Change agents key to successful digital transformation

Author: Jacky Carter, Group Digital Engagement Director, Hays

Whether it’s Virtual Reality, the IoT or Artificial Intelligence – digital change is sweeping pretty much every aspect of our lives, from shopping and leisure to work and personal finance.

As such, leaders are under increasing pressure to transform their businesses, and fast. But it’s not easy, and many that I hear about are going about it in the wrong way. In fact, I recently read a survey by consultancy firm, McKinsey, which found that transformations are three times more likely to fail than to succeed. The odds are against us!

In my role at Hays as Group Digital Engagement Director, my days are filled with evaluating the right technology for our business, and ensuring that technology is successfully implemented in a way that delivers on our initial objectives. As such, I’ve been involved in countless digitalisation projects over the years, and, as you can imagine, have learnt many lessons along the way, as well as which approaches work, and those which just don’t.

Of course, every organisation is different, but in this blog, I wanted to share with you what I have come to conclude is one of the keys to successful digital transformation.

People are what determine the success of your digitalisation efforts

It goes without saying that in order to ensure digital change projects succeed, business leaders and their immediate teams need to spend hours, days, months and sometimes even years building a framework for delivery – focusing on making the right technology choices, drafting timeframes and budgets and formalising ROI measurements.

All of this is hugely important, but so too is the human side of digital transformation. And I think that’s where many organisations fail – after all, if the people who will be using this new technology are not engaged and bought in, right from conceptualisation, you may as well have not have implemented it in the first place. Essentially, your digitalisation project will only be successful if people adopt it.

Fostering companywide buy-in

But it’s not just the people who will be using the technology who matter. For a digital transformation project to be truly successful, it needs to have garnered companywide buy-in – it needs to have gone viral – from board level to the coal face. It needs to be incorporated into both the narrative of the company and the day-to-day. That is the only way the technology will really reach its full potential.

Here lies the challenge – how does a small (or, in some cases one person!) leadership team communicate and foster buy-in across a workforce of hundreds or even thousands? The answer: identifying your digital change agents. Essentially, these are the people who will communicate with, and engage your wider workforce in the change.

What is a digital change agent?

In my own personal experience, identifying and working with digital change agents has very much been an organic process – it’s come about as a result of human relationships built up over time.

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to have built great relationships across our business. And, along the way, I have intuitively got a feel for those who are naturally passionate about, and interested in technology and how it can transform the way we work, and the services we provide as a business. I’ve naturally gravitated to those people, particularly given the nature of my role and in a way, have bought them along with me on our technology journey.

So, for instance, when I’m looking at introducing a new technology to the business, I will often use this pool of people to help disseminate information and educate the wider business. They are a key part of how we successfully implement change in our business.

Setting out your digital change agent criteria

I think it’s a huge mistake to assume that digital change agents should be confined to only working in tech orientated roles, or of a certain seniority. This kind of siloed thinking isn’t helpful and won’t bring you the results you need.

The real key is their ability to command trust and respect. Think about it – these people will serve very much as your voice of technology, so you need to ensure they will be listened to.

Finally, I would say – don’t veer away from those who may challenge you and your thinking. Some of my most influential and impactful change agents were once naysayers! Try seeking out those who are resistant to change – encourage them to discuss their concerns openly with you. You may be surprised at how valuable this feedback is. And, once on board, you’ll often find that these people will be your greatest champions of change.

Getting maximum impact from digital change agents

In my experience, it’s not enough to simply have fleeting, one-off meetings and interactions with your digital change agents. This is a relationship, and like any other relationship, you need to nurture it.

I’ve always found the greatest value when I’ve sought buy-in early into a digitalisation project. Your change agents need to feel that they are part of the change story. If they feel more connected to it, their impact will be greater, as their message and commitment will be stronger.

And once the journey has started, ensure you bring them along with you, every step of the way. Establish clear and open lines of communication. Remember that your change agents are very much the eyes and ears of the business, and their feedback and perspective throughout each stage is invaluable.

As I said earlier, I’ve been involved in implementing a lot of digital change over the years – and it’s not all been smooth sailing I can tell you. However, I will say that by far, digital change agents, or ‘change champions’, have been the most useful weapon in my digitalisation armoury. People are power, so I strongly urge you to call on your colleagues to be a part of driving forward the digital change your organisation needs to survive. They are the key to success!

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