Fear of digital change puts UK plc at risk

If we are honest, many of us don’t like change. We’d rather stay in our comfort zones and in our same old routines. While in life in general it’s a relatively harmless trait, it appears such an attitude is having a damaging effect on businesses and, in particular, on digital transformation programmes.

According to new research released by Microsoft in collaboration with Goldsmiths, University of London, and YouGov, the majority of businesses investing in digital transformation programmes face a common challenge in realising value from their investments: the human factor.

The report findings show that moves to improve how people work by introducing new technologies creates anxiety among employees (61 per cent), the automation of tasks creates fears about job security (59 per cent) and half (49 per cent) of staff express a fear of change when digital transformation initiatives are introduced.

Creating a Culture of Digital Transformation is based on interviews with more than 1,000 business leaders and employees in organisations across the UK, making it one of the most extensive reports on the country’s digital transformation to date.

As Microsoft UK chief executive, Cindy Rose, rightly points out, digital transformation is not just a technology deployment or an IT exercise, it’s a people exercise. “Leaders of all organisations must therefore embrace cultural transformation from the top and explore the behavioural shifts needed to bring about lasting change,” she says. “This comprehensive report shows there is a deep-rooted connection between those organisations that invest in nurturing cultural change and those that are able to fully unlock the value of their technology investments.”

Agile Consultation

At Rialto, we similarly believe in placing culture change at the heart of any transformation programme, digital or otherwise. The study suggests though that not all organisations are recognising its importance. Despite the concerns shown by employees and the impact this is having on organisations’ ability to boost productivity, it found that less than a quarter (23 per cent) are investing in cultural change programmes to help their workforces adapt to changing working practices and realise the value of investments in technology.

Also troubling is the statistic that just 53 per cent of organisations are currently investing in digital transformation programmes, despite the same number (53 per cent) expecting their industries to face disruption within the next two years.

Digital transformation is not about mapping new technology on to old processes, ways of working and behaviours but requires deep-rooted change. The fear factor associated with all of this change cannot be under-estimated and leaders must ensure that any transformation programme has cultural change as an integral part of it.

Lack of communication is often at the heart of the problem. It isn’t enough to simply say the right things at the top-tier but leaders must ensure their messages are cascaded down effectively to avoid the rumour machine cranking up and breeding insecurity.

If employees understand the reasons for the change, what it means to them and how they can adapt to it, their fears will recede. Very often the thought of change is worse than the reality of it. After all, as Mark Twain said: “Do the thing that you fear the most and the death of fear is certain.”



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