PILOT – The Human Side of Technology: Leading People Through Digital Transformation

Resource Type
Research Project
Cliff Tironi, Beth Dawson, Michael Rivera
Digital Innovation, Culture, Organization/Future of Work
Associated Event
Research Project

Initiated: Spring 2022

Expected completion: Fall 2023

Launch session

Latest webinar

Next event: Update webinar on Monday, January 30, Noon ET. Contact Matt Dorocak to attend the webinar.

To learn more, contact Matt Dorocak.

Value proposition:

This research project will address the following IRI item from the list of “Hot Topics”: how can we plan for and guide cultural changes associated with digital transformation? 

Investment in digital transformation is accelerating at a time when employees are reporting change fatigue and burnout. This creates a need for leaders to balance digital progress and innovation with employee engagement.  

Our research project will address ways that IRI leaders can effectively lead employees through the speed of today’s technological change, with focus on change management in an agile environment, resistance management and capability building, and reinforcement.  We will research what’s working, and what isn’t, at IRI member organizations, as well as contribute insights on how to scale digital transformation from working with our own Fortune 100 and 500 firms (from non-IRI organizations). As a result, this research will provide specific recommendations for how to adopt an agile people-first approach to change management, and recommend best practices leaders can take to cultivate the acceptance and ability needed to guide employees through successful digital transformation across their company.  

Recent studies show that the COVID-19 pandemic propelled digitalization of products, services, and business models. In a recent McKinsey survey, executives reported that the pandemic accelerated use of advanced technologies in operations by 25 times. Other areas, like remote work, by 40 times. In just a few short months, digital projects that weren’t business priorities pre-pandemic suddenly became crucial to operations. Companies pivoted to make necessary changes, permanently adjusting processes and ways of working. 

Spending on digital transformation accelerated, as well. In 2020, it increased by over 10%. Going forward, it’s expected that investment in digital transformation will continue to rise. Market projections indicate that spending on digital transformation will reach $6.8 trillion by 2023. Along with this expansion in digital capabilities, companies will need to effectively manage organizational change to ensure success.  

Jessica Knight, a Vice President at Gartner who leads a team to address HR Executives biggest challenges, indicates that change fatigue is rising. People have a diminished capacity to adapt to organizational change. This, in part, leads to employee burnout, and now, employees are resigning at record numbers. 

John Brandt, CEO of The MPI Group and IndustryWeek columnist, recently stated in a webinar that: “Whenever you go through any technological change, you’re going to have resistance. It’s usually not resistance to the technology change; it’s resistance to how that is going to change someone’s relationship to work, to their co-workers, etc. [Digital transformation] is as much a cultural change as it is a technological change.” 

When digital transformation succeeds, employees adopt new processes, learn new systems, and adjust ways of working. This requires effective training, thoughtful communication, and focused employee engagement. As the collective workforce experiences weariness with change, it will be increasingly important to adopt an agile people-focused approach to digital transformation.  


Spring 2022Begin literature review, research planning 
Begin interviews and focus groups 
Summer 2022Project update presentation at IRI Annual Conference (early insights and next steps) 
Call to IRI members who would like to participate in interviews/focus groups 
Continue interviews and focus groups 
Fall 2022Analyze and thematize  interview and focus group insights 
Winter 2023Continue analysis
Begin deliverable preparations
Spring 2023Continue deliverable preparations
Schedule workshop
IRI Annual Conference 2023Report out findings
Fall 2023RTM article submission

Anticipated deliverables:

The final deliverables will be: 

  • a PowerPoint deck for presentations/conferences 
  • an RTM paper  
  • a TRACK Workshop  

The PowerPoint deck and RTM paper will contain a description of the challenge, data-driven evidence of key findings, and recommendations. Since the IRI audience are practitioners, a particular focus of the deliverables will be on sharing “best practices” to use as implementation guideposts at IRI member organizations.   

Naturally, we are open and welcome IRI members to build on and co-author the paper published in RTM, should there be interest from IRI member participants. 

The TRACK Workshop will help organizations overcome challenges associated with digital transformation. Developed by industry experts and university faculty, the workshop will use effective executive education techniques to help teams aptly scope the human side of digital transformation opportunities, align on next steps, and identify elements critical to success. The workshop will include: 

  • Background content on Digital Transformation and Change Management 
  • A planning exercise for workshop participants 
  • A tailored, facilitated session (approx. 3 hours) 
  • A follow-up plan of action 

Project leadership:

Beth Dawson is the Director of Strategic Initiatives for Mars Wrigley US. In this role she leads a team of internal consultants that drive strategy execution through holistic program management, change management and process improvement solutions.  

Beth is also an adjunct instructor at Temple University Fox School of Business where she teaches Organizational Communications and Change Leadership. Her focus is teaching undergraduate students and MBA candidates how to develop high-performing teams and lead change through creative and inclusive communication strategies.  

Dr. Michael J. Rivera joined the Fox School of Business in September 2014 and serves as Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship. In this role, he teaches courses in creative problem solving, business model innovation, and innovation adoption and diffusion at the graduate level, including Executive MBA. With a strong focus on bridging theory with practice, Dr. Rivera’s classroom is an active, industry-connected one that prioritizes hands-on practice through live case studies and team activities. Dr. Rivera’s interests include creativity and innovation management, the emerging field of human capital analytics, and how the two connect to shape business strategy. He not only contributes original research in these areas, but also shapes these fields in other ways through his consulting and entrepreneurial startups.  

Cliff Tironi is Executive VP of Strategic Accounts for Thinaer, a Platform-as-a-Service that synthesizes millions of physical, digital, and human experience data points every second to create AI-backed business insights. In his role, Cliff oversees the strategic sales efforts by creating trusting, value-driven relationships with Fortune 100 and 500 firms and partner organizations. Acquired by Thinaer in 2020, Cliff is co-creator of Thinaer’s proprietary real-time feedback platform, which is the core tool utilized in driving their digital transformation change management.  

Cliff has a background in data visualization. As an adjunct professor at Florida International University, Cliff teaches Executive MBAs how to be influential communicators, accurately define their business problems, and generate creative solutions to complex challenges, all through the discipline of Data Visualization. 

Project Contributors

Patrick Gleeson works as a Senior Manager of Analytics and Data Science at Thinaer, connecting IoT data with human feedback to make organizations more efficient and effective. Patrick’s professional interests include Natural Language Processing (NLP), predictive modeling, data visualization, and technical writing. Patrick graduated from Temple University with a degree in Economics. Contact: patrick1gleeson@gmail.com.

Stephen Konnovitch is a Client Success Representative for Thinaer, a Platform-as-a-Service that synthesizes millions of physical, digital, and human experience data points every second to create AI-backed business insights. In his role, Stephen is responsible for outbound prospecting, building Thinaer’s inside sales engine, sales operations projects, and managing client and prospect relationships.

A proud native of Philadelphia, PA, Stephen graduated from Temple University, majoring in Finance and minoring in Film Studies.

Nicholas Maldonato is an Analytics Strategy and Innovation Analyst at Thinaer. In his role, Nicholas partners across various organizational functions to help shape and drive business strategies related to analytics, innovation, and sales operations. Nicholas’ professional interests include IoT innovation, Factory of the Future, Hospital of the Future, and Digital Transformation.

Nicholas is an alumni of Temple University and is currently based out of the Greater Philadelphia Area.