In the last blog article we explained why the digital transformation is not just yet another change – and how you can master it. It has become clear that the digital transformation represents a fundamental change. And it demonstrated how a holistic approach can systematically analyze the effects of the transformation. The question today is: How can people be won over to transform? – Because one thing is clear: without taking the people along this path, the digital transformation will terminate in a dead end. Or in other words: those companies that manage to take their employees with them on the road to digital transformation will be more successful than those companies that fail to do so. If you want to successfully transform your company, you need to consider the seven fundamental processes that are at work in every change.
The seven fundamental processes of a transformation
Every change project and especially every profound transformation require a complex interaction of different processes. The »system concept« according to Trigon (Professor Glasl) identifies seven fundamental processes that have to be considered and managed. The model has been in use for decades and has proven itself in practice as a useful tool for steering transformation processes. The terminology of the processes is sometimes a little difficult to get used to; however, out of respect for the authors, we orientate ourselves here on the taxonomy of Glasl, even if we would occasionally choose other terms ourselves.
Overview of the central tasks of the seven fundamental processes of a digital transformation
The following processes are effective and must be observed in every transformation or change project.
- Psychosocial processes serve to influence the emotional aspects of a transformation.
- Diagnostic processes should create awareness for the necessity of the change.
- Information and communication processes announce news and make resonance and participation possible.
- Learning processes convey the competences and attitudes required for change.
- Future design processes serve the formation of opinions and decision-making.
- Realization processes turn ideas into reality.
- Change management processes facilitate the planning, controlling and organization of all these processes.
Important: Although the processes are interlinked, they do not follow a fixed chronology. They are therefore not successive phases, but at times also parallel threads of development. However, there are »typical« procedures that often prove useful in reality. More about this aspect at the end of the article.
Psychosocial processes are central to the success of any major change. Behind this bulky term lie the emotional aspects that go hand in hand with organizational change. These are often not at the top of the decision-makers’ agenda. However, they are the critical success factors from the point of view of organizational development.
The central task of psychosocial processes is to positively influence the emotional aspects of a transformation. In reality, change processes are always associated with uncertainty and unforeseeable events. Especially in the digital transformation, the perceived uncertainty can be huge for employees, as professional identities change. The protection or satisfaction of basic neurobiological needs is not only the task of the leadership, but also of those responsible for a transformation.
- The »digital transformation« is leading to completely new job profiles – while old job profiles and positions are disappearing or at least becoming less important. So for the individual employee, the question automatically arises: “Will my job still exist in the future?” – “Will my commitment, my skills, my expertise still be needed and valued in the future?”
- Restructuring goes hand in hand with uncertainty about future accountability and sometimes disciplinary responsibilities: “Who will be my boss?” – “Who will be part of the team?”
- The introduction of agile working methods (Scrum, Kanban, Design Thinking etc.) or the »agile transformation« of an entire organization lead to completely new processes, which also require a changed »mindset«. Not everyone wants to face this challenge: “Will I be able to cope with these changes?” – “Do I actually have to do this to myself?”
Not every approach or every tool work equally well in every company. What was successful in one company may be taboo or inappropriate in the next. Important: The approach must fit the corporate culture. Diagnostic surveys can be used for all phases: Depending on the change, these can be useful at the beginning, during or at the end of a transformation process.
The central task of diagnostic processes, in addition to examining the »cultural fit«, is above all to »create awareness« of the necessity of change. A simple survey can become the starting signal for a change if it shakes the decision makers awake.
- 360-degree feedback across the organization can provide illuminating insights into the leadership culture.
- An employee survey can provide a startling picture of the mood in the company and thus be the trigger for a transformation of the company – as happened at the Upstalsboom hotel chain with its owner Bodo Janssen.
- With instruments to survey the corporate culture, the characteristics of the organization can be determined.
- The effects of a transformation process can be observed through online surveys, but also through regular cross-hierarchical presence workshops with managers and employees from other disciplinary areas.
