How to manage culture shock when driving digital transformation.

One of the biggest challenges affecting businesses in the 21st Century is how to manage the rapid rate of technological change required to stay in business. 

Digital transformation in a business is often not a choice, but a necessity. In fact, the larger and more complex a business, the more of a technological shift may be necessary. This pressure to change from manual procedures to skill-based digital processes often comes as a culture shock to many employees.

What Is Digital Transformation? 

Digital transformation, also known as DT or DX, is the use of digital technology to solve a business problem.  

For instance, printing a magazine requires the use of expensive equipment, huge rolls of paper, and a large workforce, but a digital app like Flipboard, underwritten by The Chemin Group, has made it far more cost-effective and efficient to provide text and graphics through an Internet-based device. 

Another example is cloud computing. Previously, a business had to invest heavily in its computer infrastructure—hardware, software, and networks—to be competitive. Moreover, there was always the risk of slow maintenance of hardware or using outdated software versions. Now, cloud-based services make all these technological problems irrelevant.  

Challenges of Initiating a Digital Transformation 

Tremendous confusion is likely to arise when first driving digital transformation in the workplace.  

Management book authors, Thomas H. Davenport and George Westerman succinctly describe the challenges of digital transformation: “Digital transformation is an ongoing process of changing the way you do business. It requires foundational investments in skills, projects, infrastructure, and often in cleaning up IT systems. It requires mixing people, machines and business processes.” 

Making dramatic changes of any kind is difficult for most human beings, including those grouped in a company that has evolved its own corporate culture over decades.

Initiating change on a grand scale is difficult. Sometimes employees are not always open to doing things in different ways. Sometimes a few find it difficult to learn abstract concepts in training. Managers, too, are often bewildered by the use of new data management technologies, such as how to deploy Business Intelligence (BI) tools.

The problem is not the technology itself nor is it accepting why technological innovation is necessary for the business to survive. The problem is overcoming all the psychological issues arising from coping with massive change.

A Framework for Introducing New Technology

While there are many learning techniques available to manage rapid technological change, some like contextual assistance, visual analytics, and continuous training drastically reduce the sharp learning curve.

1. Contextual Assistance 

Contextual assistance is usually defined as context-sensitive help. In other words, supplying the right information at the right time. Information on what to do and how to do it is especially useful during on-the-job training. This type of help may be in the form of a user document at a workstation. For instance, an employee learning how to use a new piece of software might find it useful to refer to a help file or explainer videos or computer-based training module to clarify certain concepts or explain what steps to take.

2. Visual Analytics 

Visual analytics makes it easier to comprehend data. Interpreting a stream of real-time data can be confusing if the information is presented as a stream of statistics. Using an interactive visual interface enhances a user’s ability to grasp the information. It’s easier, for instance, to understand data on a visual chart than to read a row of figures in a table.

3. Continuous Training 

Sending a professional trainer into the workplace to show employees how a new technology works is rarely effective by itself. This live training needs to be followed up by continuous training. This additional training does not have to be live. It can be digital. Continuous training helps clear up bewilderment. An employee might not have understood key concepts in the first place or may have misunderstood certain ideas or even completely forgotten what they were taught.

To sum up, people at all levels of an organization might resist digital transformation despite its obvious necessity because such a change is messy. Some useful frameworks for normalizing the new technology include implementing learning-enhancing techniques such as contextual assistance, visual analytics, and continuous training.