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Organisational change management - what is it and why does it matter?

08 Jan 18

Article by Jayajyoti Sengupta, head of Asia Pacific, Cognizant

Digital transformation has long been heralded as the key to business success in the 21st century.

Contrary to popular belief, digital transformation is never as simple as adopting a variety of new technologies and hoping for the best — in reality, it is quite the opposite.

Change management is, in fact, the fundamental area that ensures the long-term digital success of an organisation.

The disruption of operational structure, processes, culture, and employees themselves must be carefully monitored to ensure positive organisation-wide adoption of new technologies.

Digital transformation always involves more than rolling out a new payroll system or migrating to the cloud — it’s about managing the expectations of and motivating staff during a broader shift of a whole business to a more digital way of working.

Recent research uncovered that 40% of global workers fear that they will not be able to keep up with the rate of change that digital workplaces command, further emphasising the importance of change management.

If not managed appropriately, the threat of digital losing its effectiveness, or the risk of a culture of fear permeating employees as they experience change, becomes real. In this era of increased competition, it’s not a risk that businesses can afford to take.  

Defining digital

Digital is not a new concept. What is new is the notion that digital goes beyond simply implementing technology within businesses.

While the technology itself is not new, there is a new vision that technology will empower a business to focus on customer expectations. In this way, businesses have to recognise that as the role of digital changes, so does its definition.

Across industries, consumers are increasingly expecting consistent and personalised experiences across platforms, products, promotions, prices, and policies.

For businesses founded in digital, this new focus is somewhat easier to deal with, but for older, more traditional organisations, digital transformation can be difficult, which is why organisational change management is necessary for this digital era.

Navigating the waves of change

Just as the growing impact of digital can’t be ignored, it must also be understood and defined by organisations to allow them to clearly identify the specific opportunity that digital represents for them.

Investment in digital should not take a “one size fits all” approach, as needs and opportunities vary significantly across organisations and industries.

Effective change management protocols are required to ensure digital is implemented in the most effective means possible, as digital invariably impacts all areas of businesses and requires input from many stakeholders.

As such, organisational change management in this digital era must focus on the following pillars:

  • Forming a digital council, led by collaborative senior leaders, to define and implement the digital opportunity as well as build an innovation practice is a great first step. Digital transformation is no longer confined to the realm of the CIO, but encompasses entire teams and new positions. For example, the Chief Data Officer is becoming more popular with Gartner research suggesting that executives such as CDOs are becoming impactful change agents with over 70% of these serving as digital advisers to their businesses.
  • Developing a clear digital change vision and assessing digital capabilities along with change maturity, to define a roadmap for achieving the vision. Organisations should leverage the latest organisational change management methodologies that recognise agility is required at all stages of the digitisation process.
  • Using agile methods to speed up the benefits realisation and generate further support for digital efforts.
  • Growing digital talent from within an organisation as well as leveraging external support as required. This is easier said than done. The Australian Government's Cyber Security Strategy has noted the number of people taking up information and communications technology degrees has halved over the last decade. Since this talent is highly sought-after, organisations must invest in employees for the long term. Once the employees are on-boarded, they must be retained, through incentivising the growth of their digital skills, setting clear goals, and rewarding positive contributions.
  • Building a digital culture made up of open, transparent and engaging communication from top leadership levels throughout the business. This will further inspire great collaboration, organisation-wide, as well as allow collaboration across geographical borders.

Digital is increasingly driving business performance and transforming business models across all industries.

It is now up to organisations to embrace digital in a way that is relevant to their needs and strategies, or risk becoming obsolete.

Evidently, change management must be prioritised and a sense of urgency maintained to ensure that the benefits of being digital are optimised.  

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