As our own research has shown, there are many challenges facing local government managers who are trying to push forward successful digital transformation. Ironically, one of the most difficult to deal with can be the resistance of your own staff. Our research showed that this was consistently one of the most significant barriers standing in the way of digital transformation. So, what goes wrong and what can be done about it?

Reluctance to embrace new ways of working

Staff can be reluctant to change established ways of working – in our survey almost three quarters of respondents flagged this up as an issue, saying that staff resistance to new ways of working is a barrier to channel shift.

Without staff buy in a channel shift strategy can struggle to get momentum with either staff or customers. Staff who are unsure about new channels will not then promote those channels to customers. Reluctance of staff to change their existing ways of working can then have a knock on effect, leading to a reluctance to encourage customers to change their habits.

So why might staff be reluctant to change established ways of working?

Unclear of the benefits of change

Part of this challenge arises because it can be difficult to demonstrate clear return on investment from digital transformation, and channel shift projects either may not realise the benefits that are promised or it may be difficult to clearly measure and track these benefits. When this is the case the narrative amongst staff can often be that a lot of money is being spent on wasteful tech projects that don’t deliver any improvement. Once this story takes hold it can be very hard to dislodge.

Lack of skills necessary to embrace change

Related to the issue of internal cultural resistance to channel shift are the twin issues of the inability to manage change effectively and the lack of appropriate skills to do so. Lack of internal skills are a recurring issue, in particular skills in two key areas – technical expertise and project management.

Concern over job safety

Internal staff resistance can be motivated by several different factors ranging from lack of relevant skills and understanding of the technology involved through to cultural resistance of managers and staff due to self-protection and concern over their job roles.

Not understanding the benefits of new technology

Our survey revealed  a perception that “the key decision makers (council members) are generationally apart from the day to day use of technology and so do not easily grasp its potential.”  Similarly, there can be resistance to change processes that are perceived to have ‘always worked like that’.

Legacy systems can be hard to change

The nature of local government computing is that councils tend to have complex legacy systems in a siloed environment. Each department runs its own systems and there is often limited if any coordination or integration between departments. Thus a barrier to effective channel shift can be, in the words of one respondent, “complex legacy systems and an integrations cost culture”.

This siloed approach can mean that teams are reluctant to view channel shift with an organisation-wide perspective but rather each team focuses on its own solution, thus perpetuating the divided mentality.

So, how can these challenges be addressed?

Dealing with these issues often comes down to one of two things – communication and education. No one likes to have change imposed on them, least of all when they’ve not been involved in the conversation about change up to that point. Your staff are your most valuable resource so you need to bring them along with you as you develop your change strategy rather than, as sadly often happens, develop it in isolation and then impose it as a ‘done deal’.

Active consultation with staff throughout the process can really help you get buy in before the change happens. Your frontline staff have a wealth of knowledge about your existing systems and processes that can be invaluable in developing the digital transformation strategy and including them from the start makes the whole process feel more collaborative.

You can also use this consultation process to find out more about what skills gaps exist and where your staff would really value additional support and training. Don’t just assume people will know how to use your new systems and understand your processes – getting people up to speed can be a lengthy process and requires proper investment in training and development, as we have discussed in previous blogs.

Want more information?

Download our research report to find out more.