Digital transformation : the kingdom of atypical people

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A digital transformation initiative is a transformation initiative before all, so it follows the same rules. If the people in charge do not understand what the destination is and how to get there, if they don’t personify the vision, there are few chances they’ll take others with them.

More, considering this is a digital project, the least politeness is to lead it in a digital fashion. Not only by using digital to communicate but by adopting the related codes and behaviors ; customer/employee orientation, try and learn, pivot, lead by leadership rather than authority etc…

What leads many organizations to end the the same conclusions and questionings : “we don’t know who to rely on”, “we lack true leaders”, “who should manage the project ?”.

Talking about his enterprise 2.0 journey, John Chambers made a comparison with a basketball team. Some people are good in a given system but not in another. He was explaining that he had to rely on people who where not those he used to and that, generally speaking, those who were going to run the future organization won’t necessarily be those who used to run it until then.

That’s the same – maybe even more – with digital transformation. For the reasons mentioned above, their are many changes that those who are the most able to make things move forward are not those the company used to rely on. That’s not a matter of skills but attitude, behaviors, mindset, leadership and DNA. Evidence : CIOs fret about their digital project skills. Most of all for cultural reasons.

Tomorrow’s leaders won’t fit in yesterday’s mould. And vice versa.

Marie-Laure Sauty de Chalon, from  Aufeminin.com said exactly the same in a conference : “As regards digital transformation we need to hire weird people.Same in this post by the Community Roundtable : “very few people want to be the weird dancing man, or even the second weird dancing man.” Finding the new digital leaders and change agents won’t be easy because there are chances they’ve been forgotten in a dusty part of the company or maybe they’ve even not been hired at all.

In fact these people are not that weird. Businesses are only looking for people able to move in a given environment the opposite way the organization was built and used to work. Ability to try, fail, get moving again ? We don’t hire people who have failed. Leadership ? No way. It will disrupt our authority-based model. Curious and creative ? No thanks. We want people who follow the rule, not people who challenge it. Ability to communicate, convince, engage ? Communication is for communicated and we don’t want big mouthes who will question anything. Ability to move fast ? Please follow the processes, workflows and wait for authorization.

So if, by chance, a chameleon managed to pass all the tests he must have been assigned away from where things happen because of their so-called nonconformism. Not reliable enough for major projects. There are also chances he didn’t reach the end of the hiring process, either dismissed or realizing by himself that “it’s not gonna fit”.

The point today is not only to find the people to lead such a project : it’s only the tree hiding the forest. There’s a double-sided challenge :

Digital leaders are not weird. They are the future norm

• Being not only able to hire people for this specific need but to hire them massively because they’re not weird, they’re only the future norm in the organization under construction. It means attracting, convincing and hiring them. It’s an employer brand challenge but also of HR strategy : businesses have been refusing risk for decades, hiring clones to only show “acceptable” candidates to managers. That’s a reason why operational people struggle to find the people they need – even when they know them -, the HR filter working as an equalizer all along the process.

Businesses only have the people they hired, according to the way they’ve been hired.

• Being able to make current employees progress. Some will become digital champions as they will become bolder, few won’t make the leap, the large majority will follow, not with genius but it will be “good enough” provided one takes care of them. As a matter of fact, business can’t refuse an unavoidable evolution but they can’t leave everyone on the side of the road.

The digital transformation leaders issue is a salutary questioning for those who have a tool technology-driven view of digital transformation. It means realizing that they have a culture, hiring and personal development challenge.

Note : Don’t take all the things you can read on the web too literally. Many successful digital leaders come from the “pre-digital” era. They just managed to evolve and stay curious.