15th December 2017

The digital leaders’ guide to high stakes digital transformation – Part 3

Andrew Larking
Creative Director

Winning hearts and minds.

We know that delivering successful digital change is a complex challenge for our clients. And we understand that it’s not enough to design and build transformative digital platforms – really effective digital transformation is about helping people change. 

This post explores some of the psychology behind resistance to change, and outlines proven techniques to build a coalition of the willing.

The three brains.

It's no secret that humans are an easily spooked animal. If you read any books on leadership, sales techniques, design theory, or behavioural psychology you'll likely have heard of the lizard brain, the mammal brain, and the primate brain.

The lizard brain handles our core functions. It keeps us breathing, makes the heart pump, and deals with initial responses to everything – is this going to eat me or am I going to eat it? It deals with fear, and it is afraid of everything.

The mammal brain deals with emotions and desires. Its job is to make us keep doing the things that benefit us as a species – primarily eat and procreate.

Finally we have the primate brain, which evolved roughly 5 million years later than the lizard brain. The primate brain deals with higher level thinking. It models the world around us, and guides our relationships.

In summary, humans have survival instincts triggered by a fear response, survival instincts triggered by the need to survive and procreate, and finally higher order thinking.

The issue is that by the time any new information reaches the primate brain, it has already been stripped of over 90% of its content. Only the clearest, most concise, most interesting, and non-threatening concepts arrive there.

And so when you say "hey everyone, we are going to transform the business to be more efficient and offer a better customer experience" what people actually hear is "hey everyone, we are cutting jobs and replacing you with software". It doesn't matter how you say it, how great your smile is, or what sector you work in. Every human on the planet aside from psychopaths would have the same base response – fear, doubt, uncertainty.

If you don't replace that fear response with excitement and confidence, it will creep in, set and your transformation is dead before it has started.

Techniques to get your team on board.

We’ve helped dozens of companies introduce new technologies and processes into their businesses – from multi-national energy companies to media agencies representing renowned musicians.

In our extensive experience we’ve found the following proven activities the most valuable in enabling us to change fear into passion and, finally, action.

Innovation workshops.

We run innovation workshops to inspire clients and train them in product design techniques. The session helps people to see themselves and their challenges in new ways and, crucially, trains them to test their ideas beyond the limits of their own knowledge.

We all borrow from what we know, and we all suffer from having too much faith in our early ideas. This workshop provides a toolkit to stop this from happening by framing the challenges around evidenced pain points.

We create and test hypotheses for pain alleviators – projects which may go on to become an integral part of the wider roadmap. We work in small groups which change often, we use rapid prototyping processes, and we practice pitching ideas to the wider group.

Innovation workshops are led by an experienced product or service designer in conjunction with the owner of your digital transformation.

Workshop in action

Clear and evidenced progress.

Out of sight, out of mind. Digital transformation is a long term project and it’s unlikely that everyone in your organisation will be involved 100% of the time. After the initial excitement abates, people will go back to business as usual, which is the enemy of what you are trying to achieve. 

You need to regularly show what is being worked on, what is being achieved, and where you are on your digital roadmap.

The people in an active transformation project need to know that the work they are doing is helping move the leviathan forward, and the people who will be involved next need to feel excited (and ideally a healthy sense of competition) about their part.

We’ve found that face-to-face roadshows, podcasts, and concise blog posts work well together to get across the vision and the detail.

Change management communications.

We believe that regular, relevant and open communication is vital to win the hearts and minds of those affected by the changes of a digital transformation project.

In our experience, the first step towards gaining buy-in comes from establishing a consensus about what needs to change and why. If people don’t understand and broadly agree on why the digital transformation is happening in the first place, it’s hard to move forward.

For example this might mean sharing information about how ineffective some current practices are, or talking about more effective practices in an analogous or competitive organisation.

In 1940, Kurt Lewin developed a model for change management that’s still widely referred to today. In his model he talks about the need to establish the motivations for change:

Motivation for change must be generated before change can occur. One must be helped to re-examine many cherished assumptions about oneself and one's relations to others.

Kurt Lewin

Once this need to change has been established, communications and engagement activity can move on to focus on “what’s changing and what does it mean for me?”. It’s important to be as open as possible and not leave anything unsaid. When people feel threatened, inaccurate and misleading rumours can emerge if there’s a gap in the story we’re telling. 

Often it won’t be possible to know the answers to questions that people might have about digital transformation changes early in a project. It’s better to admit that the answer isn’t known yet and explain how the project will get to an answer and when that’s likely to be. We’ve found that this is an effective way to build trust in digital transformation communications.

We have to acknowledge and deal with the lizard brain, but recognise that the effective implementation of digital transformation means we need to be engaging properly with the mammal brain – through a regular, open and comprehensive communications and engagement programme alongside the technological implementation.

We design and build transformative websites and digital products for ambitious clients including Royal Collection Trust, ITV and National Army Museum. Get in touch to discuss your project.