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Why every digital transformation needs a business psychologist?

Earlier this month, I was invited to give a talk to members, at the ABP’s annual conference. I’d been wanting to more fully explore why 70% of digital transformations fail and this offered an excellent opportunity to do a deep dive into the people side of change with a clear focus to inspire my audience, with a potential new business win. 

In preparation, I arranged to speak to a handful of, mostly consultants, who partner with organisations that are “digitally” transforming, a mix of digital architects and agile coaches. Bottom line, not one of them had worked in a team where the client had requested a business psychologist, neither had they costed a biz psychologist at the front end of the project. And yet, they all agreed that digital transformation is about; people, connection, relationships, not technology. 

“Because the transformation of human behaviours cannot be coded. Machines do not feel, people do. Because it’s about people, not machines” – Tobias Mayer, Transformation Advisor 

Digital transformation, in a nutshell means, strategic changes in the business model. All change, however short lived brings with it a people impact – fear, expectations, will I lose my job? For example; digitising customer and employee journeys has a massive impact on how humans will interact (or not) with each other. So why is the impact on humans is so often under estimated, undervalued? 

There are essentially, two reasons for the high fail rate of digital transformation programmes. Firstly, a lack of vision; and the prerequisite even, to articulating a future state, the ability to answer this question – why does this organisation exist? Even more critical, the vision needs to have emotional resonance. A lack of a meaningful vision simply means, people won’t come with you on the journey. Sadly, communication is so often neglected and yet, it has the single biggest influence on change success. The core messaging, needs to connect with something employees actually care about. I love this quote…

“There is no power greater for change than a community discovering what it cares about” – Margaret J Wheatley 

The second reason why digital transformation programmes fail, is change fatigue. Let’s face it transformation is no longer A to B, then stop. Enter the infinite organisation and wave upon wave of change. It’s never ending. This is somewhat at odds with human wellbeing. Humans need to stop, rest and recover. Human energy is a finite resource. This is where biz psychologists bring enormous value to a digital transformation, because change fatigue is not inevitable. I saw this first hand, working with a CTO and his senior team. The big win was building trust and psychological safety, particularly across functions. Trust powers both speed and change resiliency. 

The psychological dimension of transformation needs to be addressed at both the individual and the collective level. Business psychologists are adept at working with clients to shift individual mindsets (beliefs, emotions, values), expressed as behavioural change. Just as important, is tackling culture change (social norms, common beliefs, shared values) expressed as system change. These are all critical elements, of a successful, holistic transformation process.  

Digital transformation offers organisations the promise of enormous competitive advantage. However, on the flip side, there are significant risks when organisations fail to support people to make appropriate mindset and behavioural shifts. By investing in the expertise of business psychologists and coaches upfront you mitigate that risk. The big win for organisations is change resiliency, meaning, you save money later in the process. When employees are given the opportunity to do the inner work, they move to a place of psychological strength – “I love ambiguity”. Emotional fitness has a direct and positive impact across; decision-making, learning velocity, collaboration and agility; unlocking the imagination premium.  

Written by Catherine De La Poer

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