People are the engine of organizational change

To survive Industry 4.0, think beyond the digital

At the heart of what we call "digital transformation" isn't just technology—it's people, too. When we forget that, we put our organizations in danger.

To survive Industry 4.0, think beyond the digital
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We live in an age of innovation featuring rapid cycles of change. Futurist Gerd Leonhardt estimates we will see more change between 2015 and 2035 than in the prior 300 years of modern history. To effectively understand this change, we need to step back and see the large scale impact of this age.

The source of the changes is far more than "digital transformation" or "emerging technologies." We are a connected and aware generation who consumes information in mass volumes in real-time through handheld devices. Policy and regulation are changing. Political upheaval is occurring. New business models are emerging. New markets are appearing. We are part of a global market and a much larger ecosystem—and as with all ecosystems, the slightest shift can cause radical changes throughout the whole of the system.

Transformation beyond the digital requires a new approach to the way we build agile, open organizations—and, it will need to start with how we empower our people to engage continuous cycles of change. With the advent of Industry 4.0, we need empowered, engaged change agents more than ever.

Humans drive change. Humans sustain change. And failing to invest in people as they grapple with change could be problematic for your business.

The importance of now

The cycles of innovation will not be slowing down (in fact, it will be speeding up). To really understand the urgency and importance of people development today, consider this.

The 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey offers the subtitle "Millennials are disappointed in business and are unprepared for Industry 4.0"—before even launching into the study. The survey's findings lead to a staggering awareness that organizational and people team leaders have not taken Millennial workforce development seriously. They are underprepared for the speed of innovation and for basic teaming skills.

Why should you care, you ask? According to 2017 statistics:

  • 56 million Millennials currently are in the workforce; making up the largest group
  • Gen Z began entering the workforce in 2016 and now comprise 5% of the workforce
  • Millennials will be 75% of our workforce by 2025

The cycles of innovation will not be slowing down (in fact, it will be speeding up)

As the composition of technologies inside our organizations changes, so does the composition of people—and that means the composition of expectations is changing, too. If you expect your company to not only succeed but thrive in the 21st Century, you'll need to make an immediate investment in interpersonal and managerial competency training.

The engine of change

The rules of engagement have changed. Transformation needed for our workforce, business models and organizational ecosystems must go beyond "digital transformation" alone. However, our approach to building applications, systems, and new technologies cannot be the same one we use use to train, engage, and prepare people. Digital transformation, policy and regulation changes, new business models—all are tools, vehicles aiding the achievement of new ends or goals. But they're not driving the change. The change engine itself is fueled by people.

Our efforts to make technology work for humans requires applying human dynamics to solutions rather than just technologies.

An inclusive, holistic approach

Change is personal and response varies by context.

For example: You've probably worked on projects with someone who seemed resistant to the initiative. They may have asked 1,000 questions. Or they wanted to continue to reiterate, over and over, the legacy of what had already been built. As an innovator, your likely assumption was that they were being "wet blankets" to the team and initiative—and, had no place on an innovation team. (Am I right?!)

Or maybe this was the case: As a detail-oriented risk mitigator, you might have been given a project full of creatives who you don't understand. It is frustrating. The need to move fast, without details, or a risk assessment—this boggles your mind. You're thinking, "Vision is great and all, but let's talk about the potential pitfalls along the way." It has raised all of your red flags, and your assumption is they aren't in touch with reality—and might not even be that good at business.

Our efforts to make technology work for humans requires applying human dynamics to solutions rather than just technologies.

Each of these (too common) scenarios depicts a mismatch of attitudes toward change. In my work, we've discovered that people engage change in nine different ways across a spectrum of filters. The output of the change engagement—a "change language," if you will—reveals a person's positive contribution to either drive change (and aid in adaptability) or to optimize and sustain the change. When combined with interpersonal competency development, this awareness of positive contribution allows each person in an organization or on a team to understand how to navigate change by leveraging their strengths.

This awareness also helps people avoid feeling displaced or like they're not contributing value to a process or project. It also provides them with a communication style that aids in their being understood. Taken together, this increases engagement and fulfillment in the work, as they're operating from a more natural and comfortable position.

When a leader then leverages this information to build a well-balanced, high-performing team, they're providing the entire organizational ecosystem with an engine of change that can now "surf the wave" of innovation rather than be caught in the undertow.

Each person in your ecosystem has the capacity for positive contribution and value to either drive change, adapt, optimize, or sustain change. Everyone has the capacity to be a valuable contributor, to channel the way they engage with change, and to make it work for everyone. This understanding combined with interpersonal competency training is what will drive the engine of change.

To become a true open organization, the shift to people development with interpersonal and change competency development must be a top priority in order to sustain growth.

About the author

Jen Kelchner - Jen Kelchner is the Founder of LDR21 focused on building agile, open people and organizations who are able to meet the demands of continuous cycles of change. She advises organizational leaders on open leadership, cultures of trust, and engaging change based on open org principles. Jen is also a founding member of the Forbes Coaches Council, Deloitte alumn, and member of the Open Organization Ambassador team. Jen is available for ...