Tag Archives: change management

Culture Side of Digital Transformation

Technology is changing at an exponential pace, and so are consumers’ expectations of having products and services that come with a digital experience. Perfect example: Our Benekiva team recently rented office space and were shocked by the request of our future landlord to mail two signed copies of the contract. As we were discussing this crazy request and wondering why technology wasn’t used to solve this simple problem, another startup complained to me about the same issue. Did we get the space? Yes. Did we have a bad taste in our mouth about the process?  Yes.

One of the most memorable projects that I led earlier in my career was when I automated cash processing. Previously, a team of 15 took turns printing mainframe screens. Afterward, they had a searchable database with the data at their fingertips.

Before I started digging into this issue, I was advised: “You are working with legacy technology; data is not accessible.” and, “The mainframe replacement project is almost approved. Wait another year.” (Yeah, right. ?)

If I hadn’t rolled up my sleeves to dig into available data feeds, this problem would have continued until the mainframe replacement project was finished, which actually occurred 3 1/2 years later. This project yielded immediate benefits of one full-time employee, not including the money and trees we saved by not printing paper every morning.

Years later, when I came across the Center for Creative Leadership’s direction, alignment, commitment (DAC) model, the reasons for the project’s success became clear.

See also: 3 Ways to an Easier Digital Transformation

Here is a synopsis of the organization I was working for at the time:

  • Innovation was encouraged at the very top of the organization, and it didn’t stay at the senior level. Employees across all salary grades were invited to participate.
  • There was a culture of celebration. If employees found a better way of work, they won awards and were recognized.
  • Technologists were embedded throughout the business. I was one of the first hires of this kind, and we paved the way for others. My role was to learn the business and find ways to improve processes and automation.
  • Data drove decisions. Tasks, people, managers, etc. were measured, which allowed bottlenecks to be seen quickly and a course of action determined.
  • Most importantly, there was a strong sense of DAC. Direction was articulated and communicated to ALL levels of the organization by the senior-most person. This individual would make his mission to get out of his office and walk the floors – get to know people and share the vision. There was clear alignment of goals and initiatives. If something didn’t meet our key objectives or targets, it wasn’t a priority. No sneaking in projects. Finally, there was a strong sense of commitment at all levels of the organization.

Here is how the DAC approach turned into success at that organization:

  • Relationships. You don’t have to be best friends or go out for drinks, but having a good working relationship can make or break initiatives. I was new in the organization but already had started to form a peer group. I was also involved at all levels of the organization – from the cash processor to leadership. After discussing the manual processing with my IT peers, I was introduced to a mainframe analyst who started looking through data feeds that were already being created. She eventually found one that I could use to build a tool that made the data accessible to the cash processing team. Whether you are a startup working with an organization or an employee, learning the organization and the key players (not every key player is a C-Suite executive) is critical to your success. Don’t get fooled into thinking that, if you have upper-level buy-in, you get the golden ticket. Success is involving essential stakeholders at all levels of the organization.
  • Culture. This organization took risks, tried new things and explored possibilities. Technology is often the easy part. Where most failures occur is on the “soft” side of project management. Is your team equipped with the right people to navigate beyond the tech? Digital transformation initiatives are hard. If you are a tech startup working with organizations on their digital transformation initiatives, ensure you have people on the team who can handle the change management side of the house.
  • Questions. When you hear a no, take the attitude that the “yes” is around the corner. Ask questions various ways to collect data and information. Don’t be afraid to poke around – what is the worst that can happen? I’ve never seen anyone get fired for asking questions. If you have, then you were working for the wrong organization.
  • Collaboration. I involved various teams and departments to solve the cash problem. Soup to nuts, we implemented this solution in less than two months – from discovery to implementation. We had so much buy-in and excitement that we won a teamwork award for this project. It was fun to get to know others, and collaboration allowed other problems to surface that some of this team solved quickly.

