Transforming Change Management for Digital Success– Open Mind to Open Heart

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Change Management for a digital transformation can be more effective if it endeavours to go beyond achieving an ‘open mind’ (mindset change that emphasizes skill) to ‘open heart’ (that emphasizes will, an earnest desire to service and solve problems for the customers).

Today’s businesses are experiencing fundamental shifts around them as they encounter emergence of new businesses, changing customer preferences and surfacing of startups that threaten the established structures. Incumbents attempt to address these challenges by transforming themselves and increasing the pace of their digital investments, some succeed and some falter.

A crucial lever that determines success from failure of transformations is the way Change Management (CM) is orchestrated. However, it may be puzzling at times as to why even a regimental CM would come unstuck resulting in under-utilized investments or people reverting to old ways of working. As organizations learn from failures, it is being increasingly realized that for transformative programs like digital, companies should move away from conventional CM that is project based to a radically different approach of perpetual change.

This article attempts to illustrate further thinking on the approach to CM. True, businesses understand that in order to achieve transformation and embrace the new order, it is important to effect a mindset change among the workforce. While this intention is well placed, considering the moderate results, it may seem that this approach is inadequate.  Can they do more? Possibly yes.  Companies should strive to move from merely effecting a mindset change (the skill that opens their mind to new possibilities of business) to achieving a heartfelt change (the will that opens their hearts to servicing their customers).

Why is the need to transition from just a mindset change to heartfelt change? Traditional CM tends to largely emphasize the ‘technical side’ of the transformation that covers the business processes and technology enablement. While the relevance is understood, the question is whether they actually inspire the workforce to portray the sincere desire, the willingness and the empathy towards servicing their customers.

When customers are spoilt for choices, companies can hardly afford any gaps in overall experience across brands, functions and even geographical locations. They try to do the impossible of achieving standards of operations across these areas and hence design CM to promote the standards. Instead, if CM effort is oriented towards encouraging an ‘open heart’ culture that is people-centric, employees will find ways of localizing them towards serving their customers.

Traversing from Open Mind to Open Heart

The journey from Open Mind to Open Heart is complex. How can companies guide their employees in this transition? There are atleast 4 fundamental shifts they need to accomplish.

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Shifting to Synergized Working from Siloed operations

When companies invest in transformation engagements they attempt to perfect the different functions of the organisation such as sales, customer service or logistics. In this quest, they tend to trip on the much needed coordination among these functions.  When the coordination fails due to lack of information or poor understanding of the problem, even the well designed customer-centric strategy would fail leading to dissatisfaction and churn.

As customers, we may have experienced co-ordination gaps in our own interactions with our service providers.  We have may have had excellent interactions when our transactions fall into regular categories but seen it reverse when we report a problem and trying to get it solved.  We would wish that our service providers put more ‘heart’ to solve the than leaving us in frustration.

CM should encourage appreciation and learning of challenges of peer functions and more importantly inculcate willingness among the teams to move across functions or to collaborate to solve customer issues. This could sometimes require the individual functions to give up their metrics and work towards the tasks on hand.

Elevating to Empathizing from Engaging with Customers

As noted earlier, digital investments tend to over emphasize the business and technical side of the implementation and assume that the attraction of new technologies is enough to motivate the employees to change. The higher dose technicalities force employees to follow pre-defined scripts –newly developed possibly – than acquiring capabilities to deeply understand customer situations. In other words, the employees are trained to ‘engage’ with customers more efficiently than ‘empathize’ with them to understand their needs.

CM interventions should attempt to bring a perpetual shift that is high on empathy and educate the employees to look at issues from customer perspectives and their own roles from customers’ point of view.  Empathy encourages adopting different approaches and levels of interaction for different customers. A fundamental quality that helps in empathy is listening – one of the most undervalued skills.  A good listener would know when to stick to the script and when to move out to service a need by bringing necessary resources to the table.  Organizations would do well to encourage listening together as a team to a customer complaints or requirement in order to solve them and more importantly collectively learn together.

Empowering to Taking Decisions from Escalating Issues

When over standardization translates into capabilities, the employees would hesitate to move out of the script and simply escalate to the higher levels. The employees should be empowered to make decisions, say in customizing or providing solutions to the customers.  Moving away from standardization should be encouraged within a overarching but flexible framework. In the long run, companies would realize that local decision making will eventually be more successful than global standards.

Towards this, CM should structure teams in a way that brings them closer to the customer.  Customer proximity should be enabled by technology such as social media analytics, customer journey mapping etc.

Moving to Bottom-up from Top-Down Construct of Changes

Customer centricity would remain just a slogan if the employees were not accustomed and trained to act in a truly customer-centric way. To bring about a change, employees should be allowed to be willing participants in the planning and encouraged to devise ways of servicing the customers.  Including the employees in designing CM programs by putting them at the centre of the strategy and allowing them to own the execution can help overcome their resistance and arduous nature of change.

Achieving these Shifts

The journey to move from ‘open mind’ to ‘open heart’ is never easy and the rallying cry must start from the top.  The leadership should be united in the effort and reiterate the purpose and engage with employees as often as it could. Companies should follow certain guiding principles that include but not limited to direct involvement of leadership, an effective employee engagement, social influence and appropriate technologies need to come together towards achieving the shifts.   The employee engagement should take centre stage and the CM should include employee-wise development plans, team workshops and identify and resolve conflicts.  A weekly if not daily debriefing on the quality of customer interactions that highlights the listening aspects, dialogue and outcomes across all levels of the organization would help further nurture the desired behaviours.

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In order to keep pace with dynamics of the digital world, organizations need to adopt new ways of managing transformations and driving the change within. They need to enthuse and empower the employees to move closer to their customers and encourage being more empathetic to their needs.  Achieving such behaviours require altering fundamental structure and traits of the workforce and bringing new norms of working across the organizations. Skills (open mind) are no doubt critical but more than that the will (open heart) to service customers is crucial to lead in the digital era.

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About Raghuram S

I am a Management Consultant with over 25 years experience in the industry and run my own firm called Cohere Consulting since 2008 focusing on business strategy, IT advisory and program management. Prior to this I was with some of the top consulting firms in India including S.B. Billimoria, PricewaterhouseCoopers and IBM. I have participated in a number of strategy and IT delivery engagements across a wide range of industries including manufacturing, consumer products and IT Services. In addition to my consulting assignments, I also spend considerable time in industry research and teaching at premier management institutes. I am based out of Bangalore. I have an MCA from Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, Ranchi and an MBA from XLRI, Jamshedpur. I can be contacted at raghurams@cohereconsulting.com
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