Change Management priorities in the age of Digital Transformation

I-The state of today’s technology-age change

How do you think of the world – both your work world but also your personal world today vs 5 years ago?

Do you experience the world as changing? At an increasing or decreasing rate?

And are the changes large or small in your opinion?

These questions have different answers depending on your perspective, obviously.

The Change Management perspective concerns itself with the People Risk part of change in organizations.

And the point about those questions in organizations is that there is an onslaught of technology-driven changes with almost no end in sight.

It’s almost the reverse – like we stand on the precipice of more technology-driven change than we can even imagine.

Some of the emerging technologies impacting our working and personal lives include:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) /Machine Learning
  • Robotics and Automation
  • Internet of Things / Big Data / Data Science
  • Blockchain
  • Augmented Reality (AR) / Virtual Reality (VR)
  • Genetics / gene technology
  • Etc.

That’s just some of the major ones. New energy technologies like solar isn’t even on that list. Climate change related technologies aren't there either.

Just the other day (Dec 2019) Google added Interpreter to it’s automated assistant – real time translation of foreign languages through an App on your phone. At no additional cost to the user. The list goes on.

Each of these technologies on their own is opening up new ways of doing things. They can also intersect across each other as they emerge, creating again, newer unforeseen solutions. AI applications for VR for example.

Emerging technologies bring with them major impacts to the value chain in all industries in every country around the world. And all this is occurring in real time.

II-Change Management for today’s changes: Categorizing the people impact of technological change

So what do we see from a Change Management perspective?

Where is the People Risk in these changes?

How might it be changing and what might we do to adapt in consequence?

The changes in organizations that need to be managed as a consequence of these tectonic shifts in technology can be thought of in three big areas:

- Current processes and ways of working being impacted by changing technologies (innovation)

- New processes and ways of working created by changing technologies (invention)

- The new people networks and ways of working emerging around the skill-sets required to implement solutions for items 1 and 2 based on these emerging technologies (key resource).

Regarding the first two parts – dealing with the impact on current and new processes – traditional Change Management has a long established history of application. These aspects include things like working with key stakeholders to create ownership for the new environment, and generating a high uptake level for the new systems, processes and workflows in a typical end-state, among others.

But the difference with today’s emerging technology changes, is that the traditional application of Change Management doesn’t apply as clearly as before because the end-state stakeholder community often disappears or significantly restructures. It's really undefined. With the enormous swing towards emerging technologies, Change Management shifts to understanding the impact of these technology-based changes on how work gets done, with no people – or at least with significantly less people than before. Or with entirely new people than before. Evaluating this People risk is a major emerging area in Change Management.

This leaves the third item – the configuration of people who hold the skills in these new technologies. They - and the systems and processes they employ - are what will replace the existing ways of working.

The Change Management challenge in this case lies in understanding how to attract and retain the people who will be running these emerging systems on-going over time. It is too early to say definitively, but technology talent pools and ecosystems are a feature of many of the leading technological changes.

Witness how Zug in Switzerland has enabled blockchain to develop and become a leading contributor to its technology ecosystem.

Silicon Valley has been a net importer of technology talent, but that is also changing, and pools of technology are now springing up elsewhere. Tesla’s recent announcement to put a plant in Germany is a great example of how organizations are making investments in strategic locations, creating spin-off talent pools to enable growth.

So while it’s true that technology is driving disruptive changes in organizations, and often results in significant re-configurations of the people component, that is only part of the story.

The Change Management that emerges in consequence of these big changes is being able to create nodes to tap into the tech-specific talent that runs these emerging systems.

This is a huge shift – not only in the processes required to run emerging systems – but also in how to ensure the People risk of running these new technologies is optimally mitigated.

There is one other, 4th component of Change Management to consider. Because emerging technology changes are pervasive and impact many things at once, reliably predicting a landing or end-state is tougher. In some ways, that can actually be a good thing. But for most humans, more secure realities are preferred to even mildly ambiguous ones.

Agile environments have sprung up in many places today and the consequence for Change Management is that organizations need to become very good at managing what traditionally are known as “Transition zones” (see William Bridges) or the aspect of “unfreeze” in Lewin’s change model. Agile environments require organizations to be better at managing the in-betweens of change – because they will be a lot more common than steady-states or end-states.

Unfortunately, that’s also where a large proportion of issues contributing to change failure rates also occur – in the transition zone.

III-Implications:

Change Management challenges in today’s multi-dimensional technological world is about finding ways to manage longer transition stages for new and changing activities.

Second, in this emerging environment, Change Management can help lead the successful implementation of environments and cultures that nurture the structures, processes and most importantly people networks which will grow up around the skill pools and capability networks of the emerging solutions replacing today’s ways of working.

And third, Change Management can ensure change skills are updated to support organizational members working in longer transition states.

These are some of the Change Management considerations in the emerging technology landscape. They may be shifting but they aren’t disappearing.

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