Middle managers in the organisation seems to be particularly troubled by digital transformation
This is the fourth article in our special series on the Digital Journey.
Going digital requires a lot of change management, and perhaps more time and energy is spent here than on anything else. Why would that be the case? As we’ve discussed in the earlier parts of this series, organisations on the digital journey may need to rethink core roles and processes. The result is that as much as companies may aim for external disruption in these changes, there is also likely to be severe internal disruption. This is why “cool” digital ideas may not seem so cool or friendly to internal stakeholders. In fact, they may be very hostile. Also, these changes may involve deeper learning curves, with initial losses of efficiency and/or effectiveness, as the core system is in transition (i.e. things are likely to get worse first before they get better, and the trough potentially deeper than other sorts of change). Finally, the integration needs of digitising companies may be greater than other forms of change, with more unintended consequences of digital changes (i.e. knock-on effects to other systems and processes or partners).
For these reasons, the journey may be a bumpy one. The pace and extent of change can unsettle staff and manifest itself in the form of resistance, and according to our interviews with digitising companies, that resistance can be especially strong among middle managers. This level in the organisation seems to be particularly troubled by digital transformation. But this begs the question of why? Is the reasoning fairly obvious (digitisation as a threat) or is more going on? We found, in fact, three factors.
The first reason we came across was certainly the perceived threat of the change. For example, one participant explained that the shift for organisations to be driven by data and analytics is a direct assault on middle managers sense of control. “You're basically saying your customer is your expert now and your customer knows what's best. Maybe what [managers] thought was the right thing to do doesn't matter as much anymore,” said one. There is also the threat of learning new technologies.
The second reason is seemingly obvious but underappreciated: time. Time to learn, to set up new routines or collaborate more broadly is now of the essence. But the lives of most middle managers are filled with meetings, reports and a bureaucracy that they need to feed on a daily basis. Who has time for retooling? They are also shackled to metrics and legacy incentives that focus them on near-term results or legacy processes. This leaves middle management with little time to get up to speed with other organisational initiatives. One interviewee told us “we don’t really have a reward system for things like that [involvement in digital initiatives]”. Ultimately, meeting their official targets is what they are appraised on. “It’s a time and a priority issue,” they continued.
The third is value. Middle management may resist for the simple reason that a digital idea or initiative lacks value. Organisations can certainly be swept up in what appear to be game-changing new technologies that might not become big hits. Therefore, digital leaders need to be careful not to confuse personal threat and rigidity “resistance” with honest “questioning” of the value proposition behind a new digital initiative.
[This article is republished courtesy of INSEAD Knowledge
http://knowledge.insead.edu Copyright INSEAD 2010]