Microsoft Dynamics partners urge execs: Embrace digital transformation despite employee fears

By:  Linda Rosencrance

Employees’ fear of change is putting British businesses at risk, according to a research report unveiled recently by Microsoft UK.

Conducted in collaboration with Goldsmiths, the University of London, and YouGov, the study found that the majority of firms in the United Kingdom face a common challenge trying to the most value out of their digital transformation programs – their employees.

The report, Creating a Culture of Digital Transformation, is based on interviews with more than 1,000 business leaders and employees in organizations across the UK.

According to the study:

  • 61% of UK business leaders report that moves to improve how people work by introducing new technologies creates anxiety among employees
  • 59% report that automation of tasks creates fears about job security
  • 49% observe that staff members express a fear of change when digital transformation initiatives are introduced.
  • 53% of organizations are currently investing in digital transformation programs but less than 23% of those are investing in cultural change programs.

“Digital transformation is not just a technology deployment or an IT exercise, it’s a people exercise,” wrote Microsoft UK CEO and Area Vice President Cindy Rose, in her introduction to the report. The findings, she observes, “shows there is a deep-rooted connection between those organizations that invest in nurturing cultural change and those that are able to fully unlock the value of their technology investments.”

Dynamics partners agree

These results are in line with what several Microsoft Dynamics partners say they are seeing in practice.

Struggling with change is not something new for organizations and it’s not a surprise when it comes to implementing solutions that are part of a digital transformation, says Gus Gonzalez CEO at Atlanta-based Elev8 Solutions.

“It’s not uncommon for people to fight change and innovation, and as organizations move toward finding ways to do more with less, we will see this resistance, or perhaps fear, increase, especially in industries that are not innovative in nature,” he says.

The data cited in the study on how the end users are feeling, (i.e., the anxiety, the fear of job security, and the fear of change), reflects experience on the ground, says Amy Howard, change management and learning consultant at PowerObjects, an HCL company, a Dynamics 365 partner based in Minneapolis and with an office in the UK.

“Also the statistic on less than 23 percent investing in change is not surprising, either,” she says. “That is approximately what we’re seeing.”

With CRM implementations specifically, that investment is probably less than 20 percent of organizations, says Juliana Hickey, who is also a change management and learning consultant at PowerObjects.

“Sometimes the organizations that we work with have [project managers] that ask a few change management questions and plan for a few change-related items, but don’t really think about It holistically like when we come in,” Hickey says. “And that’s really our goal, to look at it holistically and apply structure. So an organization thinks because it’s doing a few things, it has a change plan, rather than looking at it holistically and building out a plan. Because of that we see even less [investment in change] in CRM organizations.”

Anna Tujunen, product lead at Dooap in New York City, agrees that while the statistics from the study are in line with what she sees with clients, more people are being affected as companies automate even more complex tasks.

“We are not just talking about automating, for example, a car assembly line, but we’re also doing automation in very knowledge-intensive businesses,” she says. “So that is affecting new people, who thought they had been saved from automation, because they’re doing such complex things that you would need human intelligence to make the decisions. But now machines are doing that for us.”

However, Tujunen says employees’ fears that they’re going to lose their jobs because of automation are unfounded.

“I always say that nobody is going to lose their job, but you will gain a smarter job, a better job by letting the machine do the boring parts,” she says.


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Technology fears and corporate culture

Much of this fear of automation, however, may be a corporate culture problem rather than a technology problem.

“One of the things that we’ve started to stress more and more is that what companies are buying, and should be buying when they buy digitalization or software, is that they’re buying change,” says Sari Aapola, Dooap’s chief marketing officer.

That’s why the culture change should be built into the whole project from the beginning as a strategy to get buy-in from the employees, who will understand the necessity for whatever change is happening, without the need for a formal cultural change program, according to Aapola.

