First Change The People, Then The System

Lionel Grealou Digital, Strategy Leave a Comment


Everyone (almost!) can have clever ideas and define new visions and strategies. Implementing them is what matters and, above all, the people delivering value and benefiting from such strategies. This applies a fortiori to digital strategies which require combined functional-technical-data, system and talent strategies.

Changing mindsets: do not put all hope on the system

Implementing new digital strategies requires a solid understanding of a number of key parameters: budget, maturity (impact from legacy and vision for the future), roadmap (capability prioritization) and ability to change (culture). This equation translates directly into the ability of an organization to transform itself, at what pace and sequencing.

The ability to change links to the organizational culture: how people are onboarded, how they learn or are allowed to learn, how change is implemented (from simple continuous improvement to more transformational change), how people are rewarded, how success and failure are managed, how decisions are made, how the organization communicates across functions, how are business priorities informed, etc.

Future ability to change mindsets, as well as ability to align to existing mindsets in implementing future changes, might depend on a combination of the above factors.

Digital roadmap positioning: assess the ability to implement and adapt to change

Priorities change. Does the digital roadmap change, how and how often? Positioning new ideas and plan require a robust understanding of five core characteristics:

  1. Supporters and detractors (key stakeholders who are able to make decisions or who need to be aligned to support the business change).
  2. Their agenda and beliefs (understand who will gain or not from the change, if and how they are likely to take ownership of the roadmap or elements or it).
  3. Their ability to change vs the ability of the organization to change (assess agility and adaptability of the people and their functions).
  4. Their network and sphere of influence (identify change leads to represent positively the implementation of the change).
  5. Their learning path and learning style (focus on how people want to learn, how they think it is best for them to learn, also how learning practices have evolved within organizations).

Positioning change within the enterprise must be inclusive – yet directive – obtaining the sufficient levels of “alignment” and “buy-in” across the leadership teams and key stakeholders.

First change the people: improve existing processes and educate users before considering new systems

Digital solutions return most value when they bridge enterprise silos and help people collaborate. They often link to choosing and integrating an enterprise system to support new data and process strategies. Three key questions when embarking on such journey include:

  • Is the organization able to implement process change using its current teams and systems?
  • Does the enterprise understand the current pain points (not only symptoms but also root causes) and is it able to size business implications (cost of data errors, data or task duplication, process gaps, lack of execution governance, etc.)?
  • Can the business support the prospective change journey and cope with the required mitigation, complexity and uncertainty levels?
  • Can the legacy data be cleansed to align to current processes and systems, as well as be assessed for compatibility and transformation to align to the new system structure?
  • Are the current integration landscapes understood and aligned to the support the above data quality requirement?
  • Does the current training and skill management framework able to support the transition to the future solution?

New digital solutions are most likely to yield business benefits if they focus on enhancing current processes through automation and integration improvement.

Where possible, practice and basic process continuous improvements should be independent of digital tool and platform change.

It is often mistakenly thought that people and processes can only change once a new digital platform is implemented.

Then change the system: deploy new enterprise capabilities to enable new processes

Transformational change and tool replacement are often linked. Every action taken changes the ecosystem. Digital strategists must, therefore, continuously learn and adjust enterprise strategies, balancing continuous process improvement and system replacement.

Transformational changes are better understood and accepted by organizations when the focus is on enabling change (building capacity and capability), rather than imposing change (change or die). This approach reflects how change actually happens. It forces change leaders to be realistic about what is required and how long it will take to implement and realize value.

What are your thoughts?


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