Digital Change Leadership Challenges to Address in 2021

It is clear that change leadership will play a critical role in the future success of digital transformation strategies. But how should change leaders adapt to keep up with the changing digital landscape? In this post, we’ll discuss change leadership challenges in 2021 and beyond. 

Digital Change Leadership Challenges to Overcome in 2021

To understand the challenges digital leaders and change leaders will face in the years ahead, it’s necessary to reflect on how change management has evolved.

As everyone knows, 2020 was a significant year for the digital transformation economy. COVID-19 had a massive impact on the business landscape, resulting in the emergence of new trends and the acceleration or expansion of existing ones. 

Among other things, for instance, we saw:

  • The mass adoption of working from home (WFH) and learning from home (LFH)
  • The acceleration of digital transformation on a global scale
  • A greater need for resilient business strategies
  • An increased demand for a digitally skilled workforce

Trends such as these, unsurprisingly, only added to the challenges faced by organizational change leaders.

Below, we’ll look at a few of the biggest obstacles  that will be faced by change leaders and business leaders in the years ahead.

The Looming Challenges of Digital Transformation

Digital transformation has become a driving force in today’s marketplace.

Innovation has fueled disruption across nearly every industry, in organizations both large and small. 

The need to adapt to the new digital economy have, in turn, fueled organizational change that affects everything from business processes to operating models to business strategies to the workforce.

Change leaders must adapt by:

  • Learning how to efficiently and effectively adopt new software
  • Work with change leaders to develop a forward-thinking digital strategy
  • Cultivate a digital corporate culture
  • Find ways to minimize employees’ resistance to change

These obstacles, of course, are just a few among many that will be faced by change leaders, digital strategists, CIOs, CEOs, and business leaders.

Below, we’ll explore what today’s digital economy means for the change leader.

The growing role of automation in the workplace

Automation is playing  a major role in the transformation of today’s workplace.

New tools, such as robotic process automation (RPA) and cognitive automation, are emerging to take over many tasks commonly performed by humans.

While a number of these tasks are repetitive and mundane, artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming more powerful by the day. Tasks that once required human cognition are now being performed by AI. 

Though not everyone agrees on exactly how deeply automation will impact the workplace, many businesses are aggressively investing in automation tools.

For change leaders, this carries several implications.

For instance:

  • To stay relevant and productive, employees must become perpetual learners 
  • Organizations are often tasked with employee training
  • Automation can create anxiety and resistance among the workforce

Change leaders, in short, must balance the automation needs of the organization against employee training needs, as well as potential resistance and frustration.

The increased need for digital leaders

We are now operating in a digital economy, so all change leaders must be prepared to lead change in today’s digital-first world.

This doesn’t mean that change leaders need to become IT professionals – but it does mean they need to understand and work with technology.

The responsibilities of digital leadership often fall on IT leaders such as CIOs. However, to execute digital transformation projects effectively, they will need help from change leaders.

To stay valuable, change leaders should become versed in technology, particularly its role in business transformation. It is also a good idea to form partnerships with other business leaders, such as CIOs.

An increased need for speed

Keeping up with today’s fast-paced economy requires that businesses make more changes in less time.

For change leaders, the need for speed presents a number of new obstacles to contend with, including:

  • Shortening the time frames for projects
  • Staying agile and responsive to changing circumstances
  • Tackling obstacles to change with fewer resources under tighter deadlines

To stay effective, change leaders should consider implementing methods such as agile change management, an approach designed to stay adaptive during volatile circumstances.

The demand for digitally talented workers

Many research firms have observed that we are in the midst of a rapid upheaval in the workplace – and that upheaval will, in turn, cause an upheaval in the workforce.

In other words, the more that technology impacts the workplace, the more employees must change to keep up.

Change leaders must find ways to:

  • Recruit, train, and retain top digital talent 
  • Cultivate a digital-first work culture
  • Democratize data and digital tools
  • Integrate IT into the fabric of the organization

There are several ways to approach this talent conundrum, and change leaders should use whatever methods they can to maximize the skills of their workforce.

A few methods to try include:

  • Leveraging digital adoption platforms (DAPs) for employee training
  • Working with HR to revamp the talent management strategy
  • Bridging the gap between IT and the rest of the business

Every business is unique and will have its own unique talent needs, so change managers should carefully assess their own business needs before creating a talent strategy.

Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.