One of the biggest threats to successful digital transformation is your employees' resistance to changes, new technologies or processes. Much of this resistance comes from fear. Where does this fear come from? How can you overcome it and help your team feel more at ease and open for changes? We have some advice!
If you were to rely solely on the articles on the web, you would get the idea that digital transformation is the best that can happen to your business and that it’s all rainbows and sunshine. Yet, when it comes to the perspective of engaging in an actual change, most of us find ourselves quite anxious and hesitant.
When it comes to digital transformation, one of the main obstacles along the way is your employee's resistance to change - according to Forbes, it’s usually the main reason behind digital transformation failing. That resistance is in most cases the effect of fear. That’s why it is crucial to acknowledge and understand this fear and to apply strategies that will help your team be more at ease and open towards changes.
Let’s discuss where the fear of digital transformation comes from, how to manage it within your company and how to approach the changes with a realistic but positive mindset.
The first and probably the most common reason why your employees and you may fear taking the leap into the unknown world of digital transformation goes down to the pure neurobiological mechanism of our brain and body. Humankind evolved in hostile, unpredictable environments - it was beneficial for our survival to react with stress and fear in response to new, unpredictable situations - you had to stay alert all the time to be able to run or fight for your life. Although in modern times most of us are rarely in acute life-threatening situations, our brains haven’t quite caught up with human civilization and the modern world. That’s why we usually perceive new, uncertain situations and changes as threatening and therefore, we react with fear, even though there is nothing inherently threatening about them.
This point is slightly connected to the previous one. Whether we like or not what we are dealing with now, it has one big benefit over the uncertain gains of the digital transformations - it is known and familiar. Adopting new technologies and processes will inevitably disrupt the status quo we are used to. The fear of disruption caused by digital transformation is actually two-dimensional. On one hand, there seems to be a big resistance and anxiety connected to incorporating new technology into business because we worry that it will totally change the market landscape. We might think of companies like Uber taking over the commuting business and leaving taxi drivers with fewer clients or Spotify dramatically changing the way in which music is distributed. On the other hand, there is a fear of disruption within a company, its processes and all the day-to-day tasks your employees are performing. Again, it’s the unknown and feeling out of balance that’s scary.
Digital transformation seems like a big leap into the unknown that will turn the whole company on its head. Nobody hides that the process is demanding, time-consuming and stressful - like any big change. But that’s the biggest problem in how we approach it - before acting on digital transformation it seems to be almost too big to process. You and your employees can get overwhelmed just thinking about it if you’re taking it as one big revolution. What is the alternative? We will discuss it later in the article!
On top of all the fears connected to going through digital transformation, employees can also fear that new technologies can take over their jobs, making them redundant. Even if those fears are usually overdramatic, it’s once again the issue of dealing with the unknown that leaves them wondering. The other fear is that if it’s not the case of, let’s say, artificial intelligence stealing their job, it may be that they will not be able to adapt to new technologies, new requirements and to using new tools. This may be especially true among older employees, who often quite naturally are not as keen on getting used to the new ways. Additionally, since their time in the workforce is limited, they might have a lower motivation to learn and adjust than younger employees who are aware that they have to adjust to the changing work environment.
Since we established that it is the unknown and the uncertainty of digital transformation that lies at the heart of most of the fears connected to it, your biggest ally in combating the fear in your company is open and constant communication.
Steady and reassuring communication is a key to easing the fear in your employees and is crucial in dealing with the biggest sceptics who might now hesitate to criticise and ask difficult questions. Stay open to having those discussions, and don’t cut off uncomfortable conversations because that will lead to an atmosphere of uncertainty and can cause resentment towards the process before it even starts.
By creating space for questions and doubts you will be able to address them most accurately and build up your team's resilience to challenges and disruptions. What you need to keep in mind is that the communication needs to continue throughout the process - it cannot end at one meeting. As it will take time to introduce different changes, address new challenges and opportunities, stay open to feedback and adjust your communication efforts to the situation.
This is basically the other side of the same coin - your company’s communication is only good if it works both ways. As stated in the previous point, you must adjust communication to the changing situation and new challenges, but you also need to make sure that you are listening to what your employees have to say. This will bring the company multiple benefits:
On that note, you might even consider teaming up with the biggest sceptics. If you leave their doubts unaddressed, you might expect a strong resistance from their side, which can make the whole process harder than it should be. But if you devote some time to discuss various possibilities with your team and open up to their suggestions or even, let them test new digital tools, they will realise that you are all on the same page. And if these folks are okay with something, the rest of the team will be too.
One of the biggest harmful misconceptions about digital transformation is viewing it as a revolution that just turns everything upside down. It’s hard to blame anyone for seeing it this way - all we hear is that the 4th industrial revolution is upon us, and the sole term “transformation” has a somewhat similar connotation.
These associations can make everyone feel overwhelmed. However, the reality is, there is no total revolution on the horizon - digital transformation is a process, made up of far less dramatic and scary steps. Planning out your strategy and actions connected to the adoption of new technology and processes ahead of time, and dividing it into smaller, attainable and measurable goals and associated tasks will not only ease your fears, making it easier to communicate effectively, but it will also make it all more doable and less scary.
What’s crucial is to think in business terms first - analyse your position on the market, your strengths and weaknesses, take into consideration the market trends and prognosis and think about the possibilities of sustainable growth of your business. Knowing answers to these questions will make looking for specific tech solutions much easier - as you will know precisely what your company needs.
The last piece of advice on this is that, since it’s a long-term process, make sure to celebrate small wins and achievements, to appreciate the effort your team is putting into it and to establish the mindset that you are all more than capable of successfully facing changes and challenges that digital transformation brings!
TIP: If you are able to do so, it may be extremely beneficial to establish a team or designate one person that will deal with digital transformation topics. They would be responsible for coordinating all of the actions connected to digitisation, which means they will be well informed and always monitor the situation. It will also mean that the rest of the company will have a clear path of communication in case they have any questions or problems.
Digital transformation is a big change and it is only natural to cause emotions. It’s important, however, that we acknowledge, understand them and include managing those emotions in the digitisation process. At the end of the day, digital transformation is primarily about the people and mindset shifts. The technology shift is secondary here.
Interested in this topic? Read our article - Digital Transformation Is Not About Technology: It Is about People and learn how can you make your team want this change.
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