a journey that will never end…we will just get tired of it and quit. Methinks that is what happened to the 84%.


Take good care!

Gary G. Wise
Workforce Performance Advocate, Coach, Speaker
(317) 437-2555
Web: Living In Learning