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Change management - Your answer to the effective implementation of business process automation

Sergiusz Świerczek
Sergiusz Świerczek
Change management - Your answer to the effective implementation of business process automation

Every organization implementing business process automation has to analyze its current state, organize its processes, choose the type of technology to implement, and select a consulting partner for the transformation. For most companies, this is clear. However, few realize that the success of the entire undertaking depends on another critical factor - change management.

Business process automation affects people, processes, and departments throughout the organization in such a profound way that work reorganization is necessary. This involves abandoning old tasks for new ones, employee reassignment, and even relocation of entire teams. The mere information about the change often causes resistance among most employees. Such a response stems from the fear of the new. However, this is only a prelude to potential difficulties associated with the implementation, maintenance, and scaling of automation effects. Therefore, solid preparation for this process and a conscious approach not underestimating the need for professional change management is crucial.

In response to the challenges of our clients and drawing on literature in the field of change management, we present8 steps that clearly show you how to achieve success in this area. We will learn how to effectively initiate a project, what to pay attention to, and how to permanently integrate the introduced changes into the organizational culture.

1. Create a sense of urgency

Managing successful transformations begins with creating a sense of urgency for change within the ranks of the organization's management. The change initiative should be undertaken by a leader responsible for the project of business process automation - a CEO or department head.. Then, as research shows, we need to convince at least 75% of the management that the change is needed for the transformation to succeed. How should we do this? Most often by highlighting the dangers of inaction or by showing a huge, untapped opportunity that can catapult our company to a higher level.

This phase wreaks havoc among companies!

John Kotter from Harvard Business School, who has been studying change management for years, points out that 50% of cases fail at the very beginning.

What are the causes for failure?

Most often, it is the fear of defeat and being blamed for a crisis in the organization. Of course, there are many more reasons, but the paralysis of management staff is the main factor responsible for the lack of success at this stage. And we need to focus on eliminating it in the first place.

According to Kotter, the problem is a disproportion in employment. Simply put, there are too many managers and too few leaders, which from the perspective of change management is disadvantageous. Radek Drzewiecki in the Lean Strategy made an accurate comparison of these two personas.

The task of managers is to maintain systems in the company so that they work efficiently, while minimizing risk.

On the other hand, a leader creates new systems. He is characterized by the ability to connect people and processes to strategy, bringing the company into a state of continuous development. He responds to threats but also sees and exploits new opportunities - focusing on changes, not maintaining the status quo. Such people are behind successful transformations. Without them, the change process can be difficult to implement.

The leader's task is to convince the management staff that the need for automation is real, and to realize that maintaing the status quo is riskier than making changes. As Kotter cites, the need for digital transformation must be felt by at least 75% of top-level employees who are fully convinced of its necessity. Some leaders even resort to deliberately causing crises in their organizations, to evoke the need for change.

Unfortunately, in bull markets, companies do not see the need to introduce new technological solutions that do not directly translate into profit. It is difficult to evoke a sense of urgency for change when everything is going your way. A noticeable tendency among companies in our market is to automate processes only when they are forced to do so. Therefore, it is key to have leaders supporting the change, understanding that the automation of business processes is a key direction of development, and change management is an effective methodology that will help to achieve it.

2. Create a strong coalition

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Implementing changes in enterprise systems using business process automation is a task that requires not only technological know-how but also the skill of managing people. Therefore, at this next stage, you need to build a strong coalition and identify all points of resistance, both among the managerial staff and ordinary employees. This will make it easier for us to build a future change strategy and implement the change management process.

Remember this!

The success of the transformation depends on the dynamic expansion of the coalition. Achieving a certain minimum is necessary for this phase to gain momentum and for the project to be labelled as urgent from the beginning. According to Kotter, the number of people involved in the coalition varies depending on the size of the organization. For small companies, 3 to 5 people are optimal, while in large ones we may need as many as 50.

The coalition should be quite powerful - in terms of hierarchy, information, specialized knowledge, reputation, and relationships. We're not just talking about the management staff. It's about a team of people who are influential, charismatic, and respected by others. We are looking for individuals who will promote the transformation within the organization. Someone akin to influencers, who will reach the masses and persuade the rest to change their attitude. We don't promote manipulation, we need to present the beneficial impact of automation on work culture - replacing boring and repetitive tasks with tasks that bring more satisfaction to the people we are addressing.

How should we proceed to make such a leadership team work as effectively as possible?

