Why Change Management In The Digital Workplace Can Fail

by James McDonald on December 4, 2019

Are you considering initiating a major change in the workplace, such as adopting a cloud-first approach to technology? You’re not alone. According to TechTarget’s IT Priorities Survey, digital transformation is a top priority for nearly 70 percent of businesses in the U.S. and Canada.

Unfortunately, Gartner analysts found that only about a fourth of midsize and large companies will successfully execute their digital workplace initiatives over the next two years.

Why do so many of these initiatives fall short? And what can you do as a leader to better manage change in the workplace?

The Reason Change In The Workplace Fails

Regardless of the industry or the initiative, the primary explanation for why change in the workplace fails is the same: the organization treats it as if it is exclusively technology-driven. And when business leaders view the initiative in this vacuum, they fail to consider the other essential elements of successful workplace change — namely, employee engagement and the workplace experience.

Discover how the right technology helps you manage change in the digital workplace. 

When change in the workplace involves digital transformation, for instance, it represents a profound change in the way companies operate.

“Digital transformation marks a radical rethinking of how an organization uses technology, people and processes to fundamentally change business performance,” said George Westerman, the Principal Research Scientist with the MIT Sloan Initiative on the Digital Economy.

Consequently, it requires a considerable shift in the company’s culture as the change is extensive and continuous.

This means digital workplace leaders need to involve employees from the beginning and keep them actively engaged to sustain a major change in the workplace. To accomplish this, digital workplace leaders must adopt change leadership principles that characterize employees as invaluable resources rather than barriers to change. Gartner refers to this as the ESCAPE model.

Driving Workplace Change Using the ESCAPE Model

ESCAPE stands for envision, share, compose, attract, permit, enable. According to Gartner, the ESCAPE model empowers digital workplace leaders to “initiate and sustain deep and far-reaching change to optimize the work experience and improve productivity.”

The approach is divided into two phases: inspire and engage. In Phase One (envision, share and compose), digital workplace leaders establish the basis and context for the change in the workplace. They help employees understand where they are now and where they will be in the future. They share their vision and act as role models for the rest of the workforce as they manage change.

In Phase Two (attract, permit, enable), digital workplace leaders invite employees to be a part of the change and cultivate new modes of working. They identify, recruit and utilize early change adopters to help overcome the resistance of their colleagues. Then, they empower employees to augment how they work and provide the mechanisms and structures to do so.

At the core of the ESCAPE model is the rejection of traditional change management, which follows hierarchical lines, focuses on sporadic rather than continuous change and regards employees as a group actively resisting the change. Instead, “the digital workplace leader does not dictate changes, but sets an inspiring course and co-creates a path forward that engages the entire organization on the change journey.”

With the ESCAPE model, digital workplace leaders collaborate across the facilities, IT and HR departments to find common ground, define goals and establish how to help the workforce embrace change. From there, the digital workplace leader must select the technologies that will best support change in the workplace.

Making Smart Technology Decisions with the ACME Framework

Investing in the wrong technologies can sabotage even the most well-planned workplace change initiative. Gartner recommends using its ACME framework to guide workplace technology decisions.

The ACME model (which stands for activity, context, motivation and enabling technology) uses employee-centric criteria to define the current state and requirements of the organization’s processes. Here is a more detailed breakdown:

  • Activities: Determine the scope of the workplace initiative and then identify the most important business activities and business units within the scope.
  • Context: Define the interpersonal and transactional components of each activity and business unit and then decide what changes are necessary to create a common context.
  • Motivation: Work with the business unit leaders to engage employees using the motivators that are most effective for the individual members of the team.
  • Enabling technology: Identify the tools and technologies that are best suited for supporting these business activities and the workstyles of employees in these business units.

With the ACME model, digital workplace leaders can balance the organization’s desire for uniformity with the desire of business unit leaders to optimize technology around the unique needs of their employees and departments.

While Gartner’s stat on workplace change is humbling, it shouldn’t stop you from pursuing digital transformation. After all, change is inevitable—and in the future, the most adaptable companies will be the most successful.


James McDonald

James McDonald is a sports enthusiast, brother in Christ and once swam in a tank with the infamous TV sharks.

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