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Overcoming resistance to digital transformation processes

Few things cause more fear than the prospect of change. Because we resist the things we fear, it seems obvious that the fear of change will generate resistance to new ways of doing things. One of the deepest changes your business can make to the way it operates is to embark on digital transformation. With this in mind, when we decide to implement digital transformation processes, we can expect strong resistance from our co-workers and business partners.


So if you’re going to implement digital transformation processes in your company (or any other type of change, for that matter), you need a strategy to reduce fear and overcome resistance.

The 4 Stages of Change

Entrepreneur and thought leader August Turak lists the four stages of change, which he says are:

  • Anticipation
  • Regression
  • Breakthrough
  • Consolidation

Turak then gives us a great and simple description of these stages:

“Anticipation is the exciting stage of change where we anticipate the benefits and make our transformational plans. Regression is when things get worse before they get better. Breakthrough is when we finally see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Consolidation is when we turn the benefits of change into business as usual.”

Understanding the Real Fear

What people are really afraid of, says Turak, isn’t change itself. The fear that causes resistance to digital transformation projects is a fear of regression; in other words, the fear that when things get worse, they’ll never get better. As an agent of change – whether you’re leading a team in a department, or leading a company from a position of senior management – it’s your responsibility to find ways to help people overcome their fears and push forward.

Show them examples of businesses that have succeeded following transformational change. You can share with them stories told by Canon about 3 companies that successfully embraced digital transformation. The lesson to be learned here is that if others could do it, then you and your people can do it too. When people believe successful change is possible, they will allow themselves to become enthusiastic.

Generating Anticipation and Reducing Fear of Positive Transformational Change

Generating anticipation should be the (relatively!) simple part. Rather than just telling people what’s coming down the road, begin defeating resistance to digital transformation processes through a bottom-up consensus. This means mapping out a strategy to communicate with everybody in the organization, from top to bottom, taking their input seriously, and showing them that the organization’s plans for change are the product of a collective effort, not just something imposed from the top down.

In fact, collaboration and co-creation are the cornerstones of any successful change enterprise. The global consulting giant McKinsey details two key statistics in their survey study of successful change:

  • three-quarters of the respondents … whose transformations were “extremely successful” say that staff members were entirely or very able to participate in shaping those change initiatives
  • nearly a quarter of the extremely successful transformations were planned by groups of 50 or more.

Perhaps most importantly, we learn from this same study that “when leaders ensure that frontline staff members feel a sense of ownership, the results show a 70 percent success rate for transformations. When frontline employees take the initiative to drive change, transformations have a 71 percent success rate. When both principles are used, the success rate rises to 79 percent.”

Engagement across the board in the process of planning your company’s digital transformation is what will help your people get on side with the change. This is especially true when you give them evidence that their input is not just desired and valued, but will also be acted on and is the key to your collective success.

You’ll also need to find ways to reduce the natural fear that people feel even when they’re enthusiastic about the change. Think of it like a veteran traveller going on a journey to some new place, a country halfway around the world, where you don’t speak the language and don’t know anybody. Sure, you’re excited, you love to travel, and you’ve experienced a lot. But that doesn’t change the fact that you still feel nervous, you still worry about all the things you don’t know, and you still feel worried about what to expect.

The Power of Imagination

This is what our digital transformation journey is like – going to a new, exotic place. What helps us to get over our own natural resistance is preparation leading to the imagination. Reading travel guides, browsing blogs and photo albums of people who’ve already been to the place you’re going, and doing solid research on where to stay, where to eat, and what to expect will activate our imagination.

Once our imagination is activated, we can see ourselves as travelers in the place we plan to visit. If we’re planning a visit to Paris, our imagination puts us at a street-side cafe, watching the people go by as we relax with an exquisite glass of Bordeaux. If we’re planning a digital transformation, our imagination should present us with a future where our business is technology-centric, agile, and looking to lead rather than to react. Seeing it in our mind’s eye means we can make it happen in reality. Getting your people’s imaginations moving is a key element in breaking down their resistance to a digital revolution in your company.

Support Your People

Assuming you are in a leadership position of some kind, to make sure people sign on to the change you want and stick with it, you need to support them. As we said earlier, communication is key. But this doesn’t just mean keeping the door open. Provide people with tangible data to demonstrate how the digital transformation is proceeding – numbers, metrics, anything that will show them how their efforts are generating success.

And when people come to you expressing doubts or fears, show them you understand. Tell them you’re nervous too (even if you’re not!). But explain to them that all of you together are writing a new chapter in the story of your business, and that the digital transformation you’ve initiated is a fantastic journey whose success will benefit all of you – employees, management, business partners, and all the other stakeholders in your organization.

Change is Hard

Transformations are difficult, and pushback against digital transformation is a natural phenomenon. Hopefully, we’ve given you some tools to help you overcome resistance by better understanding how change works, how to understand the fear that all change causes, how to generate positive anticipation and buy-in through collaboration, and how to use the power of imagination to achieve the change you’re seeking.

If you want more help starting a revolution in your business, get in touch with digital transformation experts.



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