Any organization today must keep reinventing itself to stay productive, competitive, and profitable. It’s an axiom of business that never fails.

Digital transformation has become one way for organizations to rapidly adopt technology and reinvent themselves to meet marketplace demands. One source puts it this way: “Digital transformation is the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business, fundamentally changing how you operate and deliver value to customers.”

One area that has been less clear in modern business is how change management relates to digital transformation. If channel partners can solve this problem, they’ll uncover a priceless market opportunity. Channel management and change management are two sides of the same coin that MSPs and VARs can offer to help organizations adapt to new technologies and processes.

Why Digital Transformation Needs Change Management

During the height of the pandemic in 2020, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella famously stated, “We have seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” The momentous market changes caused by stay-at-home orders, social distancing, and remote work led to the rapid adoption of online services. One of the challenges caused by the pandemic is that we saw massive amounts of technology change adoption but without the proper amount of time to enable the process and people part of the equation.

Channel partners especially faced unheard-of new opportunities to help small and medium-sized businesses keep afloat. Almost overnight, MSPs and VARs became enablers of digital innovation — whether in network monitoring, cloud adoption, communications, or infrastructure and security management — to keep businesses running safely and efficiently. Survey data on COVID-19’s impacts on channel partners indicated an increased demand for equipment and services, especially in cloud infrastructure and security. The need for partners to extend their technical expertise to the people part of the equation — by empowering them through the changes those technologies require — points to this next evolution in channel management.

The Golden Opportunity for Channel Partners

Research shows that 70% of all organizational change-management initiatives fail to achieve their objectives. Reasons vary — from employee resistance to lack of clear management buy-in or failure to provide meaningful digital tools. Channel partners benefit substantially from the opportunities presented by digital transformation by adopting or adjusting some of the most successful change management best practices. Here are a few examples of how partners can provide greater value to their customers in the post-pandemic era:

Fast Track Organizational Discovery

Traditionally, consultants have spent months discovering all an organization’s pain points before recommending changes. This can lead to “analysis paralysis” and ultimately to client discouragement. Keep your process as lean and agile as possible to assure your clients that you’re moving forward proactively and efficiently. The only way to know if changes are effective is to make them. As one progressive firm said, “Prototypes always beat PowerPoints.”

Build Empathy and Trust

Change by any measure requires trust, and trust must be earned. Research shows that empathy is one of the most significant attributes of effective change management. Asking questions from change agents and employees, exploring with them the emotions and vulnerabilities of organizational changes, and including individuals at all levels of the change process are just some simple ways channel partners can win their clients’ trust.

Make New Ideas Safe to Try

Building empathy and trust naturally leads to adopting a “safe zone” for testing new ideas. Avoid the temptation to “go big” but instead look for ways to test smaller ideas with more manageable incremental changes. One progressive firm was brought in by a Fortune 100 firm to reorganize its entire global marketing department. After some initial testing, the consultancy instead designed a new marketing playbook. This simple action impacted company morale much more profoundly — and led to millions in cost savings.

Leverage Small Wins, and Then Scale Them!

One article has summed up change management this way: “Organizational change is like turning a ship: the people at the front can see the change but the people at the back may not notice for a while.” Build on your modest successes, earn trust, and move forward incrementally. If done right, small prototypes can become the de facto way of working across the organization. Remember the point above, “Prototypes always beat PowerPoints.”

Key Takeaways

More than ever, organizations of all sizes are racing to keep up with digital transformation. The global pandemic only exacerbated the pace of rapid technological adoption, often without corresponding change-management best practices. While channel partners are in high demand to provide much-needed technologies, the missing element is change management. By aligning channel management with change-management best practices, MSPs and VARs can lead their customers to new levels of productivity and efficiency.

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