See also: Innovation Imperatives in the Digital Age

If you are an employee of an organization managing digital transformation initiatives or a startup going in as a vendor, don’t ignore the culture side of your projects. Go in with an open and collaborative mind. As Covey states, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Keep building relationships and asking questions. Finally, seek to build DAC. Without direction, alignment and commitment, no matter how much money or resources you throw at the problem, your car is stuck in mud. The wheels are turning, but you aren’t going forward.

Change Management Is Not About Change!

In 1993, my business cards included the tagline: Risk, Insurance and Change Management. When asked for a definition of change management, I would explain that change was the transition from today through tomorrows (the “s” on “tomorrow” suggested it is a process not an event). Management was about solving problems and capitalizing on opportunities as you worked through the process. More and more people now claim to manage change. I no longer do.

See also: 3 Main Mistakes in Change Management  

As the term became over- and misused, I moved to “change architect.” The tagline chosen was a quote from Peter Drucker, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” I even copyrighted and added the term “carpe mañana.” (Seize tomorrow.)

Early in the process, I heard a speaker state correctly, “Change isn’t progress. Change is the price we pay for progress.” How true it is.

Today as I was struggling to address an issue of resistance to change, I had an “aha moment.” I realized that, in most organizations and most cultures, change management is not about the change; it’s all about the management (control of change). It is not about making the future better. It is about protecting and preserving the status quo – the individual and collective comfort zones.

If you are serious about the future, don’t stand in today and look back to the good old days. Instead, turn your back on yesterday and look boldly to the horizon and design and build your own tomorrow – your future.

See also: Is It Time for Un-Change Management?  

Remember, “The greatest risk is not taking one.” (AIG Annual Report).

Right Answers to the Wrong Questions?

A few weeks ago, I spoke to about 20 professionals attending a program about their future and the future of their organizations.

I talked about tomorrow. They were more worried about today.

I wanted to venture into tomorrow and look back to today. They just wanted to get through today.

I discussed purpose: Why? They were more concerned about strategies and tactics: How?

My metaphor was a blueprint. They wanted a to-do list.

I was thinking effective (doing the right things). Their concern was efficient (doing things right).

Leadership was my target. Management was their aim.

I quoted Stephen Covey on leadership, “Begin with the end in mind,” because leaders focus on the horizon, a vision for the future. They were thinking management (“Begin with the beginning in mind”), because managers stare down at their desk, facing their challenges du jour and being constantly interrupted with issues about operations and people.


Not theirs.

I misread my audience.

I was there to discuss change management, to talk about solving problem and capitalizing on opportunities as we move from today through tomorrows. (Note the “s” on “tomorrows.” You face a tomorrow every day – one at a time.)

See also: The Entrepreneur as Leader and Manager  

I should have realized that, as John Kotter put it, “management is still not leadership.”

He said: “In fact, management is a set of well-known processes, like planning, budgeting, structuring jobs, staffing jobs, measuring performance and problem-solving, which help an organization to predictably do what it knows how to do well. Management helps you to produce products and services as you have promised, of consistent quality, on budget, day after day, week after week. In organizations of any size and complexity, this is an enormously difficult task. We constantly underestimate how complex this task really is, especially if we are not in senior management jobs. So, management is crucial — but it’s not leadership.”

He added: “Leadership is entirely different. It is associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities. Leadership is about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, about producing useful change. Leadership is not about attributes; it’s about behavior. And in an ever-faster-moving world, leadership is increasingly needed from more and more people, no matter where they are in a hierarchy. The notion that a few extraordinary people at the top can provide all the leadership needed today is ridiculous, and it’s a recipe for failure.”

Don’t repeat the mistakes I made with my audience. Be sure you know and understand the questions (both those being asked and those folks are afraid to ask) before you provide answers. Then make sure the answers you provide are correct and understood by the audience you serve. Communication is the negotiating of meaning. If the audience is not “catching” what you are “pitching” it might be well intended and thought provoking or ego or noise or a hope and a prayer but it is NOT COMMUNICATION!

