Change: Why It’s Harder And What You Should Do Differently

Paul Kurchina

Change, especially when driven by technology, rarely discriminates. The democratic nature of digital innovation is transforming some of the best practices of one industry, like oil and gas, to closely parallel those used by a retailer or manufacturer, for example. And since digitally enabled applications, and the methods and practices that allow rapid deployment, are becoming more affordable and accessible, every industry (and its competitors) is evolving at the same speed.

But over the last couple of years, changes induced by digital innovations are perceived as more threatening than opportunistic. According to Geoffrey Cann, author of Bits, Bytes, and Barrels: The Digital Transformation of Oil and Gas, more jobs are now at risk from digital innovation – even privileged white-collar jobs that have been, for many years, mostly immune from the waves of change that have upended factory jobs and clerical work.

Shaping a new vision for digital innovation

“People are now programmed to think ‘job loss’ when executives mention ‘productivity’ and ‘technology’ in the same sentence,” Cann shared during his presentation at the 2019 Best Practices for Oil & Gas conference. “When a business is more productive, organizations can do more work with the same number of employees or typically less.”

While the workforce now treats  “productivity” as code for job loss, business leadership is thinking quite differently. Executives are more focused on advantages such as top-line and bottom-line growth, expansion opportunity, inorganic growth, rise in brand recognition, and risk reduction and elimination.

“Businesses hire people to fulfill jobs at that moment. But in the future, they will need to acquire talent to fill in the blanks created by new jobs designed around artificial intelligence and bot technology, to name a few,” observed Cann.

The timing of Cann’s perspective on innovation couldn’t be more perfect for the future workforce. In some ways, a significant talent crisis is looming because young people prefer to use the same technologies at work as they do at home. From artificial intelligence to wearable supercomputers, access to leading-edge digital tools is the unspoken expectation of young talent.

Overcoming fear throughout the change management experience

Unfortunately, businesses often avoid these technologies because deploying them and affecting change is seen as too challenging. But keep this in mind: somewhere down the road, businesses will need to find ways to attract and retain this new talent pool. And many companies have concluded that the only practical way to be seen as the employer of choice is if they change at the same pace as the technology their employees use outside of work.

“Growth is at the center of the entire business case for change,” Cann mentioned. “Without it, companies cannot source the capital to finance the strategic direction of the company, pay their people well, and invest in outcome-based initiatives. At the same time, they try to avoid risk – even if some changes can strengthen brand recognition, reputation, and overall market performance.”

These conflicting views about change can create the exact opposite of growth. But when innovation is viewed through a more personal lens, executives can see how individual employees can benefit. For example, better workspaces, promotion opportunities, or remote access to information can increase engagement and performance – which, in turn, can lead to top- and bottom-line growth.

“There is absolutely a fear of job loss. But people’s concerns about digital innovation go much deeper than that – it’s about losing control,” reflected Cann. “People are uncomfortable with the possibility of appearing ignorant or out of touch, losing a bonus or promotion, or weakening their personal reputation. Executives need to create environments that nurture pride, dignity, respect, influence, and recognition of every employee to motivate outcome-based, sustainable change.”

Appealing to the human side of change

Technology-driven change will be with us forever. However, innovations can either feel too soon, too late, or just in time to adopt. Change must be sufficiently advanced to move competition forward, but cannot oversimplify or overcomplicate the work experience. More importantly, change should complement the workforce culture and digital norms of a younger generation of talent.

When introducing technologies at such an accelerated pace, companies’ value appeals to the top line. But the human side of the innovation experience is equally important when it comes to the day-to-day operational changes. The goal is to address negative emotions and amplify positive sentiments. And for the business, this exercise can empower employees of all generations to accept change more readily and use it to build future growth.

For more insight, see “HR: Workforce Dynamics Are Driving Change In Oil And Gas.”

Paul Kurchina

About Paul Kurchina

Paul Kurchina is a community builder and evangelist with the Americas’ SAP Users Group (ASUG), responsible for developing a change management program for ASUG members.