The need for urgency induced by the leader will be immensely useful, but usually, we need something more. A key aspect is organizing this group of people. Developing a certain level of trust and communication. Kotter suggests that multi-day integration trips outside the company's headquarters can be extremely effective. This gives us the opportunity to learn about the points of resistance, which are the basis for creating our change strategy. In other words, by understanding the reasons why part of the board and high-ranking managers may be opposed to change, we will be able to create an effective plan that takes these aspects into account. Consequently, we will persuade people at every level of the hierarchy to implement automation, and managing the change in subsequent steps will be much simpler.

3. Develop a vision

Most enterprises either lack a vision or their vision is not precise enough to add value. Instead, they possess a mass of unnecessary documentation or plans that are incoherent. Directors create 30-minute presentations about their ideas for the future, but the actual vision is deeply hidden. As a result, change management turns into separate, unrelated projects, leading the entire transformation nowhere.

What is a vision?

A vision is an image of the future that is easily communicable and appeals to customers, shareholders, and employees. It is defined for the entire organization, and is for effective change management. It serves as a beacon, pointing the organization in the right direction. At the same time, it should inspire and give meaning to the actions of individual departments - constructed in such a way that its comprehensible presentation lasts no more than 5 minutes.

Vision’s main value is to create an emotional bond between employees and managers. This makes people feel that they are working for something more than money and their actions are united by a common goal. Good vision unites employees into a strong community, able to survive even in adverse circumstances.

How do you create a vision?

Vision can be constructed over a few meeting board sessions or it can evolve over months. During the initial phases of automating processes,the vision begins to take its form. Kotter, in the aforementioned article, refers to the case of a European company whose vision at the beginning of the transformation spoke of global expansion and becoming the biggest player in the industry, which was a vaguely defined plan. Only after months of work and many meetings did they come up with an idea that truly reflected the goal of the introduced change - "Stopping low-value-added activities'', which took change management to a much higher level, giving everyone a real understanding of the need for this transformation.

What actions should we take to efficiently navigate through this stage?

According to Radek Drzewicki, the best solution is a series of meetings involving the coalition and a moderator. Participants meet at workshops, and individually answer a list of questions before starting. The moderator initiates a brainstorming session, during which we analyze the answers one by one. His task is to engage everyone and create an atmosphere conducive to the emergence of ideas. After a few sessions, we should have a preliminary or comprehensive version of the vision. At this stage, our goal is not to create an empty advertising slogan, but a description of the state of the organization after digital transformation. Therefore, the vision should be simple and truthful so that everyone can understand it in less than 5 minutes.

4. Communicate the vision ( in an appropriate manner).

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Information flow in organizations occurs through multiple channels, from emails and meetings to non-verbal communication. You need to utilize every channel to ensure the content consistency, so that the employees are aware of the urgent need for change.

Knowing how important trust is, we must ensure that words and actions go hand in hand. Coalition must remain consistent in these matters, as they set an example for others.Otherwise deviation risks increase in cynicism towards the change. Without a unified image, company employees will never believe that the introduced automation is useful, despite dissatisfaction with the current state.

How to effectively communicate the vision and organizational changes? 

We need to ensure that information frequently appears in the organization. We want managers in their daily interactions to talk how automating processes will streamline employees’work and relieve them of tedious tasks.

It is also crucial to use all of the communication channels to propagate the vision, especially those used to spread boring and unread content. For example, offering a course focused on business problems and the vision of digital transformation instead of regular quarterly meetings.

Verbal communication is not sufficient!

Kotter observed that the most common behavior among people managing successful transformations is a conscious desire to become an organizational culture living symbol. In other words, people genuinely engaged in change are the most effective in spreading the vision. By using communication channels and ensuring that our actions are consistent with our message, we amplify the effect when these roles are played by the leaders of our coalition and the entire team responsible for automation.

5. Remove obstacles.

As the number of employees engaged in digital transformation increases, new approaches to work and ideas for implementing the vision in the company's life emerge. People start to notice the benefits of automated processes. Communication methods are fulfilling their function, and the attitude towards change within the organization is positive. Despite those achievements, obstacles that block the coalition's efforts may appear and at this stage, and we have to identify and eliminate them.

In change management, we break obstacles into two categories: external, which are part of the existing system that does not fit the new automated reality, and internal, created in the minds of individuals, often through fear of change. Regardless of their source, it is crucial to eliminate the biggest obstacles that can nullify our efforts.

What obstacles can we encounter?

Those whose tasks will be replaced by robots typically fear losing current duties that they are familiar with or even their job. This leads to skepticism towards the entire project and consequently hinders change management, leading to its failure. Such fears are caused by change implementation without prior message about work reorganization.

The biggest blocks are the top-level executives.

