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Applying a Change Management Perspective to Digital Transformation 

September 8th, 2020 (Updated 06/20/2023) | 5 min. read

By Duncan Hendy

Change Management Principles to Aid Your Digital Transformation

Successful digital transformation requires making fundamental changes to cope with a new, globalized, technology-driven market environment. But employees are instinctively resistant to change. Rosabeth Moss Kanter identifies ten reasons for such reluctance. These include a loss of control, uncertainty, breaking habits and routines, loss of face, concerns about competence, and the false belief that change equals more work!  

The answer to a smooth rollout of digital transformation technology and processes is adopting a change management perspective. Here’s how you can make change management work within your organization. 

Working with the Salesforce for Change Management 

Sales teams are particularly resistant when it comes to digital transformation, usually kicking up more of a fuss than their colleagues in other departments. Relationship selling is steadily being replaced through technology, but the importance of a human touch to winning new business and increasing deal size is as crucial as ever. Senior management needs to communicate potential synergy coherently. 

Salespeople are skeptical that predictive analytics and other data will let them increase their sales figures and compensation. It feels too risky to change the habits of a lifetime, so they prefer to stick with what they know. 

Then there’s the Big Brother effect. Digital transformation is all about collaboration, transparency, and accountability, with everyone working from the same, centralized, cloud-based hub. So, there’s bound to be greater visibility over each members’ sales practices and customers. Still, individual salespeople don’t want their time-honored and hard-earned sales methods exposed. 

Sales directors are responsible for making it clear to sales teams that digital transformation will make their lives easier – that it’s designed to increase their productivity, performance, and, by extension, their commission. Paco Jimenez, a partner at Bain & Company believes that one of the most critical pieces to successful change management is that everyone understands “that this is not an IT project” but that the sales team understands that digital transformation will help them to save time. 

There needs to be a shift in focus away from monitoring and control, and towards mutual success and attaining a shared vision. Salespeople need plenty of education and the opportunity to play around with their new digital transformation tools, experiencing the benefits for themselves, first-hand. 

The key to company-wide adoption of digital transformation is effective change management, and that takes time. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts. Below, I use Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model to breakdown the best way to get the sales force onboard. There are other change management models you can use as well but this one takes a top-down approach getting leaders involved from the very beginning. 

How to Get the Sales Force Onboard for Successful Change Management 

Step 1: Create a sense of urgency  

It’s time to drag employees and leaders out of their comfort zones. You need to communicate the need for immediate change. Is your company’s market position in jeopardy? Is financial performance in freefall due to a lack of technological innovation? Sales directors have to create a sense of urgency to kickstart an initial behavioral change. 

Step 2: Build a guiding coalition 

Companies need a “volunteer army”  a coalition operating outside the typical hierarchy  to act as a guiding team that drives digital transformation forward. Senior managers often form the core of the group, but you rarely get everyone on board from day one.  

Step 3: Form a strategic vision and initiatives 

The guiding coalition needs to develop a communicable vision of the future that expresses its intent and the initiative’s depth. It has to appeal to customers, stockholders and employees alike, and contain a clear strategy. It should take less than five minutes to explain and include more than just numbers. 

Step 4: Enlist a volunteer army 

It’s time to communicate that strategic vision far and wide. And to do that successfully, you need a volunteer army  a large number of people who can rally around a common digital transformation goal. The army understands that there will be short-term sacrifices to be made and significant changes to the status quo. Executives must be fully on board by this stage, conveying the strategic vision engagingly and consistently to the broader organization  no boring speeches and lifeless emails. 

Step 5: Enable action by removing barriers 

Senior management has to create a path of least resistance towards shared digital transformation goals, which means removing barriers that block the way. Barriers can be psychological, e.g., a sales manager who feels threatened by new technology and fails to get their team behind the digital transformation project. Other times, the barriers are more “specific,”, e.g., narrow and restrictive job descriptions, or inconsistent compensation and performance appraisal systems. 

Step 6: Generate short-term wins 

There’s no escaping the fact that digital transformation takes a long time (i.e., several years). There’s no such thing as an overnight success. When the penny drops for employees, motivation and momentum can suffer. That’s why engineering short-term goals that can be surpassed and celebrated is crucial for maintaining morale. 

Step 7: Sustain acceleration 

Celebrate short-term wins, yes, but declare victory too soon, and you risk derailing digital transformation entirely. Take your foot off the gas after completing the first project, and you’ll see old ways of working creep back in and take hold. Use the momentum from early successes to tackle even more significant challenges.  

Step 8: Institute change 

Change sticks when it “seeps into the bloodstream of the corporate body,” according to Kotter, becoming “rooted in social norms and shared values. Digital transformation cannot be declared a success until it’s firmly anchored in your organization’s cultural core. This requires a continuous demonstration of the benefits of digital transformation on performance. And careful succession planning: New hires in top management roles have to exemplify the new digital approach. 



Duncan Hendy


Duncan Hendy is a content marketing expert with over 20 years of experience in B2B and B2C marketing, from Interactive TV to SaaS solutions. When not working, Duncan composes classical music and is also the author of several books. He is a huge fan of craft beer and anything spicy.