Digital Transformation - is Change Management the key to success? by Ron Leeman

OK here we go again … why this article?

Lot’s of stuff on LinkedIn recently about Digital Transformation … here are just a few examples:

I have also recently sold quite a few copies of my “A Comprehensive Guide to Digital Transformation” on … get it here (shameful plug) ... it's a "best seller".

Before we start as always let me give you a few definitions of "Digital Transformation":

I like the last one but then again I would because I'm biased

So I started my usual journey of discovery and back onto my trusted Google I went using the search string “digital transformation” … guess what … 302,000,000 hits … aaaaaarrrrrggggghhhhhhhhh!

However, one initial thing I found of interest was this:

In 2017 Gartner said “Four years into the digital shift, we find ourselves at the ‘peak of inflated expectations’, and if the Gartner Hype Cycle teaches us anything, a trough is coming. Disillusionment always follows a period of extreme hype.”

What the hell is the Gartner Hype Cycle?

That’s a mighty big drop to take but with all of the hype ... but I kind of get the thinking here. 

OK time for a step back to ask myself where exactly am I going with this article? Well, to be honest I haven't got a damn clue so I'll leave it there for the time being and collect my thoughts ... see you soon.

Hello I'm back (after about 3-months) and my thinking is now that Digital Transformation and Change Management go hand-in-hand. With that in mind, I went back to the drawing board and expanded my Google search string to "Digital Transformation and Change Management".

Guess what I still got still 122,000,000 hits but one of the first ones I got was this interesting one:

That kind of follows my own philosophy.

But reading all of the stuff on LinkedIn Digital Transformation now appears to have morphed into a bit of a beast and has become a “catch all” banner for the implementation of any IT related products and services.

So to try and make sense of it all let's break down the two words "Digital" and "Transformation" shall we:

  • Digital … is really about communication between electronic devices because the devices talk to each other using binary code, and binary means using ones and zeros. And that’s what Digital is … ones and zeros. So Digital is another way of talking about the whole technology landscape e.g. Information and Communications Technology, Phones, Computers, Printers, Tablets etc.
  • Transformation … is not just a change but a much more profound and radical process which turns an organization in a new direction and takes it to an entirely different level. It is a complete makeover where the end result is completely different to what it looked like at the beginning. It will touch all parts of an organization and result in a business model shift and wholesale changes to people, process and technology.

This means, on one hand, you can have a single instance of an ERP implementation that only impacts a proportion of an organisation's people but on the other hand, you can have an all embracing organisation wide transformation that will impact everyone.

No wonder there is so much confusion!

Back to the 122,000,000 hits ... how do you decide what will or won't be of interest to my readers? Well, my mantra is that if it interests me it might just interest others so from that perspective here are some extracts from the first couple of pages of Google:


Change Management Versus Digital Transformation Demystified

“A recurrent question I receive is about what the difference between Change Management and Digital Transformation is. The simplest answer I provide is that Change Management is one part of Digital Transformation.”


Change Management for Digital Transformation

“Change Management for technology previously used to be applied in what could be referred to as the last mile.

“When you were implementing the technology you would focus a lot on the process and then look at what the impact will be on the people then you would evaluate that impact and compose a change management plan”

With digital transformation, though, Change Management has become a first mile step. Before you take on any aspect of a digital transformation project the leading practice is to get people to have that conversation about the change ahead.”


Change management for successful digital transformations

“Frequent digital transformations are the result of increased business demands stemming from evolving technology and the requirements of constantly improving productivity – this causes firms to implement new systems that require fast adoption by its employee base.

Because this shift the resulting the need for Change Management is now very prevalent across sectors and disciplines an the ability to drive these projects is becoming an important competency for most management roles in modern organizations.”


Change management for digital transformation: What's different?

“Digital transformation will fundamentally change your company's mission-critical processes and operations. Done right, it changes the way your company, works, thinks and addresses challenges. If you want to change the game as CIO, you need a Change Management plan that addresses culture as much as technology.”


And yes there has been a previous article written on the subject here on LinkedIn (recognize the graphic … LOL)”

“Digital transformation creates deeper and broader change, using more agile methodologies that involve multiple stakeholders. The role of change management needs to evolve to provide a more integrated view and shifts in focus for some change levers, but the quintessential role of helping people transition will remain an important contributor to digital transformation success.”

So there we have it ... Change Management for Digital Transformation.

Moving on ...

From a Change Management perspective digital uses new technologies to change business processes and business models. It may involve doing the things you already do differently and more efficiently, for example by automating processes, or doing radically new things – supported by technology. It is changing models and processes that gives digital the predicate “disruptive”.

As with any other business or technology innovation, sound thinking and solid business cases need to be applied to digital. Most organizations start tactically using digital to improve their customer experience, but once they have had gathered their first experiences, they are ready to take a more strategic approach.

So how should you start your digital journey?

Successful corporate Digital Transformation starts with leadership embracing technology. Digital Transformation is often pushed to the IT department, but this is a big mistake. It will affect the entire enterprise, so every department needs to be prepared to adjust their workflows, ways of working and processes accordingly. If Digital Transformation is done right, it starts at the top and moves down throughout the organisation.

Should you have a digital strategy?

Too damn right you should. A digital strategy should be focused on utilising digital technologies to better serve one particular group of people (customers, employees, partners, suppliers, etc.) or to serve the needs of one particular business group (HR, Finance, Marketing, Operations, etc.).

The most successful organizations have a very clear vision and understanding of why they exist and the value they bring to customers and the very reason for transformation. They also clearly communicate such vision both internally and externally. But people are the weakest link in any Change Management effort, therefore, involving the right people is critical, as they will be an invaluable source of knowledge, business direction/insight and support etc.

But who are these "right people" and why are they so critical in Digital Transformation?

From my research I have found that there are five kinds of "right people:






As organisations focus on building a structure and process to drive digital change they must not forget their people who are the one constant in any change or transformation. Given this there is a need to create and execute a plan to grow a base of great digital talent. Natural attributes such as openness and willingness to collaborate are essential. One of the truths of Digital Transformation is that it is happening to every industry in one way, shape or form. There is no company that is too small or large to be unaffected by the forces of digital disruption. And the changes have been extraordinarily swift and brutal. The market has spoken; companies that are effectively managing Digital Transformation using Change Management as the driver are winning in the market, and ones that aren’t, well, aren’t. 


I started work for the UK’s MoD and after completing intensive training at the Royal Military College of Science, Shrivenham (now the UK’s Defence Academy) I worked for them as a Work Study Practitioner, and Organisation and Methods Officer which involved observing people working, making changes to ways of working and then measuring them to determine efficiencies. I call this the forerunner of Change Management. Following the MoD I had a stint with Abbey National BS/Abbey as a Business Analyst, Productivity Consultant and Senior Business Consultant. After Abbey, I started as an Independent Change Management Consultant and worked in many industry sectors but all involving change in some way, shape, or form. I now live in Thailand where I continue my change work such as researching matters of interest concerning change, coaching & mentoring for change management and authoring consulting frameworks and business templates. I still do the odd project in the Region just to keep “my hand in”. In 2012 I was recognised as a Change Leader by the World HRD Congress.