The change is digital, the people may not be – supporting digital change

Most people would agree that nothing ever really stays the same – change is an ongoing process. But fair to say that thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, businesses in 2020 were subject to a concentrated dose. And while we all hope that 2021 ends more calmly, right now there’s no let-up in sight.

A pandemic-driven change applicable to most organisations is digital transformation – after all, what better time to make the shift to online goods and services, and use technology to improve the way you work? However, as outlined in a recent blog post, “Getting your digital transformation under way”, while digital transformation may mean websites, apps, e-commerce platforms and the like, the real issue is all about the company culture and people.

Change reaction

By now, most are comfortable with the idea that individual reactions to change tend to conform to a basic process, usually derived from the work of Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and workplace research of Lewis and Parker. A simple version would be:


(…or to put it another way: I don’t believe it. You can’t make me. Oh, alright, it’s really happening. How does it work…?)

The bigger the change, the more effort it takes to support people through it. So, we need to be clear that the effort is pushing and pulling in the right direction. McKinsey research has identified factors that businesses that have successfully digitally transformed have in common, summarised as follows:

  • Having the right, digital-savvy leaders in place.
  • Building capabilities for the workforce of the future.
  • Empowering people to work in new ways.
  • Giving day-to-day tools a digital upgrade.
  • Communicating frequently via traditional and digital methods.

But if that’s the destination, what’s the strategy for getting people there?

What do people need to embrace change?

Five things:

  1. To know why the change is necessary.
  2. To be motivated to make the change (either because the change is for the better or to stay as you are would be worse).
  3. To have the knowledge and skills to make the change work.
  4. To apply those knowledge and skills.
  5. To be rewarded for making the change.

What does this mean in practice? It means your basic change management strategy must include the following elements as a minimum:

  1. Consistent, clear communication of what the change is exactly, and why it is necessary. Just because the pandemic is all around, don’t assume your people have an insight into the specific drivers for your business.
  2. What’s in it for them? Focus on specific benefits of digital transformation as they affect the workforce, and also the consequences for the business (and jobs) of not changing. Incentivise the change.
  3. Carry out a detailed skills and knowledge needs analysis, and develop a targeted training and development plan that directly supports your digital transformation. In classic training plan fashion, individuals should be clear on how their personal development needs link to the overall development of the organisation.
  4. A training course / module / online session is not enough – embed new knowledge and skills through practice and coaching, with resources for people to resort to when memory fails or circumstances change (manuals, just-in-time bite-sized learning, ‘power users’ who can help colleagues, etc.)
  5. Deliver on the promised incentives or rewards. Ensure that good news stories are shared. Acknowledge successful use of new skills. In other words, communicate success. Also, listen to failure: encourage people to flag up problems, glitches and pitfalls as they become apparent. Then communicate solutions widely.


If this topic feels particularly applicable to your business but you’re wondering where to start, check out our free 45-minute Change Management webinar on 5 February as a starter… or give us a call on 01582 463460 – we’re here to help.

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