Unpacking Transformation 2020, Part 1: Change

A Guide To Subverting Digital Transformation Hype And Clearing Your Path To Discovery, Ignition & Growth

One Person At A Time

Change is where we stumble. Digital transformation, innovation, and agility all hit human roadblocks. Only those who hammer away until they gain traction will pass them. As individuals we struggle to change habits even when our well-being is at stake.

If transformation were digital we’d all have reached nirvana using the Headspace app, peak fitness with Apple Health, and inbox-zero with Boomerang. Alas, it’s the work, not the tools, that brings results.

“During the gold rush it’s a good time to be in the pick and shovel business.” — Mark Twain

Business transformation happens one person at at time – like building a brand or identifying leadership candidates – not in broad sweeps and not without pain. Imagine a marketing funnel…

Awareness πŸ” Consideration πŸ” Conversion πŸ” Loyalty πŸ” Advocacy

…combined with the evaluative context of your leadership pipeline. Notice the flow isn’t one-way, but reciprocal.

You have to add a fairly rigorous selection process or risk lackluster candidates landing in key transformation roles. By the time you reach Loyalty πŸ” Advocacy, it’s more ripple effect than tsunami – and that’s exactly what you want in order to attract more of the right people. Your transformation leaders are your best talent scouts. Think more short-listing, less open-call.

The Emperor’s New Clothes

Positioning digital transformation as a standalone category – not change – was a deft marketing tactic. The result is like a flywheel – outlined by Jim Collins in chapter 8 of Good To Great – that feeds increasingly parasitic growth for technology & services vendors at the expense of their hosts. The hosts – companies being targeted for sexy digital transformations – mostly find themselves in Collins’ doomloop scenario.

This assessment elicits either silence or emotional responses rather than logical ones. It’s less conspiracy theory than practical examination of a 75% failure rate. It’s also noteworthy that the new messaging (all things human, skills…) carefully sidesteps the old messaging. Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds by James Clear sheds light on how/why we get and remain stuck.

β€œFaced with a choice between changing one’s mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy with the proof.” — J.K. Galbraith

3 Myths, 3 Alternatives

  1. “Digital” magic bullets for analog symptoms: this is diet pill marketing – big results from small effort. The relentless repetition makes this messaging hard to resist. Compounding the failed promise of digital transformation is the fact that a significant percentage of enterprise software still sucks and doesn’t play well with others (it’s only buoyed by talented sales & marketing). In the end, even great software doesn’t fix human challenges. Refuse glossy capabilities and insist that software solve hardcore problems, integrate to an acceptable degree, and have a reasonable measure of portability. Automation and new capabilities can follow.
  2. Org-wide: nothing happens org-wide – it’s just not how group dynamics work. This kind of thinking can only come from tenured academics who have no skin in the game. A simple policy change is hard to implement. Reorganizing a team/department hits roadblocks. Give away free lunch and someone will complain it doesn’t meet their requirement. Instead, identify & arm your nonconformists with the permission and tools they need. Stop worrying about communicating every step and just get busy doing.
  3. Buy-in: this is a cheap but effective Jedi mind trick to convince decision-makers they made the right purchasing decision. It’s underhanded genius – encourage leaders to go out and sell their own decision (therefore re-selling it to themselves) and tee them up to buy again, regardless of outcome. Avoid this ego trap altogether by acknowledging it for what it is.

Discovery, Ignition & Growth happen on a timeline measured in years, results speak louder than PR efforts, and alignment is a result rather than a sales pitch. Chapter 8 of Good To Great fleshes out these truths in greater detail and better than I can. I highly recommend revisiting Collins’ findings in “The Flywheel And The Doomloop” chapter.

ICYMI here’s the first post in the Unpacking Transformation 2020 series.

Read how we got in this mindset trap and how to get out in Part 2: 3-Card Monte

Thomas Irre is the founder of HK5, LLC, Practical Business Technology and Mental Self-Defense for leaders & teams.