There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for a successful digital transformation. Every company is unique, with its own way of doing things, its own history and its own capabilities. It’s knowing what those strengths are and how to use them that makes the difference between real change and unfulfilled aspiration. Asking the right questions is vital for anyone embarking on a digital transformation project.
In the four decades that we’ve been advising companies on organisational change, one core problem never seems to change. C-Suite leaders create strategies, plans, briefing documents, and data, but struggle to get the results they hoped for. We’ve found that more often than not, senior leaders issue commands from the top, and fail to engage with the heart of organisational change – changing what people actually do.
People are what make an organisation. A curiosity-led approach helps bring everyone in and give them a sense of ownership over the end result. It’s a process which starts with leaders asking themselves the right questions to understand how their organisation really works.
1. Where are the key decisions made in my organisation?
Leaders often struggle to answer this question. They may have assumptions about how decisions are made, but on closer inspection, those theories fall apart. Although there are people who are officially responsible for decisions, investigating how those decisions are reached really shines a light on how an organisation works.
In the most agile organisations we’ve worked with, people feel they have the autonomy to act without having to consult different committees to get things signed off. This process isn’t an accident, it needs to be intentional and deliberately weaved into the design of an organisation.
2. What do we need to do differently?
Almost everyone finds it easier to say what other people need to do than to focus on themselves. However, real change begins with taking responsibility for one’s own learning, instead of sending orders down from the top or pointing fingers at other teams. This is especially true of digital transformation, with its focus on new skills and integrating technology. Encouraging people to take responsibility for their own learning also means trusting their instincts about what’s best for them and focusing their efforts on outcomes.
Ultimately, if people in an organisation are not learning, it’s because leadership is not creating a learning environment. We have often found that the more senior a person is in an organisation, the more they feel their job is to know things, not to necessarily learn them.
That has to change. In today’s fast-moving and complex world leaders really need to show interest, inquire and be seen to be learning just in order to keep up. Nowhere is this need more vital than in digital transformation.
3. How does your organisation respond to what it learns?
Being open to uncertainty, problems and complexity, although it can make life more difficult, is vital for creating a learning environment. Encouraging a fail-fast, transparent culture makes it easier to see where attention needs to be applied. It’s about gathering reliable information, then leveraging it to build something better – the same principle behind any data-driven organisation.
4. How do you ensure closer collaboration and communication between functions?
Bringing people together that don't normally work with each other can have a remarkable effect in any organisation. Digital transformation is all about the exchange of knowledge and skills in order to increase productivity and innovation. This kind of collaboration can be quite complicated to implement across an organisation. Some quick wins may include thinking about what you can do within your remit and starting to test the idea or inviting someone from another team to give input at your next meeting. Small experiments are a great way to get things moving, and as long as you’re trying to open things up, not close them down, everyone involved should be learning, too.
5. How does communication flow through the organisation?
The best way to change opinions, provoke thought and encourage new behaviours is through dialogue and conversation. The most valuable conversations begin with meaningful intent and involve a lot of listening from every side. Communication comes in many other forms, too, and the increasing amounts of data that people need to deal with can be overwhelming. Look to focus your attention on finding the information you really need - “listening for” is more effective than “listening to.”
Why should anyone be led by you?
Over the years, this difficult question has provoked many different kinds of reaction. Some positive, some negative, but all relevant in terms of learning. We can’t offer you a blueprint for leadership. Instead, think about who you are, what you're trying to do, who you’re responsible for or with, and your relationships within the organisation. Ultimately, leading digital transformation is about showing your own willingness to learn.
Authors: Grahame Broadbelt, Global Head of Communication and R&D and Dominic Fitch, Head of Creative Change at Impact
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