See also: The Need for Agile, Collaborative Leaders  

As George Bernard Shaw stated so correctly, “The problem with communication is the illusion that it has occurred.”

Are you providing the right answer to the right questions? If not, start again!

How to Lead Change (Part 3)

Disruption in the market is threatening to isolate some insurers, keeping them on the outside of new opportunities. But many insurers are embracing the competitive pressures and shifting market boundaries to position themselves for growth. They are navigating their organizations through healthy changes as a part of an overall plan for transformation.

We all know that change will often bring some painful challenges. To help insurers anticipate some of those challenges, we have been looking at preparations and steps insurers can take to stay on course.

In our first blog in this series, we discussed the groundwork for leading change in your organization — with very practical advice on what leading change really involves. In our second blog, we looked at empowering change among the people involved in it. We discussed how change is personal and how insurers need to consider its impact down to an individual level.

In Part 3, we’re going to step into the middle of managing change. What challenges are you likely to encounter once you have started? Are there ways to keep the organization on course, foster engagement and improve the odds of transformational success? We’ll start by looking at the changes within the organization’s business framework.

Establish the right kind of foundation

Organizational change management is often driven by the insurer’s need to build a new business framework that will operate as a cohesive, integrated and flexible unit. That framework may include new technologies, processes and products, items that are nearly always in flux. So it is important to establish a foundation that you can build on so that you can adapt and change whenever market shifts happen without changing the essential structure of the core.

See also: How to Lead Change in an Organization  

The foundation will be built to accept change as a fact of life within a dynamic marketplace. It will contain less rigidity and more resilience. It will prepare the organization to effectively handle quick course corrections when strategy shifts or the market changes — or even when teams uncover some detail they may not have envisioned at the outset.

Once this foundation is in place, it means that discovery and innovation can happen on the fly, course corrections are no big deal and ideas are much simpler to test.

Think of communication as a fabric

Because change plans may not be firmly fixed, and because change can be difficult for people to understand, frequent communication is crucial. It needs constant attention to keep people engaged. You can’t communicate too much.

However, when most leaders think of communication, they may tend to focus on formal communication, saying things like, “We are putting out a newsletter,” or “Every month we are holding a transformation update meeting.” These are good things, but they treat messages as broadcasts, with very little interactivity.

In the real world, the best change communication looks more like a fabric that is woven with equal parts formal and informal communication, as well as both message threads and listening threads. It deliberately overlaps in areas so that a blanket of acclimation and understanding will bring the corporate culture and individuals along at the proper pace, all while acknowledging their value and the importance of including their perspectives.

Formal communications — such as newsletters, e-mails and update meetings — ARE important. They are important for clarity. They act as signals regarding time and workload. They keep high-level messages in front of people, bringing the organization under a universal umbrella. Every effort should be made to communicate key messages through on-site meetings with executive leaders participating.

Informal communications are also vital. Planned or unplanned one-on-one conversations are potentially more effective than newsletters because they are two-way and you can guarantee that the message was delivered. You can also listen carefully to any concerns or feedback. Tailoring high-level messages to points of individual impact is crucial to maintaining engagement. It is also helpful for managers to keep a journal regarding some of their more detailed conversations for later reference.

What is important is that leaders and change agents think of communication, not as a supplemental component to the real work of transformation, but as a mission-critical part of any change effort.

Actively manage risk

We often hear within project methodologies that we are to expect some level of risk. That doesn’t mean, however, that we are to accept risk while sitting down, waiting and watching for the results of failure. The best way to treat risk is to actively manage it, and the most clear-cut methods for actively managing risk are to grade success and to catch errors quickly.

Here, we employ some tried-and-true philosophies that deserve a more detailed understanding.

Fast fail forward

There is a common misconception in the term fast fail forward that having failures is actually a good thing. In reality, immediate success without failure is ideal. Fast failing forward simply acknowledges that failures are a fact of life, so the best we can do is to identify them quickly, embrace them and then move forward or around them. If there is an issue, it should be dealt with. The faster it is dealt with, the better your chances are for success.

