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  • Writer's pictureKarsten Schmidt

How to address change management philosophy comprehensively to embark on transformation journeys

“People don´t resist change. They resist being changed.” (Peter M. Senge)

The global pandemic has been a catalyst to accelerate digital transformation for Life Sciences companies. In-field teams are now asked to orchestrate omni-channel engagements with their customers. Yet, some field team members struggle with embarking on the digital transformation journey. Therefore, I have invited Wilhelm Gierling for an interview. Wil is a systemic management consultant (CMC) and has been working with many companies from different industries on change initiatives including digital transformation.

Karsten: Thank you, Wil for taking the time for this interview. To get started, what has triggered you to become an independent consultant and coach in this field of change management?

Wil: Thanks for having me Karsten and I hope we can complement our exchange with a face-to-face meeting in due time. I always intended to start my own business one day. After more than two decades of exiting roles in various industries and cultural environments, I felt it was time for a turning point. During my last employment in Switzerland, I was fortunate to receive training as a change and leadership facilitator in the culture transformation of our company (DSM), next to my job as a sales director. I ran several workshops with teams in different functions globally. Positive feedback from participants triggered me to turn passion into profession. I see myself as a change guide supporting people in organizations who see the need for change and dare to shape a desired future.

Karsten: Different stakeholders in organisation have different perceptions and opinions on what it takes to drive digital transformation. What is needed to get them aligned?

Wil: What exactly do you mean by digital transformation (laughing)? Indeed, perspectives, expectations, language, and definitions of internal but also external stakeholders are different and leave room for misalignment. This is true not only for digital transformation. So, asking the right questions, actively listening, transparent stakeholder specific communication as well as inviting input is crucial. Leadership needs to answer why change is needed and what are the risks resisting it. It is then essential to formulate a high-level vision helping all stakeholders to understand why they should spend time, resources, and energy to embark on that digital transformation journey. The digital transformation vision should connect to the overall vision and mission statement of the organization. By the way, the sustainability report (section stakeholder management, materiality matrix) of companies is an excellent indicator how thoroughly strategic priorities and stakeholder management have been dealt with and what priority topics like digital transformation have.

Karsten: Which key questions should be addressed when companies want to drive digital transformation comprehensively?

Wil: Once a high-level vision has been formulated, it is important to plot a digital transformation strategy considering both the business objectives and the enabling departments, in particular IT and HR. The good and the bad news is that users have become more familiar with new technology in their private environment. At the same time, they can distinguish between excellent and poor realization of digital strategies by service providers. If digital transformation means doing some of the same tasks differently by using new technology, then two key questions arise. How to use the new tools and why to do things differently? The tricky part is the latter because people need to be convinced to change. A powerful way to do that is to involve them in co-creating a relevant, clear and simple-to-understand vision for their team. If no dialog takes place about the why of the new the old begins to look extremely attractive.

Karsten: Once a collective vision has been elaborated what are then next steps?

Wil: A crisp vision that everyone can commit to is an excellent starting block for change. It is the source of motivation to start the journey. What follows is a change in behaviour and agreement how to interact with each other. Behaviour after a vision workshop is typically visibly different and has the potential to become the wave that transforms. The challenge is to maintain the post workshop enthusiasm over time. For that regular refresher interventions are necessary. They don’t have to be very time intensive but should remind people about their commitment. It can be an offsite meeting or a simple online quiz for example.

Comprehensively addressing change management for digital transformation

Karsten: What needs to happen so that the most reluctant team members also embark on the digital transformation journey?

Wil: I agree with Peter Senge when he says that people don’t resist change but they resist being changed. It takes patience, emotional intelligence, and inspirational intent to truly onboard people. The example of the current pandemic shows it is possible to switch to remote selling relatively quickly from a technical perspective. It also reveals that companies which consciously started this transformation before Covid19 don’t need to discuss the why of omni-channel and can focus on value creation and process synchronization. They are better positioned to achieve sustainable growth. In their book “Spiritual Capital – Wealth we can live by” Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall suggest that it takes 2-5% knights (paradigm-shifting servant leaders) and another 10% of masters to induce change. These have a leadership potential strong enough to lead a further 80% to raise their own motivations. About 5% might never change. So, empathic leadership plays an important role. If I stepped back into my shoes as a sales director for a moment, I’d add something else in the current pandemic. I would offer each team member a simple test to measure their energy levels. Why would you fly to the moon when the energy tank might be leaking?

Karsten: Due to the current pandemic it is difficult to run workshops face-to-face. What is your experience in taking those workshops to virtual environments?

Wil: The advantage of a virtual workshop is time efficiency and easier documentation. What falls short are relationship aspects and the impact of leadership. I also noticed that people enjoy a 2-day off site/out of home workshop because they can exchange with colleagues from other locations in a relaxed atmosphere. I am convinced face-to-face formats will come back even stronger after the lockdown. Perhaps a good idea to secure low hotel rates already? In the meantime, I recommend starting with a virtual workshop and plan for face-to-face follow up interventions.

Karsten: Did you have any workshop outcomes so far that you did not expect and that surprised you?

Wil: Managers don’t like surprises. Leaders invite elements of surprise. I experienced many unexpected behaviours from leaders opening the workshop in a very provoking way to participants being brutally open with feedback. During a workshop in Africa one participant described his current (silo) reality with drawings of machine guns and barbed wire. He then volunteered to be a change champion for the desired future. The workshop design is such that some participants experience the first part of the workshop as an emotional rollercoaster and then things begin to fall into place. Participants always managed to produce a compelling joint vision in the end. What surprises me most is to see that participants manage to grow their relationship and feedback behaviour in just 2 days.

Karsten: Digital transformation also requires the deployment of the right enabling technology. What is the best way of including this topic into the change management journey?

Wil: That is a relevant point Karsten. Oftentimes frontend solutions are driven by IT infrastructure and system compatibility considerations. If this leads to seamless interfaces and user friendlier processes it would be ideal. In reality, users are likely faced with time inefficiencies and frustration. Frustration that ultimately spills over to the customer. And here we are back to good stakeholder management and empathy. Involving frontend users in technical projects early to ensure proactive two-way expectation management is a good idea. That helps to pave the way for the actual transformation work, where full attention is given to change mindset. Usability workshops can be a meaningful addition.

Karsten: How do you ensure that the collective vision is kept alive in the day-to-day jobs of all field team members?

Wil: A simple visualization of the created joint vision, e. g. a painting or a digital token reframe the commitment made. Communication of quick win to all stakeholders are important to motivate progress and maintain the feedback process. Gaming competitions related to agreed change actions are very helpful and well received by sales staff in particular. Once the ball is rolling, teams usually come up with creative proposals. Leadership plays an important role to keep change on the agenda in business meetings. Progress can also be tracked with suitable metrics, for instance feedback from customer surveys or CRM parameters. If tracking is too meticulous it can be counterproductive, however, and perceived as micromanagement.

Karsten: Thanks a lot for sharing these very interesting insights, Wil. In summary, we can say that the crisp digital transformation vision needs to be co-created by team members of pertinent departments within the organisation. It needs to be embedded into the overall vision and mission statement of the company. Once everyone is clear on the why of the transformation, leadership and change champions need to keep the change momentum high through communication of quick-wins, gamification and other means as well as measuring relevant KPIs.

How do you ensure that the digital transformation journey becomes a success in your organization? If you have further questions regarding this topic, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at or at


Xeleratio Consulting Ltd.

We help Life Sciences executives improve sales performance with innovative best-in-class Business Excellence tools and methodologies . Expertise in Business Excellence has been gained with over 12 years of working in different global and regional roles in the Life Sciences industry.


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