How does digital transformation look like #2 : the invisible part

Limiting digital transformation to the implementation of an enterprise social network, a disrupting initiative in the field of customer relationship or the use of analytics for decision making would be a big mistake. As a matter of fact external factors accounts for up to 80% in the success of such initiatives, their effective productive appropriation beyond deployment and window-dressing stimulated activities. Once again it’s about culture, skills, management, processes etc.

This demonstrates the need of what I call an “enterprise digital platform”, not in the IT meaning of the word but as a base made of practices, values and ways of operating that will make it work.

Service culture and customer orientation

Let’s start with the lower layer : culture and values.

Does a digital culture exist ? We might think so at first glance but many facts make me dampen my discourse. We already know that  the belonging to the so-called digital generations does not imply an actual appropriation of technologies and new business practices in the context of work. We also know that some companies have been having digital-like behaviors for a long time, sometimes long before the technology existed. I’d rather say than a certain culture is needed to make the of most of digital, to embrace the new approaches and practices it makes possible.

Let’s call it a digital culture to keep things simple but be aware that the word could be misleading. The people and organizations that spontaneously made the most of digital already had specific IRL practices, ways of doing things, beliefs and approaches. Digital helped them to change speed and scale without questioning what they used to do. For example a company like Danone has been doing things the  “2.0 way” in real life for 6 years through their “networking attitude” program before they decided  to invest in technology.

What seems to characterize this culture the most is a double orientation : customer and service. It’s a fact that strongly customer oriented companies had much less difficulties to adapt their practices and use it to drive internal transformation while those who kept thinking external and internal activities separately, moving forward on the one side and stepping on the brakes on the other experienced a slower and more painful transformation.

Moreover, if customers are the goal of any business, it’s employees won’t give them what they are not given themselves. Here, I refer to the concept of symmetry of attentions coined by Academie du Service (a French leading consulting firm in the field of customer services). Customer facing employees won’t adopt behaviors and attitudes no one has towards them in the company.

It’s being customer oriented and more generally speaking “others oriented” that makes that some people always try to find solutions even if it means gaming with rules, mobilize the right people around a problem to find a solution instead of letting things vegetate, re-align work in an adhoc way according to what must be done at a given time. These people are those who easily made the most of digital, in all its forms, in a natural fashion. On the contrary, being a geek has never meant being inevitably customer oriented.

The ultimate step being seeing colleagues as internal customers what would solve once for all the issues related to resource allocation, adhoc and cross-teams collaboration.

As a matter of fact what do businesses have in mind when they thing about digital ? Go straight to what matters, mobilize the resources that will make a difference, making oneself available for others, adapt, innovate. It requires a specific context, organization what will make sense of technology and these building blocks won’t exist if, at the beginning, there’s no a service culture and a strong customer orientation in the organization.

Alignment of culture and business activities matter

Culture is nothing without leadership and alignment. Leadership because before being adopted by employees (who are more influenced by the system they work in than by exhortations) this culture must be embodied by leaders. In their behaviors of course but also in the way they will run the company, structure it. What leads to alignment. Culture and values are only worth if turned into action.

Here starts a long and non exhaustive list.

Let’s start with the RH side : job descriptions, criteria upon which people are hired (the star of a non digital company way be a time bomb in another kind of organization), evaluation models (if the time passed with a customer or a colleague is seen as wasted, don’t be surprised if…), compensations (if you give bonuses to kill other don’t be surprised if…). Learning and training programs are also impacted : what does learning means, how, from whom ? Gasworks programs and the “labeled knowledgeable person being the only able to teach others” will be challenged. Don’t forget mobility and remote work that go hand in hand with the “digital spirit”.

Then the organization side. Reporting, autonomy, decision making…are we in a push or push logic ? Are resources (information and people) accessible or their access controlled ? Are large teams the norm in a context where economy of scales don’t apply anymore or  small interconnected teams interacting with each others  ? What about the data culture in decision making ? In a digital world both a data culture (operations)  and data ethics (governance) are required.

Then management. Are managers in a command/control approach or are they in a support/facilitation one ?

The gap between customer and employee experience impacts engagement

Next layer: business and process activities. Most of all in the field of customer relationship. First because it’s what’s going to drive internal flows of work, then because it sets the tone in many fields. One of the key drivers of employee engagement is the coherence of customer and employee experience (to not make employees think all efforts go to the customer while few attention is paid to the) and what makes them efficient is the mission / activities / processes alignment with customer cases management. This matter would deserve a whole book.

Then it will time time to focus on technology that will be poorly, not or unproductively used outside of the right context.

Digital transformation managers will often focus on the visible part of the iceberg, tooled initiatives. But if they overlook the invisible part, think things will change and align by themselves, they’re going to face serious troubles.


Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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