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Why technology-led change doesn’t automatically guarantee success

No-Brainer Alert: Technology is so deeply embedded in our lives, we now take it for granted.

It’s a simplistic statement, but the reality is we increasingly look to technology as the ‘answer’ to any challenge, or worse, as a short-cut to getting results. This heightened expectation is understandable; technology is helping lead us to new, exciting and tangible areas of opportunity. There is no sector (public or private) that isn’t embracing the usability and workability of technology.

Here comes the, ‘But’ part of the piece.

Technology’s power is less impactful for organisations preparing for change.

The accelerating pace of technological change means that digital capability is now core to effective business for organisations, so digital transformation is a big-ticket item. Given the scale of investment required and the need to re-think operating models through a digital ‘lens’, a technology-led approach is often positioned as the starting point and driver for fundamental organisational change.

But what can get ‘de-prioritised’ is the critically important human aspect of transformation. To address people and change, the ‘change management work stream’ will typically include communications because people need to be engaged with the process they are going through, and its objectives. Unfortunately this can be more of a box-ticking exercise than a deep and engaging approach that helps people see themselves in the change.

Ask any employee in a large enterprise and you’ll invariably hear about successive change programs, re-inventions and transformations. This is because the majority fail to achieve their objectives (failure rates are an eye-popping 60-80%). Clearly transformation isn’t a one-off event, yet even with the advent of technology-led transformation, failure rates haven’t dropped dramatically. At the very least, this should lead any well-managed business to question the efficacy of a technology-led approach.

Flip the Focus: Take a people-first approach, supported by technology.

If it’s so important that we need to keep doing it in the face of consistent under-delivery, maybe the focus should be on developing the organisational capabilities that will support a successful outcome, and making this the priority. The significant impact of technological change makes a logical argument for the focus on technology-driven transformation. But when the model of change isn’t delivering the required outcomes, there’s a case to be made for reversing our thinking and actually starting with the most important component: the people who will be making the change a consistent and valuable reality.

Because change is a constant, organisations need the ability and agility to adapt to the new normal – the perpetual change environment. In this dynamic, there must be an organisational mindset and environment where people can adapt and innovate. If the prevailing view favours technology-led transformation, a process and procedurally driven model will exclude the very people needed to make it a success: those with the capacity and capability to drive continuous change, re-think, re-invent and maintain high levels of curiosity and courage.

A people-led transformation recognises that human behaviour is the key to improved performance; where the driving mindset is very different from that which relies on inherently linear and inflexible world-view of process, certainty and continuity. When people are the forefront, transformation can become part of a sustainable process, and technology can play its most valuable role: as the support people need to deliver the best outcome.