The science of change management is built on the human brain, and the processes and structures that we all share. But that doesn't mean every human brain will react to change in quite the same way.
When that change feels both sweeping and intimate - like, say, the way digital transformation alters both an entire company and the ways each individual does their work - those reactions are heightened. The differences between individuals make themselves felt all the more strongly. As anyone who has been part of a major organizational change knows, it can sometimes feel like people are speaking different languages about the upsides and downsides of change.
Fortunately, you can broadly group those individuals into four major change personas, with different motivations, emotional drives, and most importantly, ways to win them over. If your digital transformation hits a rough patch, understanding these personas will give managers the clues to getting the process back on track.
The Early Adopters: your digital transformation champions
What they want: to be part of innovative, forward-thinking changes. In some cases, this is a matter of temperament; many of your Early Adopters at work are probably also the folks with the latest gadgets at home. But in other cases, Early Adopters are just more aware of the current issues that make digital transformation a necessity.
How they feel: more tolerant of risk, more comfortable with uncertainty, more optimistic, and less fearful of change than the other groups. It's not that Early Adopters are unaware of the risks of change. They just believe the benefits will be worth the risks. And they're more confident that any problems that arise can be solved.
How Early Adopters drive digital transformation: they'll be out ahead of the pack, innovating, rallying others, making the case. Their optimism and belief in the benefits of change also makes Early Adopters likely to lead in solving the inevitable problems that do arise.
How to win them over: you don't need to convince Early Adopters of the benefits of change. But you do need to keep them engaged and invested in the digital transformation process. Give these people as much responsibility as possible. Let them be the face of the change to their co-workers. Enthusiastic Early Adopters are your best allies. Elevate them whenever you can.
The Engaged Skeptics: where's the evidence?
What they want: to be convinced that the digital transformation plan makes sense. To see that management has done its due diligence. To be sure that the benefits will actually materialize and the drawbacks can be overcome.
How they feel: chances are, they've been burned before. Over 70% of digital transformations fail, according to McKinsey. We've all been there: the company rolls out some big change with tons of fanfare, only for it to quietly fizzle out. So while Engaged Skeptics understand the need for change, they want to know the plan is sound before they'll commit to it.
How Engaged Skeptics drive digital transformation: any project the scope of a digital transformation needs tough questions to identify pitfalls and improve the process. They're not always easy but Engaged Skeptics can be a big asset if you take their contributions in that spirit.
How to win them over: lay out your case with data. Listen to their questions and their insights. Don't misunderstand their motivations: they want the benefits of change, but not at any cost. If you can convince them, Engaged Skeptics can be some of your strongest champions.
The Hesitant Majority: show me it's safe first
What they want: predictability and minimal disruption. They don't necessarily vocally resist change, but they're slow to embrace new technology and processes until they see that others have, without disaster ensuing.
How they feel: the Hesitant Majority doesn't want to lose what they have now, especially for something potentially worse. According to Prospect Theory, the pain of losing is a stronger feeling than the satisfaction of gaining something of the same or even higher value. It's a near-universal human tendency. That's why this group is the largest of these four change personas.
How the Hesitant Majority drives digital transformation: their concerns can remind leaders to keep their focus on the practical. And the Hesitant Majority can be a useful counterweight to the "move fast and break things" mentality of innovators - as long as it's always clear that the change is happening and there's no going back.
How to win them over: first, give them time and space to get comfortable with change. Theoretical arguments and past data won't do it. A coercive or punitive approach will only trigger their amygdala's fight or flight responses even more. But also, stay firm. Make clear that digital transformation is working, it's the new status quo, and it's nothing to be afraid of. This is the most crucial of these personas to win over for a successful digital transformation. Getting the Hesitant Majority on board is the turning point to overcoming organizational resistance.
The Naysayers: if it ain't broke...
What they want: for the change not to happen at all. Sometimes it takes the form of openly challenging the need for any digital transformation plan. Other times it can be expressed as doubts about organizational capabilities, or questions about specific details, or hypothetical "what ifs". But under it all is a deep and fundamental resistance to change itself.
How they feel: more extreme versions of the same emotions that drive Engaged Skeptics and the Hesitant Majority. For Naysayers, skepticism and cautiousness have hardened into outright rejection of change. The discussion around digital transformation can become an emotionally charged battlefield, standing in for all the Naysayer's fears about change itself.
How Naysayers drive digital transformation: they don't. And Naysayers in leadership positions can drive it backwards. Since Engaged Skeptics and the Hesitant Majority share some of the same motivations, an influential Naysayer can undermine confidence in the process and make it extremely difficult to win over those personas.
How to win them over: let's be honest: some Naysayers will never change their minds. But some can be brought around by the same tactics used for the Hesitant Majority and Engaged Skeptics: time, space, demonstrated effectiveness, a strong empirical case. As with all these cases, listening is always helpful - if only so you understand what other employees are hearing from Naysayers.
Digital transformation without tears
It's just a fact that humans are wired to be suspicious of change. And it's also a fact that even the most well-intentioned, well-planned change is still a step into the unknown for most of the people involved. Keep in mind that everyone has their reasons for how they react to change.
By staying sensitive to those emotions, managers can amplify the positive impulses, manage the fearful ones, and communicate meaningfully to each of the four change personas. The journey to successful digital transformation is not necessarily easy or linear, but it is possible to get the organization as a whole feeling good about the destination.
How do we know? Because we've helped implement digital transformation for organizations of all sizes, across industries and continents, touching hundreds of thousands of employees. We're WNDYR, and we specialize in bringing your people and your technology together so you can work more efficiently with less stress. Contact us today. We're ready to help.