Information and communication processes
In the classical world of change management, change processes were »rolled out« from top to bottom, along the hierarchy. In countless small groups of workshops, superiors were informed first and employees only later on; mostly with ready-made PowerPoint slides about the changes. Participation was only sporadic, if at all, and hardly more than a fig leaf. This approach regularly contributed to the failure of change projects. The key to the success of a transformation, however, lies in the participation of the employees. For this reason, dialogue events or other participation formats are crucial to success. The digital transformation in particular opens up many opportunities to report on the gradual success and to share »success stories« with the team.
Strictly speaking, information processes and communication processes can be differentiated. Communication is characterized by the fact that there is not only a sender and a recipient, but a dialogue develops.
In this sense, »information« refers to a one-way street on which decisions and news are sent out – e.g. in the form of video speeches, e-mails or on the notice board. The question is highly relevant, who I inform when and about what exactly: Content, tonality, time, medium, target group. Legal issues (e.g. information of the works council) also play an important role here.
With some transformations, special sensitivity is required. Particularly when it comes to staff reductions or changes in responsibilities, direct contact with those affected should first be sought. At the same time, communication to the entire company must take place very promptly in order to keep the unavoidable »office grapevine« as low as possible.
»Communication processes«, on the other hand, are characterized by the fact that they invite to dialogue and explicitly request direct feedback. Typically, this takes place within the framework of face-to-face events, in which both the response to the presented content is queried – and the participants are invited to get involved (see below). Dialogue events of this kind thus combine aspects of »resonance and participation«. As a decision maker, I can demonstrate personal commitment at these events and show how important the topic is to me (keyword »management attention«).
Learning processes in the stricter sense can include training and qualification of employees. The starting point here is often the question: “What new skills and competencies do employees actually need to have to be able to act in line with the new idea for the future?” In addition, social learning can also be used to design measures to promote the exchange of ideas among employees and thus support informal learning. This makes it easier to transfer knowledge from »tacit knowledge« – i.e. knowledge that is difficult to convey in writing or graphically. In addition, social learning is often a prerequisite for changing the mindset. And an updated mindset or new, changed attitudes are the rule rather than the exception in transformations. Especially in the digital transformation it is not only the new software programs and processes that need to be learned. Rather, the understanding or mindset must develop that learning becomes a permanent development movement. In the past, people learned a new interface that was valid for the next 10 to 15 years (example: SAP). Today, there are rather countless »apps« that require flexible familiarization. What we already know from smartphones as a natural part of our lives will also spread to software in business. On the private smartphone, we learned to click and type until we understood the (preferably intuitive) user guidance. As a decision-maker, I have to support this learning process and give the employees in the company the opportunity to try it out. Learning is a cultural characteristic and is therefore closely linked to the feedback and error culture in the company.
- Learning new software and new process sequences
- Leadership and feedback techniques
- Methods and tools of self-leadership
- Reflection on one’s own mindset in relation to agile procedures
At best, learning becomes part of the corporate culture. The formats for teaching competencies (knowledge, skills and attitude) have become more diverse in recent times, as the trends of »corporate learning« show:
- The trend towards agile learning design
- The trend towards self-organized learning
- The trend towards social learning
- The trend towards micro learning
- The trend towards the gamification of learning
Future design processes
Processes for shaping visions of the future serve to form the will within the organization and support the commitment of those involved. Well designed, they thus promote sustainability and increase the chances of success of subsequent implementation.
Just a few decades ago, processes for shaping the future were the exclusive domain of corporate management. Today, it is increasingly recognized that it makes sense to involve employees at an early stage in the design of ideas for the future. This insight refers not only to the conception of new ideas, but also to the sustainable implementation in the course of change. In short:
“People find ideas better which they have helped to create.”
The basic neurobiological needs of autonomy and self-efficacy play a central role here. The appropriate extent and type of involvement are strongly dependent on the respective company. The task of the leadership is to make the space for participation as large as possible. Digital transformation in particular allows – or even forces – many degrees of freedom – simply because many ideas for the future are still in motion and have yet to develop. There is simply no blueprint for digital transformation. This makes the involvement of employees all the more valuable; in terms of generating ideas – and above all in terms of sustainable implementation.
