Digital change: stay tuned after implementation to ensure adoption!

Only 10% is tech, the other 90% change. Implementation is easy, but digital adoption the real – and underestimated – challenge.

Visit any kind of library and you will find dozens of these words of wisdom in the still-growing collection of (change) management books. Digital transformation and the secret to making it happen are nowadays common language and calculated in the daily cost for a lot of companies. (Digital) change consultants fly from project to project, eager to implement all different digital tools. However, just when it starts to get thrilling, when it’s about to get uncomfortable in order to make the real adoption happen within the organization, they are diverted to start another implementation.

I am a big fan of flying, but not between projects. I stick around. Over the past two years I have traveled around the world as Implementation and Change Manager to support local teams in their digital transformation of workforce scheduling. Two years ago, I could count the number of countries I supported on one hand. Now this digital change is occurring in more than 15 countries. What’s the secret to success? I say put some more flesh on the bones and focus not only on implementation but also on ongoing investments  during the adoption phase. This not only generates true global relationships but also pays off in achieving the desired change, I promise you. 

So who are the key stakeholders to drive the digital change successfully, you might ask? Based on best practices and learnings, I will discuss the three parties that should remain engaged for a while and explain how to include them digitally. We are undergoing a digital transformation, after all. 

 1. directors, roll up your sleeves

Most of the time, it’s the country director or another top manager who is mandating the use of a new digital tool but often after signing the deal, he is out of the picture. It’s up to the business owner or implementation team to make it happen. The why, when and how of the initiative is mostly not (well) cascaded into the organization. In contrast, teams whose country or managing director was involved from the very beginning – from the practical startup of the digital transformation – are more successful during the intensive pilot phase. They are able to prove with a small test group the usability and success of the tool before scaling. Involvement from the director in this matter doesn’t mean walking in for the first five minutes, providing a welcome talk or sipping coffee from the distance.
I found it is participating in the full kick-off, sharing his doubts and challenges to be faced and defining the action plan and ambitions alongside the implementation team, that is going to make the biggest difference. 

live vs. virtual participation

It is always a challenge to find a spot in the busy agenda of the boss. Nevertheless, joining forces (director + implementation team) from the start and having all the same knowledge and goals shared are must-haves. Therefore, being there in person is a prerequisite to onboarding the teams of new countries. And experience shows it pays off - in teams where this was the case - the outcomes were much better. If in-person participation is only partially possible, we used the director's voice in another way to show involvement. These steps included sharing a written quote and/or sharing the reason behind the choice of this implementation prior to the start. This increased the involvement of the implementation team and facilitated  faster and better communications. 

2. managers - don’t forget the emotional & social drivers

Even with the director on board, he isn’t the one that the implementation team is working with on a daily basis. Within the organization, there is the important middle management layer who has a huge say in embedding change in the organization. Not engaging this influential group - both internally and externally - would be a shame. But how can you best achieve this? Before I get to that, let me take a sidestep first:

Frequently, while conducting sales or convincing people to use a new (digital) tool, we tend to list all the new and innovative functionalities that make a solution unique. We focus on the functional characteristics and how to handle them, instead of the effect it has on the way we work, act or feel. Looking at it from such an emotional or social point of view is not in our elevator pitch. But think of the last car or handbag you bought. Was the choice really based on the functionalities it had – to bring you from point A to B or to transport your bottle of water? Or do you admit that it was all about the look and feel, the cool brand and the match with your outfit? Now we are talking about your emotions, and that is what makes you tick.

Now back to the mid-level managers. The same applies for changing a way of working: a manager will have a more meaning- and successful conversation with his team about the change if it touches upon the emotional and social aspects of the job. What are the most meaningful tasks of his team members, are these impacted, and how? Will it change their work-life balance? In my experience, sharing this approach with different management groups and asking them these questions results in a lot of ”aha” moments. By realizing what really motivates people to change in the first place - other than functional reasons - you can steer changes.

live vs. virtual participation 

This is the main topic for middle management training. They are typically next in line for training in the organizational change. Getting them all in one room is always preferred in terms of interaction. A good template to capture and differentiate the emotional, social and functional parts of the job of those affected by the change is the Value Proposition Canvas (VPC). Filled out by (cooperating) managers can lead to great results. In one of our training exercises we used this template to challenge managers with often heard counter-arguments of those resistant to change. We asked them how they could best respond. Instead of mandating adoption - that can lead to aversion - how could they support their team? Live role-playing was rated as being very useful, but in a virtual setting not always possible. The digital alternative? Explain the theory behind the VPC in a webinar and show some examples. Let them do the exercise together with their team. It brings all the perspectives and arguments to the table and is a good team-building activity

3. global spindle - no need to reinvent the wheel locally 

Working for an international company means dealing with different cultures, languages and standards. Which buttons to push to activate change will differ per market and may vary within each country. But change is everywhere and putting all practices together of what works and what doesn’t certainly results in some more popular routines than others. 

Best practices can be replicated in other countries. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. However, to make a local best practice usable for others – to translate it or convert it into a standard format – requires time. And time is always lacking in daily operational business. It is certainly not the number one priority of the local implementation team. But is this worth the investment in a global (neutral) support team that acts as linking pin? Definitely! 

A neutral team whose core business is to support all countries equally helps establish a global footprint. This is a better approach than driving change out of one local team. Feedback showed us that a global team is appreciative when all (implementation) teams have access to the same amount of information, material and support of all kind of expertise if locally unavailable. Such an approach improves not only the local change but also connects local teams to the global network. Being part of international change is inspirational and motivating. 

The function of linking pin worked out well: after the connection was made, local teams reached out to each other much faster without needing additional global intervention. The increasing collaboration involved both the local implementation teams as well as the management layer. It forced bottom-up global operational collaboration as opposed to the more top-down collaborative approach.

live vs virtual participation 

With companies cutting back on travel, it’s a given that change will be driven virtually more and more. How do you create the best connection despite the distance? Like being in the same office and starting the day with a short check-in with the team, plan short catch-up calls to touch upon project status, and discuss if and where support is needed. The frequency can be adjusted to the needs of the team. Next to these 1-1 moments between global and local stakeholders, we organized a global catch-up once every six weeks in which all the involved teams came together to show what they have achieved and learned. The added value? It will help you to  feel a part of the international network, get inspired by colleagues around the globe and provide the best ideas for your own practice.

like running a full marathon

So like completing a marathon which requires a lot of training and fuel, change will not happen over a short sprint. Implementation is the first 21 kilometers, but the second and hardest part is the adoption phase in which the real change happens. It can not only be executed by the implementation team but will need to happen with cross-organizational cooperation from the director and involved management. Each party should be a co-runner, not a cheerleader next to the race-lane. Does the change involve crossing borders? Then appoint a global support team consisting of members with different expertise. With all these parties truly involved from the start to the end, I believe that you won’t hit a wall and reach the finish line.

Judith Wiarda

Implementation & Change Manager

Judith Wiarda, Implementation & Change Manager at Randstad Global’s Digital Factory, passionate about people and change, proud owner of two pairs of ASICS runners yearly to cross the finish lines of races all around the world, pacer & volunteer for Running Blind.