Digital Transformation

From Skepticism to Success: How to Overcome Internal Resistance to Digital Transformation


Digital Transformation is often described as the reimagining of business processes in the digital age. It is the art of using digital technologies to reform a desired business aspect; be it concept-to-product, market-to-customer, order-to-cash, demand-to-supply, anything that precedes these processes or anything that goes beyond them. But if you’re reading this blog, you probably already know what digital transformation is. And you must be aware that it is not always a smooth sailing transition.

According to KPMG’s 2023 US Technology Survey, 51% of respondents admitted that they have not seen an increase in performance or profitability from digital transformation investments.

At the same time, 56% of executives said that ROI for digital transformation initiatives has exceeded expectations on the following metrics: improving efficiency and cost-cutting; increasing employee productivity; and enhancing customer engagement.

So where does the disparity lie? What is the disconnect, and why isn’t the promised future of digital transformation not being fully realized? The answer is workforce and culture issues.

Explore the sources of resistance

The stability of the comfort zone naturally holds a strong appeal to humans who are inherently wired for survival. This is also evident when it comes to technology, where the full scope of its functions is not easily understood. It breeds a fear of change and a resistance that is rooted in playing it safe. Employees often harbor concerns about potential job loss due to automation, they worry about the steep learning curves of new systems, or simply mistrust unfamiliar technology.

This reluctance to embrace change leads to a deficiency of essential skills, which further exacerbates the situation. Additionally, when an organization’s digital transformation vision lacks effective communication across the organization, employees may approach it with various attitudes causing a disparity of interests.

This type of problem can be solved by:

  • Conducting surveys to gather data on workforce sentiments and areas of resistance.
  • Gaining a deeper understanding of reservations by conducting interviews with stakeholders.
  • Organizing focus groups to encourage open discussions on transformation challenges.
  • Facilitating employee feedback and ideas to encourage their buy-in on digital transformation.

Emphasize why

Explain to all stakeholders the “what’s in it for them” factor.

Why should your employees transition from what is familiar to them to something that is new? So, it’s important to highlight tangible benefits as well as how digital transformation can enhance their individual roles.

  • How will it improve their Business as Usual (BAU) processes?
  • How will it support them to work smarter?
  • How will it help solve issues and assist them in reaching goals more effectively?

Tip: Engage in meaningful discussions with your employees by highlighting the benefits of digital transformation as well as illustrating instances where internal resistance has led to significant setbacks in certain companies. Reinforce these points by using testimonials and case studies.

Be it Netflix disrupting the entertainment industry, Amazon enhancing online shopping experiences or Airbnb revolutionizing the hospitality sector, there’s a success story that is sure to inspire your workforce to see beyond the immediate challenges.

Empower and involve stakeholders

From the initial discussions to the design phase and right through to implementation, it’s important to include all stakeholders in the digital transformation process.

This end-to-end transparency will help you gather insights from diverse business areas, identifying challenges within their purview that require prioritization. By incorporating their feedback, you’ll not only build trust but also secure buy-in from your stakeholders.

It will also be a great opportunity to create cross-functional teams to ensure well-rounded solutions are being explored. By cultivating an empowered environment, you will increase the likelihood for your stakeholders to take ownership and show genuine interest in your digital transformation efforts.

Lastly, guide your staff in the adoption of digital solutions. Training and support are key components of a digital transformation journey. As such, equipping all stakeholders with the knowledge and resources they need to be confident in change is vital.

Enable your workforce through education

As previously mentioned, training and education are integral components of a successful digital transformation. Apart from how to leverage the tools, your workforce also needs to be provided with:

  • Best practice tips
  • Troubleshooting guidelines
  • Clear steps for feedback and improvement.

For a holistic learning experience, you can include:

  • Interactive training modules or tailormade e-learning courses
  • A repository of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
  • Information on support resources
  • User guides/manuals

Incorporating such educational resources will cultivate an agile and adaptable workforce. This workforce will be capable of communicating any requirement to any stakeholder in line with digital transformation efforts and stay closely aligned with the organization’s overarching strategic roadmap.

Tip: Conduct workshops, interactive Q&A sessions, and implement a learning framework to help your employees feel supported and receptive to change.

Exhibit success and reward

By now, it is evident that workforce and culture issues make or break a company’s digital transformation efforts. Whether it is encouraging active participation or developing holistic educational resources, it is the people of your organization that are at the center of catalyzing your transformation journey. As such, it is crucial to give credit where credit is due, spotlight achievements, and showcase positive outcomes to inspire and motivate all stakeholders.

Recognizing and rewarding individuals for their contributions goes a long way in fostering a culture of innovation.

Moreover, incentives will not only show appreciation towards your workforce but will also help nurture loyalty, instill a sense of ownership and motivate employees to champion digital transformation efforts.

Embrace change management

Change management efforts are no longer about merely transitioning from one stable state to another, but rather about navigating constant and rapid shifts. In digital transformation, this change is not only about learning how to leverage tools but is also about cultivating a shift in mindset.

Therefore, an effective change management strategy should address the difficult qualms of individuals, providing a structured framework for on-demand support. It should encourage adaptability and resilience, as well as highlight the vitality of transparent communication.

In this dynamic environment, middle management plays a pivotal role as messengers of your digital transformation efforts. Seek their support in aligning your workforce with the evolving digital landscape and creating an agile environment in which change is embraced with confidence. Prioritize your change management efforts or seek the assistance of professionals to help you navigate your digital transformation journey without missing any crucial aspects or losing sight of your strategic goals.

Read more about how to build a digital-ready culture here.

In the journey of digital transformation, technology is just one piece of the puzzle. As our exploration shows, the human element – understanding it, nurturing it, and aligning it – is the true key to digital success.