To identify problematic issues quickly, managers should time-base project milestones, saying, “In the next three months, we need to accomplish these five things.” After those items are accomplished or even while they are being accomplished, they should be measured. What is going right or wrong? Teams should provide feedback. If goals aren’t time-based, they can just keep rolling and aren’t likely to be measured. If some sort of feedback isn’t required, course corrections can’t be made. Projects with tight analysis, quick feedback and correction are unable to veer widely off course. Even if a transformation project is incredibly successful and if few issues are ever found, time-based milestones and measurements are valuable in the confidence that they can lend the team.

Foster open communication

The need for feedback returns us to the topic of communication because the wrong kind of feedback will simply damage and delay the process in ways that may be worse than ignoring the issues. Healthy feedback requires openness.

First, you, as a change leader, need to resolve to be open in communication. This doesn’t mean losing tact in conversation and unburdening your gripes or finger pointing, but it means acknowledging clear issues without a focus on blame. Issues are a common place for fires to start. Personalities ignite. Invisible walls go up. Politics burden forward progress.

Some personalities, for example, will fight against the failures while others will correctly understand that the struggle is against the issues that are at hand. If you guide everyone toward focusing on the issues, your teams will often unify behind the solutions instead of dividing and hiding behind roles and responsibilities. Meetings should be a place for open discussion, encouraging members to be open with each other and open with themselves and helpful in meeting issues head on.

See also: The 4 Secrets to Managing Change  

An effective leader will model openness by admitting course errors or mistakes and even by acknowledging the assistance given by someone else to make course corrections. Your efforts and words will help build a culture of quick accountability and decisive issue resolution. Instead of apprehensive team members who think, “We really ought to do something about that,” you’ll have a group of observant change leaders who say, “I see an issue. Let’s deal with it right now.”

In my next blog series, we’ll take an in-depth look at why insurers need to consider customer experience as their primary motivator for modernization and change. I hope you’ll join me.

How to Lead Change (Part 2)

Change is hard work. Those who don’t think organizational change is risky and problematic should stop and put themselves in the shoes of those being affected by the change.  Considering multiple viewpoints is important to successfully managing change. In reality, the only way you can know just how difficult change is to the organization is to solicit honest feedback from all of the people involved during the period of change.

In my last blog, Leading the Change, we discussed how personal change can be — even if it is corporate transformational change. For most people, it still boils down to the individual consideration of “what’s in it for me?”

In this blog, we’ll discuss change competency. How well are we, as leaders, prepared to lead change? Is there anything we can do to lead and direct transformation better in ways that acknowledge the risks and rewards of change? For this conversation, it may be best to start with a frank assessment of our own skills and experience with transformational change.

Skills and Experience

Even confident leaders aren’t necessarily convinced that they have the competency to accomplish change. Almost 60% of managers say they don’t have the right experience to guide them. This isn’t a negative statistic from the standpoint of self-knowledge, think about it, how many managers or leaders have been apart or even lead a change initiative Those who recognize their lack of experience are probably better equipped to take measured steps toward approaching change.  Self-awareness of one’s capabilities enables you to compensate and take action. This includes education and partnering with people with change experience. Effective change managers should listen to their front line people and identify the change enablers. As we mentioned in our last blog, this may not mean simply listening to those who are one rung down on the organization chart, but identifying who their change leaders are by shepherding changes outside the organizational lines and leading in the white space. The real key is listening, and then responding to comments and perceptions so that concerns goes unanswered.

Effective change managers will also become champions of good ideas, no matter whose ideas they are. Periods of transformation are excellent times for setting aside internal politics in order to model responsiveness to innovative ideas. This will go a long way toward building loyalty within transformative projects.

See also: How to Lead Change in an Organization  

Part of a manager’s effectiveness during transformation will be measured in his or her ability to gain the trust and alignment needed to implement the change. So, loyalty and clear communication (“straight shooting”) work hand in hand.

