Make Winners Out of Losers—Transformation Success Secret no. 3

     By definition, a transformation is a fundamental change to the organization that disrupts the status quo. The bigger the change, the greater the farther from the status quo of “work.” For instance, since the promise of digital transformation is to digitally streamline what is laboriously analog, the (collateral) damage to jobs is easy to see.

Transformation “Losers” see injury

     People whose jobs are impacted will at least perceive coming injury (their jobs radically diminished and devalued if not outright eliminated). They are the sacrificial losers.

     Everyone sees the winners because they are touted by transformation leaders in the “sell.” The real, direct winners typically include primary stakeholders for whom work will be more efficient: faster, cheaper, more integrated…

     The losers’ ox gets gored: it’s their work/job on the altar of efficiency, innovation, or strategic positioning. On first blush they see negatives; they see themselves as the casualty of benefits accruing to the “winners.” Maybe their job functions are no longer required in a digital world. Maybe they foresee being let go.

In an organizational transformation, "When your ox is about to get gored," it's reasonable to perceive injury.

     The most troubling situation for person and organization is when those to (obviously) be affected perceive being diminished but remaining. They are on a downward trajectory but will not get a “package” to leave and maybe cannot up and leave on principle.

     The is a material source of resistance to change. When unions are in a situation like this, expect very public job actions and labour law/contractual resistance. In non-unionized environments, where those are not easy to initiate or sustain, luddism light is the alternative: work to rule, quiet quitting, obstinate and outright refusal to adjust, etc.

No transformation is undertaken just to replicate what exists.

     This is, of course, just one example of why it’s best to avoid having losers. Sadly, sometimes it’s simply not possible to avoid and arguably even contrary to the point of the transformation. Digital transformations, for instance, is intended to upend analog processes by making information digital and using it in a way impossible when the information is analog. A proper digital transformation’s goal is not to replicate a physical system with digital technologies. No transformation is undertaken just to replicate what exists.

     Word processing was a digital transformation. A not insignificant one if one reviews the full 40-year history and evolution. It was not heavily resisted because nobody could truly, certainly not immediately foresee all the downstream effects. Everyone continued to act as before.  But now digital transformations go much deeper, much faster. They leap over the short-term “it doesn’t matter” stage. Losers see the loss coming.

Do losers have to be losers?

     I believe not. I base this on much experience placating or mollifying those who see only threat from an innovation. At first, I tried to put a good face on the situation, not even properly acknowledging the (collateral) damage. [BTW, I put (collateral) in brackets as an acknowledgement that while these are the unfortunates affected by the wrecker’s ball, it’s not like nobody realized it when planning.] It was always a hard talk. Those who feared loss smelled bullshit. They sensed I was there to cool them. They were right.

     Later I took to making their very real loss part of the transformation plan itself. Either the organization would be up-front and compensate them for their loss, or we would figure out how to make them whole. These were assets and resources that were obviously being underutilized. It was incumbent upon us to find a valuable use.

     A quick aside: some “losers” it’s not so bad to lose. The economy is large and sometimes people ought to shine elsewhere. Yet still some people whose work is no longer of value that can’t be fired, can’t be retrained, and can’t (or won’t) quit. These people are often given useless roles in dark corners in the hope they will eventually go away on their own. The cost is bearable, like shrink or fraud write-offs.

     Most employees that are losers in a transformation do not fit this mold. It is these people the digital transformation architects and change leaders must consider in their plans more fundamentally. The question is simple: How is the transformation (in its fullness) delivered so these “losers” also win?

     For example, how do we make practical the idea that the people doing work that will be eliminated (outsourced, automated…) truly enabled to do work higher up the value ladder? Every situation will have its own answer, but if reducing—or eliminating—resistance is a goal, you better think about it hard.

     Of course, this moves the hard work back to the design and development of the transformation and its changes. It makes that task more complex. But, it makes the transformation robust, addressing some key risks and contingencies associated with resistance. The bane of change managers (“resistance” for those just tuning in) is mitigated at least a little.

In a transformation, avoid creating losers

A transformation comprises a mass of little and big changes. Every change has the potential for resistance, which is the leading cause of project failure. If “losers” are resisters, then it only stands to (mathematical) reason that energy spent making sure that “losers” win, is time and energy well spent in the long run.



, ,



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Enjoy this content? Please spread the word :)