Hand in hand & step by step: How process and change management support the digitalisation process

21. August 2020

By Jennifer Keller & Gaston Saborowski

The topic of "digitalisation" has become an integral part of our modern everyday life. Our world changes, processes and habits change. Structural changes or expansions, both real and virtual, are imminent for many companies, and two questions quickly move to the centre of attention: What do we have to change - e.g. which processes (process management) - and how do we deal with the changes - i.e. how do we manage the changes from the perspective of the affected responsible users/users (change management). Therefore process management and change management must go hand in hand for the success of digitisation projects.

Change and process management in the context of "digitalisation".

Digitalisation requires a good interaction of processes and data. At the same time, an open culture in which digital processes are lived is relevant. In order to deepen this, we need to define what we actually mean by "digitalisation".

Whereas the term "digitalisation" used to refer to the conversion of analogue values into digital formats and their processing or storage in a digital technical system in the 1970s, today it goes far beyond this - it is all about the target-oriented identification and exploitation of potentials for digital processing.

Derived from this definition, at least three basic prerequisites must be given and interact simultaneously: a defined meaning and purpose, a sustainable will to change and a suitable structure.

Sense & purpose - or concentration on the essential

Do you also sometimes ask yourself what is more important: the goal or the way there? As usual, you can look at it from two sides. The first question is: What do I actually plan to do in order to deal with process management/digitalisation? And as a warning from practical experience: 90 percent of process implementation goes wrong! This also shows us how detailed something has to be described and which key points lead to the adoption in order to really make a process workable and subsequently to consciously implement it one step at a time. This so-called "quick win", which results from the right amount, is a great motivating factor for the change aspect. Seeing these changes or improvements encourages the inner drive and makes people feel comfortable in the new processes or with the new product, they want to work with it, recognize the sense in it and develop trust in the processes and ultimately in the organization.

Willingness to change - or the mindset change

From the point of view of change management, one must start by saying that people are " habitual beings ". There are two main reasons for change: A high level of suffering or a special incentive, a reward. Imagine the following scenario: You sit in a room and you are told to stand on the table. Then you probably ask yourself why? The one possibility in connection with the psychological strain looks like this: The room is filled with water and you have to stand on this table to avoid getting wet or drowning. This corresponds, for example, to the corona situation - here is a very good practical example: A department fought for two years to be allowed to introduce the online communication platform "Teams" in the company to facilitate meetings. When Corona came along, and with it the corresponding suffering, "Teams" was installed within five days - for all employees.

As far as the second motivation is concerned, the incentive, this can be an external motivation: For example, in our case, when a 100 euro bill is stuck to the ceiling. Then you would probably also step on the table to get to it.

The question of what motivation companies might have to change is particularly evident in connection with digitalisation. If it is the suffering, perhaps even due to the Corona phase, then it is a question of thinking not only about the hard facts - i.e. the goals and purpose of change for the organization - but also about the soft facts, the people. These have to be "taken along" in the thought of change management, and often they are not considered with the necessary attention. In our example one can draw a learning experience from the crisis and use the remote tools "Teams" & Co. further and more intensively - and thus push digitalisation in the field of communication.

No matter what processes you want to implement - in order to be able to live them, it is essential to "take people on board". And not only the employees, but also the managers. This means moving away from a hierarchical organizational structure to a process orientation, which requires a completely different mindset. So if the basic idea is to change something, to make a change in strategy, it makes sense to first plan in processes. But you always have to take into account that you need to give people space within the processes.

If the responsible users/users find a reference to themselves, they will deal with the processes. Then an inner drive is created - spoken in our picture: When I stand on the table to get the 100-euro bill and recognize that I suddenly have a much wider and more beautiful view out of the window from up here ... then I am happy and recognize what the change means for me. The degree of change depends primarily on the will to change and not on how quickly you can sketch and plan something or what is currently considered standard or trending.

Structures - or the process management as handrail

People and also organisations need structures. This has primarily to do with maintaining order, which gives everyone a feeling of orientation and therefore security and, last but not least, creates trust. What can a good process management achieve in connection with structure? This can be visualized easily with the image of a "stair handrail": You can get up the stairs even without a railing. But it is easier and safer if you can hold on tight, and you know especially with a freestanding staircase: There is the limit, I can stop myself there, I have orientation and safety! So let me also say that not all stair railings are the same - sometimes a tightened rope is enough, sometimes it has to be an elaborate construction. That is process management ... basically unspectacular, especially when everything is running smoothly. It is the creation and then the continuous attention to ensuring that everything is safe from the outset and that all important things are in place.

