People-Centred Change

Change is rarely a straightforward linear exercise. It usually involves experimentation, failure and a willingness see failure as an opportunity for learning and development. It requires consistency of purpose combined with a willingness to rethink the vision and objectives set out at the start of the journey. The more you try to change an organisation, the more you learn about it. Understanding of the nature and extent of the change required will deepen as the journey progresses.

While we need more evidence of the successful integration of digital technologies with human and organisational strengths, it is possible to draw some very broad guidelines for positive change:

Change with People
Embed employee-driven innovation and improvement in the DNA of the organisation

Establishing regular opportunities for employees at all levels to think creatively, to contribute their ideas, to experiment, and to work collaboratively with others on ideas for innovation and improvement creates a workforce culture receptive to digital innovation and enhances readiness for change.

Be clear about what you want to achieve

Digital technologies are only a means to an end, and may not be the best way of achieving it. Their introduction must be driven by, and fully aligned with, the organisation’s strategic goals and imperatives.

Start from a systemic view of the organisation

Incremental innovations run the risk of unintended consequences elsewhere or being undermined by interdependent practices in the organisation. Creating a system of aligned and mutually reinforcing practices enhances outcomes and helps prevent innovation decay.

Interrogate and reveal the job design assumptions built-in to the technology

The design of IT systems and production machinery, for example, can steer organisations towards the creation of very specialised roles and functions, leading to workforce fragmentation and the narrowing of skills. On the other hand, technologies can be designed in ways that distribute information more widely, enhance the functional flexibility of individuals and teams, and build workforce capacity for problem solving, improvement and innovation.

Engage and empower operators and others whose work is affected by the technology in implementation

Day-to-day involvement in the production and delivery of a product or service creates tacit knowledge about ‘what works’, building on the cumulative learning and experience from both successes and failures. Operators are often the ‘organisational memory’; they acquire an innate capacity for creative problem solving and provide a valuable resource beyond that of technical manuals and standard operating procedures, both in day-to-day operations and during innovations. Engaging operators and stakeholders at every stage of implementation avoids errors that may remain undetected by technical experts alone, and may stimulate unexpected process innovations and improvements.

Upskill people

Technical skills involved in the implementation of digital technologies may be acquired through both formal and informal means during the planning and implementation stages of digital innovation. Realising the full synergy between human and digital potential also requires the development of wider business and self-efficacy skills, for example:

  • Planning and scheduling to support delegated decision-making
  • Communication skills
  • Collaborative skills to support self-managed teamworking
  • Creative thinking skills to support problem solving and employee-driven innovation
  • Emotional intelligence and self-awareness.

Above all, it means making change happen with people, not to people.

Forum topic: How would you go about implementing digital technologies?

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