Like it or not; ready or not, every enterprise is now a player in the digital economy.
This is an economy tied to:
A) Consumer expectations reshaped by the ubiquitous connectivity enabled by smart devices, cheap data and easy access to apps and platforms; and
B) Organisations automating and re-engineering processes, and redefining their business models as the competitive landscape shifts.
All organisational change involves responding to one or both of these conditions. That makes all organisational change today digital change.
Change that pays
Meta Management’s premise is that organisations have never had so many opportunities to create new value thanks to the connective power of digital technology. However, too many organisations are adopting traditional top-down change based on restructuring and driving efficiencies. The result can be over-budget, under-achieving projects that leave people feeling caught between the successes of the past and the uncertainty of the future.
When that happens, the change effort can stall – not because people are resistant to change, but because they feel more effective applying legacy processes and systems. The full potential of the change effort can take a long time to be realised. All the while, the market will keep moving ahead, making the gap between the potential and actual performance even wider.
You wouldn’t buy a sports car because it cuts the travel time to do your weekly grocery shopping, yet that is how a lot of organisations are going about their digital change. They invest in powerful technology, then only use it for marginal improvements on their existing business.
Granted, incremental improvements are always good, but wouldn’t it be better to achieve exponential ones? Over the past decade, we have focused on doing just one thing: helping our clients to tap into the power of digital connectivity.
After years of working with organisations large and small to realise their potential as the pace of digital change accelerates, we have found there are three primary leadership approaches to not only successfully meet change objectives, but turn on a tap to continuous improvement and value creation.
1. Work on your future with your people from the beginning – and let them take you there.
Many digital change programs run into trouble because they wrapped their change objectives around the implementation of new technology. The technology becomes the purpose of the change.
It can turn a well-intended experience into a zero-sum game where people perceive others are benefitting from the changes they are being forced to make during the transition.
Instead of cohesive steps forward, the change can turn the smallest division – between departments, levels in the hierarchy, and technical skill – into unnecessary battlegrounds. The discomfort is often mistaken for people being resistant to change. We know from experience that most people – the ones who care – are actually pro-change.
They want to do a good job, but when they cannot see how the change improves how they meet their daily objectives, they will always gravitate to the past they know in favour of the ambiguous future.
That’s why digital change always begins with the articulation of the future for people. Once people understand who you wish to serve with new value and why it matters, the rest falls in line. The change process may still be challenging, but now people understand why it is worth persisting.
2. Digital work is not standardised but continually evolves
Most managers remember the days of task analyses from which job specifications, competencies and skills inventories and assessment tools would be developed.
The control-and-command hierarchy ensured localised efforts aggregated up into the business outcomes. Value, therefore, was internally defined. The process for increasing value was to identify gaps between existing and theoretical performance targets and set goals for people to close these ‘gaps’.
Rely on this method today and you will be out-of-date before your programs are completed, or you risk holding people from exploring potentially lucrative emerging opportunities.
The nature of value creation in the digital economy is different to the past. Internal measures give way to outcomes such as customer feedback, lessons learned and sales. Logically, this means work cannot be defined by tightly-controlled tasks, set routines, rigid processes and competencies.
Therefore, helping people to function comfortably, effectively and productively in a fluid, dynamic, flexible and collaborative environment must be a management priority. Despite some misconceptions, adaptive workplaces don’t work with less management involvement; they need as much as before, acting not as task matters, but as resources to feed their success.
People themselves must learnt to work autonomously with a high expectation of accountability and self-management. They must learn to replace working under direct supervision, to working to principles and following agreed practices to achieve outcomes.
III. Organisational capabilities develop natively and through skill introduction
It is a well-known law of nature that insularity weakens systems over time and introduced factors strengthens them. People of different ethnic backgrounds, for example, have healthier offspring due to the genetic diversity.
This is also true for organisational change. Too insular an approach and the gains available from change are muted by the existing norms. When a change project breaks the status quo the shock to the system can trigger unwanted turnover. You then have the prospect of replacing positions at a time when you need experience and stability most.
Regular, controlled introduction of the desired capabilities can mitigate against the complacency/shock paradigm. Outsourced teams with the right skills not only fortify existing teams, they build their resilience to the new and unfamiliar in the same way that vaccinations build immune systems.
Using outsourced talent can help you work out the sort of person who will be best for a role before committing to a long-term hire. Otherwise, you can pin too high hopes on finding ‘perfect’ recruits, placing unrealistic expectations on the hirer, the manager and the new employee. When the greatest influence on performance is the workplace culture, new hires need to be acclimatised to perform. High performance does not occur in a vacuum.
Using external capabilities as catalysts for change can make re-wiring the workplace into the new, desired ways of working easier. Existing practices are broken up with the introduction of different people doing things differently. The physical change means people are less likely to slip back into old ways of working.
The proviso here is there must be a top-down championing of the outsourced team. They are there to model the change and break down barriers; they cannot make the change for the internal teams.
Digital change, whether to implement new tools, new systems or entire new ways of doing business, has always been hard. For organisations without corporate-sized budgets, it has often seemed too hard.
That doesn’t have to be the case if you have the right leadership with the right skills.
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Digital change is everywhere. Make it a part of your business as usual and join the digital future.
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