“Recently, we’ve had some good examples of…decision-makers sitting in the workshops to start with, and it’s really strategy-based. They realize that what they’re doing is changing things,” she says. “Very often the failed projects are seen as IT projects and they’re not seen as change projects and that’s kind of where things start to go wrong.”

According to Howard, the fact that employees fear losing their jobs to automation is both a corporate culture and a technology problem.

“Traditionally, in IT we tend to see our jobs as installation versus implementation,” she says. “And from an IT perspective, we forget that the implementation is the end user and adoption. From a cultural perspective there hasn’t been a high priority on change resources and applying specific resources to specific changes. But I do see things changing,” as more companies are looking to include change managers in their projects, Howard says.

“We are on a very large-scale Dynamics implementation right now that’s over 50,000 users and the organization definitely values change management,” she says. “There are three full-time change managers on this implementation, and the company has written change management into their corporate structure and it is a part of their corporate values. They have a lot of change and they realize they need the resources to help with those changes to increase the adoption.”

But many organizations are very hesitant to move forward with their digital transformations, knowing that there is a culture internally that’s typically abrasive toward change, according to Gonzalez. Those companies will struggle with market share, will struggle with differentiating themselves from their competitors, and ultimately, will leave value on the table, he says.

“We will see lots of cases of organizations who failed to go through a digital transformation. [As a result they are] unable to keep up with their competitors and ultimately failing to survive,” Gonzalez says.

A culture change success story

Elev8 Solutions is currently working with a customer that had worked with a different partner in the past that typically approaches Microsoft Dynamics 365 implementations as an xRM solution.

“That partner used Dynamics 365 as a platform to create solutions that focus on addressing existing workflows within the business, rather than taking advantage of these solutions to help organizations go through a digital transformation,” Gonzalez says. “The result was a system that was really slow, with lack of benefit for the users who were supposed to depend on it to do their jobs.”

The customer recognized that it needed a different approach to its deployment, and in 2016 began working with Elev8 Solutions.

“We focused on immediately improving their user experience and performance to a point where users did not refuse to use the solution,” Gonzalez says.

It was a small victory for the organization, but they still saw Dynamics 365 as a platform to support their current customer lifecycle rather than seeing the potential of what it meant to introduce transformative change. For the users, Dynamics 365 was just “another application IT wants me to use,” according to Gonzalez.

But everything changed earlier this year when a new CEO came into the company. His leadership and vision revolutionized the internal culture within the organization.

“I still remember our first conversation where he laid out his vision, and it was a text-book digital transformation story,” Gonzalez says.

The CEO’s vision included ways to improve the company’s prospect acquisition process, its services delivery practices, and an integrated approach to sales that allows salespeople to quickly and reliably identify up-sell opportunities.

The CEO’s vision also included a comprehensive re-imagined customer service approach where not only would the user experience be paramount, but the quality of service to customers would be best in the industry, thus allowing the company to foster “customers for life” who were also raving fans, Gonzalez describes.

“This is how important culture and effective leadership is for organizations all over the world,” he says.

Some organizations will continue to fight change, says Gonzales; they will fight the fact that customers are in control, and fight the fact that automation can help them determine the next best action that allows them to deliver services more efficiently.

“And they will try to fight the fact that it is becoming harder and harder to differentiate yourself from your competitors,” he says. “But some organizations are embracing these challenges, and have implemented changes and innovation that will allow them to capitalize on these opportunities, and win.”—

Image Copyright: danomyte / 123RF Stock Photo

About Linda Rosencrance

Linda Rosencrance is a freelance writer/editor in the Boston area. Rosencrance has over 25 years experience as an reporter/investigative reporter, writing for many newspapers in the metropolitan Boston area. Rosencrance has been writing about information technology for the past 16 years.

She has covered a variety of IT subjects, including Microsoft Dynamics, mobile security issues such as data loss prevention, network management, secure mobile app development, privacy, cloud computing, BI, big data, analytics, HR, CRM, ERP, and enterprise IT.

Rosencrance is the author of six true crime books for Kensington Publishing Corp.