Does Change Management Need to Change?

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Change management is often a one-way street that ignores a really important part of the equation: the people impacted by it.

Does change management need to change? If digital transformation is the goal, yes, it does.

In too many organizations, anything called “change management” is sort of a one-way street. We push out new technology to employees in a one-size-fits-all manner, tell them how to use it, and hope for the best. This ignores a really important part of the equation: Technology is changing, but so are the people using it.

Transformation Is Inherently Human

It’s not just their jobs, workflows, and responsibilities changing – their thought processes and perceptions of their jobs change along with technology. This “people transformation”- as accurate as it is – often takes a back seat to digital transformation (DX). And if DX projects are already prone to failure for many reasons, I’d bet this inattention to human behavior plays a significant role. 

McKinsey notes that 70% of complex, large-scale change programs don’t reach their stated goals. The reasons relate to people, not products: lack of employee engagement, poor management support, poor cross-functional collaboration, and a lack of accountability. 

And there’s another story: an inherent fear of change. 

Tackling Fear, Worry, and Lack of Confidence

As humans, we tend to dislike change. It’s disruptive, takes too much time, and saps our confidence. But change is always with us. Given the accelerating pace of competition in every industry, we’ll have to roll with it regularly – particularly the changes wrought by digital transformation. We must be resilient, but in turn, our business leaders need to meet us halfway and acknowledge the mind shifts and challenges we all face.

And don’t forget fear, a critical effect of DX. People worry technology will usurp their jobs. They worry they won’t adapt to new tech solutions quickly enough. They worry about losing access to their legacy solutions. No wonder workers may lack enthusiasm for DX projects and disengage with them.

In a survey Pure Storage conducted with Bredin IT Research, training and reskilling ranked high as a success factor for change management in digital transformation. When asked how people and skills changes would be addressed in their organizations:

  • 72% said training and reskilling
  • 59% said restructuring their teams
  • 35% said using contractors or part-time staff
  • 24% said reducing headcount 

That’s not an encouraging landscape for employees struggling with change: Their options are to hope the training takes, survive a restructuring, or maybe lose their job. 

Feeling Comfortable about Being Uncomfortable

In the survey stats above, we don’t necessarily know if the “people transformation” was addressed as thoroughly as the digital transformation was. We also don’t know if “training and reskilling” includes building empathy for people whose work days have been turned upside down. 

We do know it should. “If employees don’t see the value in the transformation, they will reject it, causing friction and making transformation more difficult to achieve,” reports The Enterprisers Project. “People need to feel comfortable about being uncomfortable and will need assistance to embrace change.”

What can leaders do to bring employees along with the change in a way that demonstrates empathy, loyalty, and empowerment? 

Set the tone for transformation by choosing human-centric technologies designed for them. And putting uncomplicated technology in place at the bottom of the stack is the best place to start.

Make Uncomplicating Things a DX Priority

Pure Storage’s Damon Thomisee, Area Vice President of Sales, Emerging Technologies, Americas, says, “When we sell FlashBlade, we consider the ‘people’ aspect. Those who build it, those who buy it, and those who experience it.” This ensures the product and every workflow dependent on it puts people first – their preferences, time, and energy. 

A storage array is just one piece of the IT puzzle, but it can set the tone for transformation. Making the conscious decision to procure human-centric technology shows teams that change isn’t just happening to them; it’s happening for them. At Chapman University, which adopted all-Flash storage from Pure, the benefits were not just for the techies (although there were plenty of those too, like database administrators spending far less time on time-consuming storage management). The university also gives students, faculty, and staff faster access to the data and applications they use regularly, and software development teams can complete their work more quickly.

Students, faculty, and staff have faster access to the data and applications they use regularly; software development teams complete their work more quickly, and database administrators spend far less time on time-consuming storage management.

Four other tips to consider:

  • When communicating change, acknowledge what’s happening. Bring employees along slowly, and lean on candor as much as structure and detail.
  • Don’t forget the why. Don’t leave employees to read between the lines—explain the reasons and the benefits. If the reasons are compelling and relevant, they can soften a natural resistance to change.
  • Convey your ultimate vision. It’s part of the why, but it’s also more. It’s the rallying factor that can unite you as an organization and give individuals motivation to tap into on their own.
  • Pave the two-way street. Back to my original point, implement the channels and opportunities for them to share and you to listen and do it early.
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Paolo Juvara

Chief Digital Transformation Officer at Pure Storage