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Digital transformation lies in changing the attitudes of people

Digital transformation lies in changing the attitudes of people

The key to digital transformation lies not in more powerful computers, but mostly in changing the attitudes of people and procedures of the organisation.

There are a couple of simple things you can do right now that will signal to your people that you are consciously preparing for digital transformation and that positive change is afoot. The first step is the easiest but has potential for deep long-term shift in the course to be taken by your company. Do you have a mission statement that is longer than one or two punchy sentences? Throw it out and replace it with a few bullet points. Extensive research has demonstrated that it is easier to get people behind a set of precisely articulated values, than trying to have them follow a forgettable mission statement. Big, clearly defined goals are far more effective in increasing performance in people than small ones, or badly defined ones. Yes, it may have taken a long time to formulate it but is it still up-to-date? Has it kept up with the changes in the operating context?

Do you also have a “corporate vision” that is a laser-engraved piece of brass bolted to the front office wall, over the receptionist’s shoulder? Take it off the wall, put it in a plastic bag with a dated label on it and carry it down to the archives. Make an occasion of it. Instead of those antiquated expressions of the corporate ethos, figure out the larger purpose of why your company exists and set an ambitious goal, way over the horizon – chosen so it may fulfill that purpose. Aligning people with those will be far easier, and more effective, than trying to have them recall what the mission and vision sounded like.

Do you have a “corporate vision” that is a laser-engraved piece of brass bolted to the front office wall, over the receptionist’s shoulder? Take it off the wall, put it in a plastic bag with a dated label on it and carry it down to the archives.

At its heart, like any fundamentally important strategic process, digital transformation is about asking hard questions. In our current context, those are often made harder and more urgent due to market and labour dynamics changing faster than ever. This is always a stumbling block since, overtly or not, “traditional” organisational culture rarely allows for difficult questions, or off-the wall questions, or questions somehow not deemed safe enough to be asked.

  • “What will happen to the company if we lose three quarters of our best engineers?” (This could be followed by a very interesting infraction of predictable thinking paths: “Would this be a bad thing or a good thing? How and why?”)
  • “How can we ensure we have enough interesting and relevant products in the pipeline to plug any holes made by competitors whom we do not see coming?”
  • “Why should we, or any of our people, even bother giving the best years of our lives to this company?”
  • “Sales are dropping, not just for us but for all our competitors, but we can’t find a major reason for this; what is going on?”
  • “Didn’t we talk at the offsite a year ago about doing the very thing that our competitor just produced? What happened to that idea?”

These are usually not the stuff of open discourse in most companies, but as every manager knows, they are exactly the kinds of issues being discussed around millions of water coolers in millions of offices. Traditional culture does not make it easy to make those discussions public, and it urgently needs to be redesigned so as to make that possible, so as to draw crucial input from those discussions. Digital transformation actually starts at the water cooler, not at the server farm or the tablet screen.

Author, speaker and consultant on strategic creativity, innovation & communication, working with leading corporations (Volkswagen, Google, HP, Danfoss, RBS) as well as knee-deep in Europe’s and Australia's startup community. Good at seeing the big picture and spotting connections between people and concepts. Startup founder (web, mobile, blockchain) and mentor for Founder Institute and PwC StartupCollider. Curator for TEDxWarsaw and contributor to technology and media events as speaker, programme director and/or moderator.

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