- Workshops with the management to develop a vision or a mission statement for the company
- Elaboration of a meaningful change story with the Core Change Team
- Large group events (in the style of Open Space and Barcamp) in which employees can contribute their ideas.
- Support for initiatives driven by employees (see »Working Out Loud« (WOL); more on this in the article on social learning).
The sustainable realization of the envisaged future idea is the central objective of every transformation. This is where projects and tasks are realized and implemented. Managers also play an important part as role models for the new culture. Often, a more modern understanding of leadership is explicitly part of the transformation idea (cf. our series on leadership of the future).
In the past, change projects were »rolled out«; today the focus is on participation at an early stage. It is not only about the perception of the resonance (as with the described communication processes), but also about the participation in shaping the future as well as the actual implementation of ideas. The processes of shaping the future and realization are therefore closely linked and run parallel at times.
It often makes sense to tackle targeted transformations relatively quickly and in small steps; and to communicate the realization of progress effectively (cf. information processes). The digital transformation allows the possibility to present innovation in an innovative way. As a decision maker, I can design communication in such a way that content (digital transformation) and medium form a unit here – in the sense of »walk the talk«.
- Kick-off events (»Big Bang event«) give the official starting signal for the reorganization of a company or the introduction of new software.
- Regular updates on project progress via various media (intranet or ESN, mailings, events such as Open Office)
- Symbolic actions (»flip the switch«) of the management board
Change management processes
Last but not least there are the change management processes. This includes all measures that serve the planning, controlling, coordination and evaluation of the transformation. Actually, the term transformation management processes would be more appropriate, since by no means only temporary change projects are affected. This includes the establishment of a steering body and possibly a further resonance group, but also contact with the relevant decision-makers of the management so that decisions can be made quickly.
Due to the significance of this task, it is important to be strongly positioned within the company in this respect or to obtain external professional advice.
Typical approach to steering the fundamental processes
As mentioned above, the fundamental processes are not phases with a »natural« sequence, but rather interconnected and in principle independent processes without a chronological order.
From the point of view of transformation management, however, some sequences appear more frequently than others in everyday organizational development and can be described as typical. Here are three examples.
Case 1: After countless employee surveys, employees are »survey tired«.
Instead of a new survey (diagnostic processes), it makes sense to remind employees of the purpose of the change (future design processes) and to respond to their emotional sensitivities (psychosocial processes). In addition, there should be rapidly visible changes in the sense of »quick-wins« or immediate measures (realization processes) in order to strengthen the confidence in the change.
Case 2: The climate between the participants is negative and conflicts prevent constructive cooperation.
The first priority is to clarify the relationships (psychosocial processes) in order to re-establish a workable basis for cooperation. A survey (diagnostic processes) can bring clarity about previously unrecognized moods in the company, which may smolder in the organization independently of the individual case of conflict. Subsequently, attention can be drawn to the joint shaping of the future (e.g. elaboration of a corporate vision / strategy).
Case 3: Employees distrust the management’s commitment to change.
If employees have lost confidence in the leadership’s ability to implement (after unsuccessful declarations of intent), »strong« and immediate symbolic actions on the part of management can »send a signal« and thus revive confidence in the management’s will to change (“This time they seem to mean it up there!”). Future design processes and realization processes should therefore take place quickly side by side. Afterwards, management should seek closeness to the workforce in order to overcome broken-up gaps (psychosocial processes).
Of course, the cases described above are very simplified and the measures are by no means to be understood as a »recipe«. Each transformation process is individual and brings with it its own challenges – and opportunities – and requires an individual approach. In addition, it is important to keep in mind that each »process« can include a wide variety of possible measures.
From the point of view of the decision-maker, it is important to keep an eye on all processes and to have them coordinated and monitored by internal and, if necessary, external transformation partners. Depending on the transformation and individual case, the processes have different impacts. All too often transformations fail because one or more of the aspects have been ignored. If you want to transform your company, pay attention to the professional management of the seven fundamental processes.
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