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The key to digital transformation is not managing change, it’s leading it

Successful digital transformation in today’s environment can feel like trying to hit a moving target. Even the most well-planned and executed projects can miss the mark as much as 84% of the time and leave us wondering what went wrong. This leads us to question – what sets successful digital transformations apart from those stuck in the status quo?

Most organizations gauge the success of a digital transformation solely by quantifiable measurements such as efficiency gains, quality improvements and growth. Although these are important markers to validate ROI, unfavorable results can be a lagging indicator of underlying factors related to leadership, culture and organizational structure. No matter how well an initiative is executed at the technical level, lurking organizational issues pose risks to not only the project but also the success of future ventures. Navigating digital transformation in today’s complex environment requires a more holistic approach to change than ever before.

Managing change vs. leading change

If there is only one constant for any organization, it is change. How you handle it will profoundly impact your organization’s resilience to current and future changes. If you are preparing for an upcoming digital transformation the most essential question is not how well your organization manages change but whether you are truly prepared to lead change.

Although the practice of change management is still uncharted territory for many organizations, we have seen maturity towards this discipline in recent years. Companies of all sizes are initiating tactics like appointing change leaders and teams to support communications and training programs for new initiatives. Additionally, leaders are beginning to understand that their active and visible support of these changes play a vital role in bringing people through a transition more effectively. These steps are all positive indicators that the value of change management is realized and deserves a place at the transformation table.

But is it enough?

Leading change requires a mindset different from managing change. Even organizations seasoned in change management principles tend to associate this process as a tag-along activity to project management, often beginning when the project is underway and reacting to a committed change. Organizations leading change start the change process from the beginning. These organizations realize that people are more willing to support something they helped create. They bring people to the center of the conversation, assessing the influence of culture and experience on desired outcomes, and letting those insights guide pivotal decisions. Starting healthy conversations around whether an organization and its people are ready to drive change takes place at the executive level. These companies don’t just manage change; they empower their people to lead them into the future.

How do we transform better?

In today’s obscure environment, companies will have to raise the bar to more effectively respond to the challenges of a world that has and will continue to change exponentially. There will only be space for organizations willing to take an intentional and expansive approach to how they navigate these waters.

To fuel transformative change, we must seek to cultivate understanding for how well the organization is strategically positioned to lead change. Business executives need to be open to this discovery and willing to repair cracks in the organizational foundation to pave the way for change. Establishing footholds early in the planning serves to minimize and proactively mitigate impacts before they present roadblocks to progress. Although there are many indicators to gauge organizational readiness, these are some leading factors to consider:

  • Visible leadership: While sponsor engagement is important as the face of an initiative, employees need to trust they are regularly informed on the topics and issues impacting them. It is important that information is disseminated equally to all team members in the most efficient way possible. When transformation happens, people will look to their leaders for answers. These leaders and change agents should be well-equipped to help support individuals at every stage of the transformation.
  • People are the focal point of transformation: One common grievance during transformation is that people don’t understand where the organization is headed or why change is needed. Additionally, we know that workers are most engaged when their ideas are validated and valued. The idea of assessing people’s understanding of the transformation, acknowledging their feedback, and adapting the vision accordingly allows people to feel a sense of inclusion and belonging along the journey, driving buy-in and engagement.
  • Culture of continuous improvement: It is essential to assess and monitor the impacts to employee experience before, during and after a transformation, ensuring that engagement and support for the transition remains positive. People within companies leading transformation know what is expected of them, are confident in their skills and abilities, welcome feedback, and are engaged in the organization's success.

Consider this continuum as a quick self-check of where your organization is in the pivot toward leading change instead of just managing it:

5 question chart for organizational readiness

Organizational readiness provides the foundation for true digital transformation

Many transformations begin with a focus on the systems, processes and technologies intended to solve a business issue. While organizations are becoming more mature in managing the people side of the change brought about by these solutions, few achieve the full value and success they envisioned. Armed with insights into an organizations’ readiness factors, leaders can build out a strategic approach to transformation designed to leverage strengths and mitigate weaknesses in the infrastructure.

Organizational readiness shifts the perspective from managing change, to leading digital transformation. Through a people-centered approach designed to account for variables, you can harness the power to enhance or derail the path to the ideal future state. It ensures that the collective needs of the organization are weighed and prioritized, and that all the critical components required to evoke sustainable change are present.

Baker Tilly’s Organizational Readiness framework helps companies go beyond traditional change management by leading people on an end-to-end journey that aligns with the organizational mission, vision, and priorities, effectively supports leaders, managers and contributors throughout the transition and fosters sustainability and continued success into the future.

To learn more about Baker Tilly’s comprehensive approach to successful digital transformation contact our team today.

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