Jul 2 2024

Organizational Change and Disruptive Tech: The Cage Match for Our Times

Digital Disruption / Innovation
3 minutes
Organizational change and disruptive technology

Teaser: Organizations can’t fail at change management and succeed at AI adoption, but many are unprepared for the clash of technology vs. cultural resistance

One of the ironies visible in the data about how organizations are handling our challenging era – from cyber attacks to the pandemic to AI—is that despite our implementation of new methods and technologies … despite the fact that we have known for decades that every project, being the progenitor of something new, creates change … despite a thousand studies telling us the reasons behind project failure … organizations continue to be lousy at change management.

In our own latest study, The Adaptive Organization 2024, I was disappointed to see that organizations reported various types of trouble with managing change as their top three challenges:

  • 64% reported that “Organizational culture is at odds with [new] approaches” to project management
  • 64% said they lacked the skills and experience needed to embrace new approaches
  • 61% cited “Organizational resistance to change”

More surprising is that even 50-plus percent of high-performing organizations reported these same challenges as their top three problems. Perhaps it makes sense that the better you are at achieving project outcomes, the more you are going to run into resistance to the changes that these outcomes create.

Looking more closely at the data reveals some of the root causes of these difficulties. For example, 47% of organizations in the study reported “Inadequate management support and sponsorship,” making it over of the top five challenges reported. Nothing predicts resistance to change more than a lack of executive buy-in – unless it would be the failure to identify the requisite skills and provide adequate training, which also made the top five challenges. Plus, there’s the fact that many organizations operate in a low-trust environment, where executives and teams don’t hold the same beliefs about organizational problems, progress, or even a shared data set and language to overcome these gaps.

Into this world of indifferent executives, unprepared workers, and a deficit of change management savvy, we now throw AI. While we’ve had a few decades to witness the truth of the saying, “Culture eats strategy for lunch,” we have no way of knowing—even in the short term—what the impacts to the organization will be of injecting a still-evolving disruptive technology straight to the heart of organizational processes. That same study indicated that only a minority (38%) of the organizations presently using AI for problem-solving on projects provide their staff with any training in it, a finding that made me mutter “Yikes.”

At the risk of sounding like an AI “doomer,” I have to conclude that any organization that has not engaged executives in understanding and working with project management … and which has not made sure training in change management goes hand in hand with the adoption of any new process or technology … is setting themselves up for a battle royal. In the question of who or what will be eaten for lunch, I’m opting for popcorn and a seat on the sidelines. But those of you now making your careers in project- and tech-oriented industries will not have that option. Educating yourselves on change management and AI skills while working from the grassroots to influence executive sponsors will be a gift you can give yourself and your organization. It can be challenging to be a voice for caution when others are enthused about a shiny new technology, so developing EQ skills around self-mastery will also be key. Fortunately, these very human skills are just the thing most needed to perfect and tame our AI assistants.

Jeannette Cabanis-BrewinAbout the Author:

Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin is Editor-in-Chief of PM Solutions Research, the content generation center of PM Solutions, Inc., a project management consulting and training firm based in Chadds Ford, PA. A frequent presenter on project management research topics, she is the author or editor of over 20 project management books, including two that have received the PMI Literature Award.  In 2007, she received a Distinguished Contribution Award from PMI. Jcabanis-brewin@pmsolutions.com