In summary: "It is about doing the right things - and then doing them the right way!


Practice-proven implementation model " Digitalisation in 5 steps

Digitalisation in practice is a real "participatory-inclusive craft" of process and change management; the most sustainable success is achieved when both are implemented hand in hand and work together step by step. The 5-Finger-Method is a good guide to deepen this picture. Just as the hand has a task for each finger and only all five can develop their best effect when they work together, there is no more or less important aspect in our action model - because each finger can and should have just as great an effect on " digitalising" as a firm handshake.

Step 1 - Thumb: "common vision & understanding

In order to enable a firm "grasp" of our actions, we need a common view, a commitment to the "vision of digitalisation". This marks the beginning of our process work; the input. This can be new guiding values for processes (e.g. more efficient processes), new communication channels between responsible users (e.g. check-in online/boarding) or new business models (e.g. stationary bookstores become online retailers)

The change aspect is about giving people the meaning behind the change. This refers to digital products and business models on the one hand and sustainable work on the other.

Step 2 - Index finger: "Facts & Benefits

The relevant existing processes are recorded and documented. With our index finger we indicate that something is important to us - we point to it or indicate that we should be involved. To be able to do this, we need a baseline - our current knowledge including our values. It is therefore important to collect and sort everything that fits the vision. It is important to make a clear distinction between the actual, intended and the desired. In the change aspect, the focus is still on conveying the question of meaning. Here it can be helpful to pilot the steps and to have a "lighthouse", the index finger, i.e. a successful example that shines from a distance. This could be mobile applications and a more healthy work-life balance, for example.

Step 3 - Middle finger: "Data & concerns

All relevant data, tools and aids are compiled by the technical experts from the technical and content perspective. Sharing and networking, e.g. in the cloud, takes place within the user or user landscape. That sounds very matter-of-fact now, but let's take a closer look at the image of the middle finger. When someone shows us the "middle finger", he is rarely in agreement with our opinion, action, statement. And in terms of our " digitalisation project", this means that we have to be very conscious about how to deal with it. Thus, the classified aids can be contrary to the actual processes (keyword - media break) or the actual survey can focus on clear acceptance problems and/or little willingness to change.

In this way, the change aspect is completely dominated by the departure into the new world! From this point on, it is important to remember that something new is being created, something proven is being changed, in order to "enable" all participants to "face the other". This can be first offers of information rounds, agreements of training offers or the realization that this also has to be trained.

Step 4 - Ring finger: "Conception & Participation

The ring finger stands for binding or making ( strong ) connections. But as the saying goes, "Check who is eternally bound". In the digitization project, all the actual processes are now analyzed for adaptability in terms of the vision, optimization measures are worked out, new data flows including tools are designed if necessary. Variations are specifically desired, media breaks should be avoided or their necessity explained in detail!

The change aspect is based on the motto of creating as much participation as possible and also on the understanding that this conceptual work requires time, but also courage for decisions. This is the only way to ensure a "hand in hand" between the technical, content and emotional levels - the breeding ground for every good relationship/implementation.

Step 5 - Little Finger: "Implementation & Support

Digitalisation-concept and degree of change of the responsible users or users result in an action plan for implementation - our output. This plan must meet the requirements of security and manageability, which means that all relevant stakeholders must understand this plan for themselves.
On the part of the change aspect, things are now getting serious - because all this must be accepted and lived. In this phase, where digitalisation and corporate culture should go hand in hand, motivation and leadership are particularly important!

Finally: Digitization as an iterative process

Digitalisation is not a one time action, but can and should be seen as an iterative process in which one proceeds in cycles and has (very) many checkpoints with levels of reflection in which it is checked how the measures taken are received. This gives you the opportunity to adjust regularly and in short stages. Because whenever you plan something big, it is - metaphorically speaking - like looking into a crystal ball. For this reason, we regularly reflect at regular intervals on the measures that have been implemented and interventions that have been implemented, and how they have been received, in order to then regularly adjust the action plan on this basis. In the course of such dynamics, such structural changes can also lead to a change of culture within an organization - keyword "agile change", where hierarchies are eliminated in favor of process owners with a high degree of self-responsibility. But that is another story...