John Kotter described the profile of a person responsible for a transformation failure. This division director in a large corporation was characterized by empty talk, did not support new ideas, and did not adapt the HR system to the implemented concepts. What drove him? He did not believe in the need for change management, did not fully understand it. He was afraid of handling both the transformation and the achievement of strategic goals. Moreover, the corporation’s executives had no change management experience, and couldn’t properly react to his response, fearing the loss of an accomplished director. This triggered a wave of cynicism that spread at every level of the hierarchy, thwarting the dreams of a successful digital transformation.

Companies implementing automation in their business processes must promptly respond to emerging obstacles. It is difficult to determine what is blocking our change at first glance, although we must be sensitive to all external and obstructions. At this stage, an outsourced consultant, who has experience in identifying and resolving problems, can play an important role.

6. Achieve short-term successes.

Krótkoterminowe sukcesy Business process automation requires numerous changes in a company's operations. However, people feel comfortable in a familiar setting. That’s why digital transformation projects not only cause resistance, but even instigate sabotage. Last thing we want to do is reinforce the opponents of automation in their belief that our actions are unjustified. On the contrary, we should present evidence of the digital transformation’s purpose, to maintain a high level of urgency throughout its duration. At this stage, systematically creating short-term victories is helpful, so the team can draw satisfaction from these small achievements in their daily work.

What steps should be taken at this stage? First, we must realize that results will not come on their own and we need to arrange our short-term goals. Managers responsible for this plan should look for opportunities to improve efficiency, and reward involved people in various ways.

The best proof of the effectiveness of ongoing change are facts and visible results. Start with automating a simple task that will result in reducing the working hours of a given business process, lowering the error rate, or increasing the company's market share. Such tangible evidence of the changes, convinces transformation skeptics to believe in the positive effects of automation.

7. Hold off on declaring victory.

With successive automations, we might get the impression that the project is completed and we can celebrate its success. However, this is a delusion. Declaring victory too early will start the gradual decline of automation and strengthen the position of those who oppose it. Our goal is to use the accumulated momentum to adjust structures and systems that do not fit the vision and to seek further opportunities for the application of automation.

Leaders should treat larger victories as a driving force for further improvements within the organization, rather than an occasion for the coalition and the rest of the employees to call it a day. T You need to maintain urgency and use it for further digitization. According to the Business Digital Transformation Monitor report conducted by KPMG, 78% of companies maintain a budget dedicated to automation and 14% increase it, suggesting that the application of business process automation over a longer-term is conducive to profitability.

Why is this step important?

Enterprises undergoing digital transformation not only implement technology but also acquire other skills throughout the process. They already have declared leaders, developed communication methods, and learned how to manage change. This makes each subsequent automation more effective and brings a higher ROI.

Therefore, as a consulting firm specializing in business process automation, we see tremendous value in long-term cooperation with our clients. Within its framework, we can implement integrated, complementary automation systems that bring significantly greater benefits than a single, one-off project. The result is a culture that does not treat automation as a single act, but as one of the enterprise’s pillars, enabling faster achievement of business goals while reducing risk and increasing innovation.

8. Incorporate the habit of change into the organizational culture permanently.

In the final phase, our aim is to embed the transformation so deeply into the organization's culture that a decrease in urgency doesn't affect the achievements already made. Business process automation should become an integral part of the company's structure and employees' daily tasks helping to implement upcoming changes.

How can we infuse the entire organization with this new change management culture?

We want the new approach to become the current approach, and the tasks associated with change to become our habits. By institutionalizing the actions, structures, norms, and values developed during the digital transformation of the enterprise, we will smoothly introduce new ideas for automation. The goal for employees is to internalize being ready for continuous change and to have dedicated teams for subsequent automations.

Kotter mentions two important factors that preserve the cultivated organizational culture. The first is to communicate how the technological changes and the accompanying new approach to processes have supported the organization. We want to show each involved person the results of their work and convince the hesitant that participating in the transformation is worthwhile.

The second factor is managing promotions in a way that ensures the new approach in the company endures. Inappropriate choices for positions previously held by members of the transformation team could jeopardize the efforts made. New candidates must not only understand the technology but also realize that business process automation is a leading discipline that streamlines organizational systems and creates undeniable value for enterprises.

In managing business process automation change, the synergy of people and technology is key

This analysis of transformation through business process automation clearly shows many difficulties that can nullify months of our efforts, leading to the downfall of our project. The presented obstacles are not directly related to technology, but to people and their attitude towards automation. By adhearing to these principles of change management, we avoid the most common mistakes and, most importantly, significantly reduce the risk of failure. On the other hand, following these principles improves the quality and efficiency of our implementation. This approach keeps the company resilient and dynamic even in changing macroeconomic conditions.