21 October 2019, Andrej Lampe MRICS
Digital transformation – the integration of digital technology into a business – is just like a diet. In order to make a permanent improvement, you will have to change your lifestyle (in this case, your work style). It is not a one-time change; it is an on-going process. People by nature oppose the change and consequently the implementation of a different way of thinking and working will require a lot of effort. Hiring an expert could be helpful, but unfortunately that will not be enough. You will need to take the whole team to this journey and they will need to be willing to step out of their comfort zone. You will need to plant a seed in everyone’s mind, taking baby steps. Here is a plan how to get there.
Not a One-time Project
Many people approach a diet thinking: “I’ll just endure for a couple of months until I reach a desired weight.” After that they continue with their previous lifestyle and – what a surprise – they gain weight again. It is similar with some sports. You just have to do them on a regular basis, because otherwise you suck at them and do not get the rewarding feeling of accomplishment. A couple of years ago, I wanted to improve my swimming technique, especially freestyle. I thought that a month or two would be more than enough to learn the technique and that after that I will not have to go to the pool anymore. Guess what? After a few sessions, I realised it will take much more than that! I doubled the frequency of training and after a year, I was able to say I could swim freestyle, still with a lot of possible room for improvement. When I got to that point, I did not think of quitting any longer. Swimming twice a week became an integral part of me.
It is similar with digital transformation. It is not a one-time project.
Not a Separate Project
I remember ISO 9001 standard frenzy two decades ago. In general, ISO 9001 certification assured clients that a company had control over their processes. Companies wanted to have the certification mostly because “good” companies had it, but few of them really understood the philosophy behind it. Leadership hired or authorised a professional to do it. And they did it, they got the certification, but… Many times, the problem was that this was a separate project, which was not integrated into a daily routine. There were ISO professionals that nobody liked, because they asked questions and forced people to document the processes and after that, even worse, they forced them to follow the procedures they had unwillingly prepared. After several years of agony, the ISO 9001 standards lost their popularity and many companies stopped following them. What should have been an improvement of a company’s processes, turned out to be useless, doubled work, mainly because it was never integrated in the company’s culture.
It is similar with digital transformation. Getting a professional to help you could be useful, but it certainly will not be enough. Digital transformation must be an integral part of your process, which means everyone will have to work on it.
Commit to On-going Change
In general, people are afraid of any change. It means stepping out of their comfort zone. You are probably not only dealing with opposing to digital transformation, but change in general. It is natural. Your team might include people who are digital enthusiasts, but they usually will not make a move, because they know that their teammates will not like that. You need to release the self-censoring burden from them. Your goal is that they could be proud of suggesting a change, as they would also gain respect from their teammates. This could be a tough one! I do not have a straightforward solution. Every business and every team are different, but here is what might help you move things forward.
One big leap will probably not be feasible, because it would cause too much stress and disapproval. You’ll have to take baby steps. Remember, your team has to be willing to step out of their comfort zone. You do not even have to focus on digital technology in the beginning. Encourage any kind of change. Your team needs to change the way of thinking; they have to be willing to challenge their own work processes. The goal is that you do not hear the following anymore, “We’ve always done it this way.” Sustainability might be a good start. Many people are already involved in it somehow and feel close to it, so it should not be too hard to start sorting waste, use less paper (less printing = more digital!), reuse things, do not just throw them away… Your team has to commit to on-going change, otherwise you will have people only waiting for any kind of failure, which they would use as proof to point that out, “This doesn’t work!”
If you have a Director of Change or similar position, they should be aware of that and able to help. That is one of their most important tasks – to prepare the team for change – to be willing to accept it and actively participate in it.
Baby steps. Start by implementing small and easy to accept changes. Foster incentives and creativity.
Why Having it Rough?
Because it is the right thing to do? Because it is fun? You will learn and experience a lot along the way. World class big wave surfer, Laird Hamilton worded it perfectly: “Speaking of the ride, why not let it rip, at least a little bit?” Yes, it is darn hard work and unfortunately even though learning and experiencing new things is fulfilling, most people do not find it fun. However, how you feel about it, is not a choice anymore. It is the road, we, as a civilization are taking; some industries and countries sooner, but the rest will follow. The industries are transforming. New players are emerging, many of them do not make it, but even those who have to withdraw, end up leaving fresh ideas behind and pioneering spirit; the elusive but unyielding impression that things could be different, better… If you are not thinking digital, you might get defeated by your competition. Charles Darwin put it simple, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
So, take a deep breath, jump into the water and start swimming! You might find out eventually, that it is actually fun. Trust me, I can tell you from my personal experience with swimming lessons!