In a survey of 500 CEOs, 76% said that the main roadblock to organizational change is the human factor, not technology.
The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation. In the past few years, many companies have had to adopt processes — and face management challenges — they had never planned for. When a company implements new tech tools and work models, these directly impact their organizational routine. Which is why such companies need an approach to change management that not only considers the technology itself but also the people using it.
This is the conclusion of an investigation carried out by Olivia and S4G Consulting. In 2021, we reached out to 500 CEOs to understand how their companies are changing. One of our main discoveries was that, among the companies surveyed, 20% have kickstarted technological change processes they hadn’t even considered before the pandemic. And 56% would give the complexity of promoting these changes a rating of 7 or 8 (out of 10).
Reynaldo Naves, managing partner of Olivia Brazil, believes that the biggest hurdle in any change process — be it cultural, digital, or strategic — is not technological but human. “Technologies lead to cultural change. And technologically disruptive projects tend to be successful when they focus on more than just new systems. That is, when they also properly communicate the context and benefits to all involved,” he says.
According to Naves, each organization must define its own purpose and reason for change. Leaders must align on objectives and treat change as a cultural movement, not simply as a methodology or just another project. “It’s not organizations that change, but people,” he underlines. In the aforementioned survey, 76% of respondents said the main challenge of implementing change is managing people.
Roberto Aylmer, psychiatrist and human development specialist, explains the science behind our resistance to change. “From a neurological standpoint, the human brain is programmed to save energy. That’s why it seeks stability, not change,” he says. To make matters worse, we live in an era when change is all around us, all the time. “In this context, when a process is changed from within — a process that everyone was already accustomed to —, people often don’t know how to deal with the new technology. They’re scared of making a mistake or even losing their jobs.”
“When there’s a high level of trust in a company, the change process is more fluid because people need less convincing.”
According to Aylmer, the relationship between individuals and their organization can deeply affect how a change process turns out. “When there’s a high level of trust in a company, the change process is more fluid because people need less convincing,” he says. When employees feel protected by a company, they become more involved and committed. Their fear of change is assuaged because there’s a wider psychological safety net. “In such cases, employees don’t feel threatened when the company suggests something new,” he observes.
Aylmer argues that, when implementing technological change, the most important step is managing the organizational culture. “First, you have to carry out a qualitative investigation to understand what’s happening at ground level and what people actually think about change. Then you can diagnose what’s making them feel insecure or uncertain. And from there, you can start increasing trust and strengthening the psychological bonds between employees and the organization,” Aylmer advises.
For Reynaldo Naves, change processes are successful when companies can identify the gaps in their strategy and structure, anticipate where crises will emerge, and figure out where more work needs to be done. “It’s important to have a clear roadmap and purpose in order to inspire commitment. The strategy needs to be communicated throughout the company and changes must bring about real benefits,” he says. It’s crucial to have systems and tools in place to measure the effects of change in real time — and manage the human side of the process. “Change management must incorporate data science and artificial intelligence. This enables more precision when it comes to training and communication.”
At the start of the year, the CIEE-RS (Center for School-Business Integration in Rio Grande do Sul) wanted to digitally transform its operations. However, it met some resistance among its teams. Lucas Baldisserotto, the institution’s CEO, recalls how many employees believed they would be replaced by technology. “We clearly needed to improve our communication. And not just that, we also needed more strategic planning. Different people had very different ideas about the future of our organization,” he explains.
Thus, the company looked for outside help to carry out its change process. “We listened to our teams’ doubts, problems, and pain points. And with the guidance of a consultancy service, we implemented methodologies and tools that could drive this ongoing process,” reveals Baldisserotto. The results are already evident. “We grew by 20%, compared to last year. Feelings of stress and fear have fallen dramatically among our teams. And overall, our commitment and organizational climate have improved. Teams are also working in a more integrated way,” he highlights.
Another company with a similar story is Pfizer Brazil. The pandemic forced the company to quickly respond to rising demand. “As soon as we adopted a more agile way of working, we knew we’d need to make deep, structural, multifaceted changes,” explains Sheila Ceglio, Director of People Experience.
According to her, it was important to work with senior leaders so they could drive this evolution in work habits and thinking. “This was a key step so all teams could understand the reasons for change — and how these changes would be carried out,” she says.
Ceglio underlines the importance of communication between leaders and teams. “The more people become involved, the better their perception of the proposed cultural changes. Organizations only change when their people are connected and committed, and everyone understands their role in the process,” she says.
According to Naves, organizations usually lack agents of change. Leaders can, of course, play this role — with training. “The person who asks for change must also be part of it and lead by example,” he says. “It’s important to keep in mind that results are usually not immediate. You need to plant the seeds and wait to reap the rewards.”
By Reynaldo Naves, Olivia Brasil partner