I’m going to wrap up this extended series on digital transformation with a back-and-forth dialog with an old friend of mine. I’ve known Scott K. Wilder since the early days of Web Analytics. He’s been an industry leader helping companies build communities, adapt to an increasingly social world, and drive digital transformation. In some of this current work, Scott has been working with companies to adopt collaborative working suites for their customers, partners and employees – which I think is a huge part of internal digital transformation. So I thought a conversation on the pitfalls and challenges might be interesting and useful.
GA: We all see these hype-cycle trends and right now there’s a lot of interest in digital transformation at the enterprise level. I think that’s driven by the fact that most large enterprises have tried pretty seriously for a while now to get better at digital and are frustrated with the results. Do you agree?
SW: Good question.
When you read white papers about the latest trends in the enterprise space, most of them highlight the importance of each company being digital transformed. This usually means leaving a legacy approach or operation and instead leveraging a new approach or business model that embraces technology.
Unfortunately, most companies fail when they undertake this endeavor. Sometimes they fail because just pay lip service to this initiative, never do anything beyond placing the goal of ‘going digital’ on a powerpoint slide they give a company All-Hands (I have witnessed this first hand). And sometimes, they just test out bunch of different programs without thinking through desired outcomes. (They throw a lot of virtual stuff against the internet wall hoping that something sticks).
Undergoing a Digital Transformation means many things to many people. It can imply focusing more on the customer. Or it can mean enabling employees collaborate better together. At the end of the day, however, a company needs to first focus on one simple end state. One change in behavior! Rather than trying to boil the whole ocean at once and try to do implement massive digital transformation across an organization, it’s better to start with a simple project, try to leverage technology to accomplish a desired outcome, learn from the experience and then share the success with other parts of the organization
Start first with a relatively simple goal. And if you really want to change an organization, see if you can get employees volunteer to be your soldiers in arms and then closely work with them to define what digital success looks like. It could be as something getting employees to digitalize their interaction with each other more or leveraging technology to improve a VOC process. Whatever it is. Start with one project.
Here’s one approach. Once the goal is to define, then ask for volunteers to work on figuring out how to achieve the desired outcome. No digital program or initiative is going to be successful without employee buy – in and involvement, so it behooves CEOs to find a bunch of enthusiastic volunteers to figure out the ‘how’ (If you remember you calculus Y = (x)x Senior managers can decide on the Y, and then let their team figure out the X or inputs.
Digital Transformations often fail because:
- Executives often decide their company goals and then impose their approach on the employees. Digital Transformation initiatives also fail because CEOs want to change whole culture overnight. Unfortunately, however, they often forget Rome was not built in day. Even though a true Digital Transformation is often a journey, it is also important to start simple. Very simple!
- There’s no buy in at the mid-level ranks in the company
- There’s no True North or desired goal
- There’s too much attention on the technology and not the cultural impact.
I have read articles that tell you true cultural change can only happen if you eliminate political infighting, distribute your decision making, etc. While all of that is important, it will require gutting your organization, laying off a lot of people and hand-picking new hires if you want to change things quickly.
To truly change a culture, however start simple. Pick a goal. Ask for employees to volunteer to work on it (take other work off their plate so they don’t have to work after house). Ask them to to involve leveraging digital technologies. Give the team room to succeed or fail. Most importantly, be their guide along the way.
Once this small team completes their project, celebrate their success in front of others in the company. Have them highlight how they leveraged technology.
Once this group is successful, anoint each team member to be a digital transformation ambassador and have them then move into other groups of the organization and share their learnings, experiences, etc.
GA: I’m a big believer in the idea that to change culture you have to change behavior – that means doing things not talking about them. I like the idea of a targeted approach – huge organizational changes are obviously incredibly risky. That being said, I feel like most of what you’ve talked about could be applied to any kind of transformation project – digital or otherwise. I’m not disagreeing with that, but I’m curious if you agree that digital presents some unique challenges to the large enterprise. And if you do agree, what are those challenges and do they change/drive any aspects of a transformation strategy?
SW: There are definitely challenges in driving any type of transformative change in an enterprise environment. Here’s a list of challenges preventing a smooth adoption of digital technologies or hindering the ability to digitally transform an organization
As they say. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. Companies get stuck in their old ways of doing things. For example, even though companies are testing the waters with Slack and Hipchat, two great collaborative platforms, few have made any progress in being weaned (a bit) off of email. For example, we all complain about email but refuse to reduce how often we use it). Part of the problem is the result is that those individuals, who are tasked with driving change in the organization actually tend to be the biggest resisters to change. The IT department, who I will pick on here, usually are decision makers and keepers of the digital platform budgets do not want to try something new. (Marketing is slowly getting more say here, but most marketing leads don’t understand new technologies). So IT and even Marketing wait as long as possible to make a decision about adopting newer collaborative technologies, such as Slack or Hipchat. And while they are doing an elaborate evaluation process, today’s tech savvy staff often just jumps in and starts using the latest and greatest technologies. They don’t ask for permission first. This was the case at Marketo with Slack. First, a small group of employees starting using it and soon others jumped in. There was resistance at the highest parts of the company. Eventually, IT, however had no choice and how to follow the wisdom of the crowd. Survey Monkey also started out this way. There are other challenges as well. Solution: Companies need do a better job at knowing understanding what tools their teams want to use and why they want to use them. If the troops are using Google Docs, for example, management needs to embrace this and not try and force their way (in this case, the Microsoft Office 365 way) down the throats of their employees. If there are security concerns, figure out a solution.
GA: I’ll just note that in many ways this reflects my discussion of a Reverse Hierarchy of Understanding in organizations
SW: Data and Privacy Issues: Companies, rightly so, are always concerned about data leakage, data security and privacy issues. Enterprises, especially the public ones and the ones in important transaction industries like Finance or Health Care, have to be sensitive to how data is shared within an organization. Solution: If an organization wants to adopt a newer technology, management needs to do more research in how other companies adopt newer technology while protecting their company secrets. Few companies develop breakthrough technologies and systems that they are the first to try something new. Probably someone has already created a similar service or implemented a similar technology. They have probably already dealt with similar issues. I am not saying just copy what they did but rather learn from their mistakes. Or what they did well.
An older workforce: A third challenge is that many enterprises attract an older workforce and/or are not sure how to integrate millennials into their organization. As I pointed out in my book, Millennial Leaders, it’s important to embrace a younger workforce and place these individuals on teams where they can help advise key decision makers. Younger employees are more likely to adopt new approaches, new technologies and new ways of doing things. Solution: Bring millennials into digital related conversations sooner than later. While decision making can still be top down, it’s important to give these younger folks a voice.
GA: Okay – I know you have more thoughts on this but I’m going to stop right there because I know you’re an expert on this Millennial stuff and I want to delve into it a bit. But that’s probably a discussion for Post #2…