Digital Transformation needs speed and anchoring but not at the same pace

Digital transformation is a change like any other and so it must follow some rules no one can bypass. Like gravity. As obvious as it may seem, it’s better to remind it as better easily forget common sense in this field, thinking that technology will solve everything and change will happen by magic at it happened out of the organization. But technology is neither a lever nor the goal. The goal is to have it used purposingly and the levers are mainly humans.

Change anchoring is the ultimate goal of any change program

But it is true that digital transformation differs from what we know for one reason. Usually, once the goals and the direction defined, businesses “just” have to build a change program. Impact study, individual and collective roadmaps, awareness, learning, training, setting the organization in motion etc. The purpose is to make change “land”, anchor it both in minds and day to day activities. We can call this anchoring and it’s the ultimate purpose of any change program.

But that does not work that well in digital transformation. Everybody knows the reason without really drawing all the consequences : when a businesses starts its digital transformation, no one knows how the result will look like, what it will mean. Anchoring something no one knows what it is is quite difficult.

Digital transformation is the process, not the destination

So digital transformation is more the process that leads to change than change itself. Before anchoring, one must find his destination and way. It’s a classical process with well known steps :

  • inspiration : understand what happens, the challenges, know how one is impacted and what’s the new playground
  • Ambition : build an ambition based on what has been learned, without what onboarding and engaging employees will be hard.
  • Design : build concrete initiatives, starting from the customer/employee journey and identified points of friction. The idea is to make things become concrete as fast as possible to avoid the tunnel effect and, what is a recurrent reproach made by employees, to avoid a too conceptual approach. Design stages must be like sprints, gathering all the stakeholders and required expertise on a very short time frame.
  • prototyping : starting from the result of the design workshops, it’s about delivering something concrete and tangible as soon as possible even if not complete. It’s about delivering a minimum viable product in an agile way, to put it in the hands of future users and/or the customer.
  • industrialization : it’s about delivering the initiatives at scale for the people it was designed for. With all what it means in terms of scalability, quality, service level…

The idea behind this, knowing that most businesses start from nowhere and have no idea of  what they want to achieve except getting digital is to acquire what I call “grip and speed”. Understand how their environment is changing, see what’s happening outside, get the challenges right and improve their understanding through practicing and building small but concrete initiatives.

How do speed and grip articulate with anchoring ?

What is important is not to describe these two approaches but the way they articulate and enrich one another.

Starting with a deep anchoring while not having been able to get enough speed and digital grip leads to nowhere. It makes businesses heavier yet not knowing where they’re headed, to freeze things before having set the organization in motion. In short : it’s impossible to progress this way.

Conversly, businesses that focus on speed and grip manage to acculturate more quickly and, most of all, to learn by doing and materialize their progress through concrete achievements. But it comes with a risk : the organization as a human group and as a structure may struggle to keep up with the pace of change and turns into a schizophrenic one, with a part going fast and another not being able to deliver on the promise in a sustainable way.

The solution, without any surprise, is a coupling of the two approaches. As a matter of fact the need for anchoring, for deep change is not the same depending on where the business stands in terms of speed. When a business is in the inspiration or ambition stage, working on awareness and acculturation may be enough but, when they enter the design and prototyping stage, a work on alignment and deep change becomes mandatory.

So starting a digital transformation plan with a deep change program is not necessary. One must just have in mind that the need for deep change will increase over time but only when the direction is set, leaders able to lead an personify the ambition and – the big upside of coupling – when concrete achievements will tell everyone that the transformation has actually started and that it’s already bearing fruits. As a matter of fact it’s easier to convince people and help them to make sense of digital transformation when it’s possible to rely on a couple of successful achievements (even small one that are at the beginning of their life-cycle) instead of long speeches.

No need for a change overload as long as there’s not enough speed and grip

In conclusion, trying to structure plan the journey too much while neither the destination nor the vehicle are known and no one has a driving licence is useless. Most of you already know that and find it obvious but some recent observations makes me think that it’s worth being stated again and again.

So there’s no need for a change management overdose while the business has not acquired enough digital speed and grip.

Image credit : rubber off by Toa55 via shutterstock

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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