How to fight digital transformation fatigue

By Mary Mesaglio, Gartner Inc.

Transform, Transform, Transform. This steady message to focus on digital transformation is important, but the reality is that it runs the risk of creating transformation fatigue.

Transformation is often big, lumbering and faceless. It can fail entirely through a lack of momentum, especially down the ranks where the understanding of why things are changing can be murky at best, leading to passive resistance and inertia.

Take the test

To ensure that your teams are still energized and not stalled on the digital transformation path, teams and enterprises should take the following quick transformation test to ensure the group has a solid transformation destination.

Can you explain:

  • What is your enterprise is transforming into, and why?
  • In under two minutes?
  • Using no “corporate speak?”
  • In a way that someone at the frontline would understand and be motivated by?
  • Would your peers say roughly the same thing you have?

As will be discussed at the upcoming Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo 2019 in Toronto, even for companies with a clear transformation destination, finding a way to get people moving in that direction can be challenging. The assumption is often that to move toward transformation, the solution has to be large and overarching. In reality, CIOs can opt for smaller, changes, which can be enacted immediately and also have an outsized impact.

Hacks, nudges and prods

Culture is the biggest barrier to change and digital transformation. CIOs want a culture that is agile, open, creative and customer-centric. Take a three-pronged approach:

  • Hack: Exploit a single point where the culture is vulnerable to change
  • Nudge: Make it easier for people to behave in ways that are good for them
  • Prod: Use incentives and rules to change behaviors.

The question is, how do you keep this sustainable?


When South Africa was having a water shortage, the government had pop stars sing songs that were two minutes long. The intent was to turn on the song when you start showering, and turn the water off when the song ends. The end result is a quick culture hack to reduce water usage.

Culture hacks are emotional, immediate, visible and low effort — but not low courage. CIOs should look to exploit a single point where the culture is vulnerable to change.

Cultures are vulnerable to change where associates spend most of their time, which is processes, projects and meetings. Meetings, where people spend so much of their time, are particularly ripe for hacking.


Imagine you’re moving into new offices and have to choose between a formal office with mahogany desks, high plaster ceilings and closed doors or an open floor plan with no doors and a couch in the middle. Either way, you’re nudging people toward something. Whether it’s more or less collaboration, accidental meetings, noise or formal behavior, nudging is a gentle form of hacking that makes it easier for people to make the right choice. These choices push people to one behavior and away from another.

CIOs nudge in three primary ways: Design, default and data. The way your team designs websites, security parameters and predictive analytics nudges employees to act in particular ways.


The challenge is finding ways to motivate people to behave the way you want them to. Prodding uses incentives and rules to change culture.

CIOs can tap into social norms — the world of relationships, based on social benefit — and use items like recognition, travel, or access to things or people as a way to prod.

The other way of prodding is to create small rules, such as “All staff meetings will now be 15-minute standups” or “You must work with someone outside your team for this type of project.” This approach enables self-sustaining and habitual change.

At the end of the day, whether they hack, nudge, prod or all three, CIOs shouldn’t overlook the smaller actions that can have a big impact on getting people moving toward transformation and away from fatigue.

Mary Mesaglio is a research vice president and distinguished analyst with Gartner, Inc. Her research is focused on helping large enterprises to innovate and change their culture.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Gartner, Inc. (NYSE: IT) delivers actionable, objective insight to executives and their teams. Our expert guidance and tools enable faster, smarter decisions and stronger performance on an organization’s mission critical priorities. To learn more, visit

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