The effective change manager needs to have one other trait that is vital — perseverance. As many as 70% of change management projects don’t make their way to completion. They falter on one of a dozen different hurdles. When changes seem too difficult or some aspect of transformation becomes daunting, OR, when some other outside fire or project seems to beg for priority, it is easy for a transformation program to lose steam and die. To be effective, managers must keep their eyes on the end goal and clearly recognize when other elements are threatening to impede.

Change Management Competency

The best way to stay on course and keep everyone focused on the end goals is to treat change management as an imperative from the standpoint of organizational commitment. Once it becomes an official project, it has to clearly succeed or fail. It won’t live in the nebulous void of possibility. Individuals and teams will be assigned. People will be responsible for its evaluation, design and deployment. A timeline will be made and adhered to.

Organizational Change Management will benefit from a team approach, with representation from the lines of business as well as administrative managers and supervisors. It must have senior level ownership, so that it can’t be prioritized out of existence. And, it should use a structured approach with the all of the processes, skills, leadership, project framework and structure of any other major initiative.  However, structure is not enough. Informal communications and leadership is the secret ingredient for success.

The one major difference, however, is that the change management process will likely contain process change. It takes a bit of change management to deploy change management. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise if change management teams do things differently. They may end up testing ideas that are employed later as a part of the new organizational framework. For example, most IT projects don’t take individuals into account. There is a goal. Everyone contributes to meeting the goal. In organizational change management, much more attention will be paid to communicating and mapping roles, looking at strengths, knowledge centers, and how these will be utilized more effectively under a new framework. Time will be allotted to simply understanding and communicating the changes. A driving success factor (and a good ongoing mantra) is “People are important.”

Understand the Change

For organizational change to be effective, people need to understand it. A communication plan will need to be part of the change management project plan. We’ll discuss more about communications in our next blog. For now, however, we can look at why deep understanding is so crucial to success.

Too often, companies communicate that change will be happening, but they don’t dole out enough information about the end result, transitional phases or even next steps. This method, or lack of method, breeds fear. Clarity regarding the high level vision all the way down to individual impact will dispel many fears and lead to efficient and effective work throughout the enterprise. The change management team will need to first clearly identify the Target Operating Model. From there, they will be able to understand changes that will occur along the way. This will include levels of change, such as how they might bring change excitement to the current corporate culture. It will include discussions regarding strategy and how multiple strategies may work, but there are reasons for employing the ones they end up choosing. Opening up conversations to why particular strategies are being employed will help keep naysayers from shooting holes in the plan — keeping conversations positive and helping stakeholders stay “on board” throughout the process.

Then, employing individual communication plans will further help people to understand the change and reduce fears. Will my next role have more work with fewer payoffs? Will I be gaining a new role, only to decrease in the level of satisfaction I get from what I do? Do I keep my power? Is someone going to be looking over my shoulder more? Hopefully, the answers to most of these questions will be positive. In most cases, the rewards for change, individually, are well worth the efforts involved. Those rewards should be communicated along with any potential risks and drawbacks.

In some cases, associates may see that they are possibly going to lose their jobs. These are real fears to conquer and insurers are wise to address those quickly, clearly, truthfully and often — even when the truthful answer is, “We aren’t sure yet,” or “Yes you will.” Open, honest communications enable the organization to put clear plans and incentives in place to treat people as they would want to be treated.

See also: The 4 Secrets to Managing Change  

Change isn’t easy. Wise organizations will adopt the philosophy that, “We need to give these changes an adequate amount of time, thought and effort.” Majesco helps clients create a vision for the Target Operating Model by looking at how an insurer’s people, technology and process will shift in positive ways. We look at outcomes, such as modernization/rationalization, what business information will look like using company dashboards and improved data tools. We help insurers envision what a no touch/low touch business process will be like. We also assist insurers in creating a positive framework for Organizational Change Management.

In my next blog, we’ll look at some of the practical aspects of change, including adapting the change program over time, the methods of communication that should be employed, and managing risk throughout the process.