What is Digital Change Management?

digital change management - plugging cables into server

Digital transformation is disrupting nearly every industry. So perhaps it’s only natural that people have begun to talk about “digital change management.” But what is digital change management? And how does it differ from traditional change management?

What’s especially confusing about the term “digital change management” is that it can mean one of two things:

  • The change management aspects of digital transformation projects and programs; and/or
  • The use of digital techniques as part of your change management toolkit (regardless of the type of project or program)

These two definitions are closely related, but different.

Just because you’re working on a “digital” transformation doesn’t mean you can ignore the (traditional) basics of change management. Those basics include:

  • Top executives are leading the change
  • A clear vision has been created and communicated
  • All stakeholders understand and buy into the change
  • Steps have been taken to ensure that the people who are being asked to change are ready to put those changes into practice, both in terms of their capabilities and their buy-in

By definition, digital transformations involve new technology. They also almost always require changes to corporate culture. For example, our clients often realize that, as part of becoming a “digital” company, they also need to become more agile and more comfortable with “failing fast.” They need to lose their fear of trying something new and figure out quickly what must change for an initiative to be successful—and then either make those changes or drop the idea altogether.

You can’t make changes to culture just by saying, “Make it so.” You have to change the fabric of the organization to make the changes stick. For example, you can’t create a “fail fast” culture without changing the performance measures and targets that typically discourage that approach.

So what about the second definition: the use of digital techniques as part of your change management toolkit?

Consultants who believe in the power of digital transformation often do this with our clients—we introduce digital and digital-enabling techniques as part of the change management streams we lead on all sorts of projects (whether digital or not).

For example, if you’re updating stakeholders on the progress of a digital transformation, why use old-fashioned emails and memos? If you take a multi-channel approach to communications—using videos, discussion boards, web-based demos, and apps—people start to live the change, not just read about it.

In my consulting practice, I’ve also moved the management of change projects from a white-board-and-paper environment to an online, digital environment—digital Scrum boards, digital issue logs, digital decision logs etc. That means project members are no longer tied to the office. Instead, they can be out in the field where the change is happening, and they can help manage those changes far better.

What about digital-enabling techniques? These can also be powerful agents for change.

An insurance client, for example, had only ever used Agile in an IT context, and was skeptical of its value outside of technology projects. So we used Agile techniques, including two-week sprints, for the digital strategy phase of our work. The client’s team was amazed by the benefits gained in terms of transparency, flexibility, and speed—and they started adopting this cultural change more widely.

In short, therefore, some aspects of digital change management are no different from what we’ve seen before. But there is a huge opportunity now to use digital, and digital-enabling, techniques to increase the likelihood of successful change.

This post first appeared on LinkedIn.

About the Author

Alan Walker

Alan Walker is an interim executive and consultant who has helped some of the world's largest insurers respond to new technologies and changing customer demands. Previously a Partner with EY and an EVP of Capgemini Invent, Alan has delivered both growth and operational improvement, with a particular emphasis on transforming distribution, underwriting, claims, and operations.

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