Effective change management in the digitalization of internal processes

Digitalization means many changes for companies, and suddenly demands are created that many companies are unprepared for. Change and conversion are always a challenge, especially the implementation and communication of new processes. Successful change management can help here.

Change management does not mean merely introducing changes directly, but also supervising this process from the initial state to the target state. The digitalization of your company in particular, also called digital transformation, brings with it many new procedures for your employees. This transition can be facilitated with change management.

John P. Kotter’s 8-step model


We humans have been dealing with the philosophy of change for centuries, and there are some proven strategies and theories to describe this process. For corporate change, a well-known theory is that of leadership management professor John P. Kotter, who presents the necessary steps for successful change management in 8 stages:

Stage 1

Generate a sense of urgency: Create awareness of the urgency for change among managers and employees.

Stage 2

Build a leadership team: Unite the leaders in a coalition and build up mutual trust. They act as role models and are recognized counselors within the company.

Stage 3

Develop a Vision of Change and strategies for implementing it: A broader vision for the company serves as a positive force and ensures that everyone works towards the same goal.

Stage 4

Communicate the vision of desired changes widely: All executives and employees must be reached and convinced.

Stage 5

Create empowerment on the broadest possible basis: If the employees themselves are allowed to take the initiative and act, this will increase motivation to push change.

Stage 6

Create short-term goals and achievements: Signs that the project is on the right path, must be visible and clear and communicated to all employees.

Stage 7

Secure achieved goals and successes, ensure further changes: profound changes take time. Newly introduced processes and structures must be continuously reviewed and adapted if they are found not to fit the new vision.

Stage 8

Anchor the achieved changes in the corporate culture: only when they are completely implemented can we speak of a successful change management process.

In addition to his model, Kotter points out that globalization increases the pressure to adapt to the business world. In the past, problems concerning the reorganization of work processes tended to be secondary, nowadays the demands of the market change more quickly, and good adaptability is essential to meet them. It is, therefore, particularly important to implement the change brought about by Industry 4.0 strategically.

Consistent implementation is the alpha and omega


According to the trend study on digitalization, carried out by Bitkom and others, more than a quarter of all companies say that lack of employee acceptance is a major barrier to digital transformation. Some strategies taken from Kotter’s model can remedy this:

1. Define goals clearly

Most employees do not see the problem in the new technology itself, but in the speed at which it is introduced and in their ignorance of what is actually changing. Since the term “digitalization” is loosely defined and involves different changes for each industry, it is particularly important to define and communicate your goals clearly.  Intermediate goals should also be determined, so that your employees can understand the process by experiencing continuous, measurable successes.

2. Make change tangible

There is no point in introducing new software if your employees are not able to handle it. Give your staff teams basic and advanced training, and reward the implementation of new processes. In addition, the entire process of change should be transparent, so that all members of your workforce are able to understand the changes and their urgency.

3. Think holistically

Do not limit change processes to individual departments: To integrate new structures permanently into the corporate culture, the old ones have to be broken up. Silo thinking should be abandoned within your company. If your teams work cross-departmentally using agile methodology, can set goals for themselves and experience success when doing so, it will be much easier to gain acceptance for planned changes.

Developments such as Industry 4.0 or globalization mean that changes, such as digital transformation, are becoming increasingly urgent. Adaptability is the key to remaining competitive and the necessary adjustments require accurate planning and management to keep your entire business moving.

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