Some Thoughts on Preparing for Organizational Transformation
When I first branched out as an independent consultant and worked with several large companies to plan and deploy project management, supply chain, and collaboration solutions, I learned that most organizations struggle with change, and specifically in finding a balance between flexibility and control.
While we think of “digital transformation” as optimizing our key business use cases through both technology and process improvements, we often forget to think about and plan for the cultural change that is required. For example, having a strategy in place for a rapidly evolving intranet platform might be just one piece of your plan, but any enterprise-wide deployment of this size and scope will usually uncover weaknesses within your planning and communication capabilities, and your organizational culture around change.
Taking the Right Approach
Your strategy should definitely include details on how to better align the latest technology with your business processes, how employees will access and use the solutions you deploy, the lifecycles of critical content and how they are stored as your content volume grows — among other considerations. You’ll also need governance policies in place (the boundaries of your system), as well as the tools and processes to manage expected (and unexpected) changes. But we’re still talking about technology, business systems and processes. Where is the governance process around cultural change?
One important lesson I’ve learned during my career is that successful transformations tend to come through a series of small wins, or pilot activities, which can be expanded as milestones are reached and your leadership team is convinced of the business value of the transformation. I’ve project managed the massive projects that took months of planning with the goal of moving from staging to production over the course of a single weekend. Sometimes those projects work, and sometimes they devolve into massive failures.
I much prefer the small wins strategy, allowing you to experiment, validate your assumptions, adjust to changing needs, and build upon successes — while mitigating any much smaller failures. The same is true to cultural change.
Culture Drives the Change
With organizations now more broadly recognizing collaboration as a business necessity, stakeholders are looking beyond simple adoption metrics (how many users log into the platform each month) and more closely at how their teams are actually using the platform. I love this focus on how people are using the technology (Microsoft refers to it as the employee experience, or EXP) and in understanding how the technology is changing the ways in which teams and organizations work.
Much of what is driving the push toward this user-centric approach is not so much about the compelling nature of the latest technologies, but about recognizing the human condition in relation to our technology — and by trying to solve the end user adoption gap caused by our traditional (i.e. slow) response to change.
Which brings us back to your culture.
You need to approach organizational transformation with a holistic business perspective. As technologists, we often jump to technical solutions before we fully understand what is working today — and what needs to be optimized first. Change will undoubtedly have an impact on your business, so it’s important that you take the time to understand the current state of things, and estimate the impacts of the future state. Are you following these same steps from an employee experience perspective? Are you piloting health and well-being strategies, listening to feedback, making changes, and piloting again?
Every transformation should begin with a pilot activity so that new ideas and technology can be tested, impacts to employees can be identified, and priorities adjusted or established. There is no such thing as ready-built company-wide digital transformation, because every company culture is different.
Making Change “Stick”
I suppose my primary point of this post is that the rollout of a new tool or platform does not equal transformation. If we’ve learned anything from the past decade of SharePoint and Office 365 deployments it is that the pure technology approach simply does not work. Instead, what works is an incremental, iterative, and closely measured and monitored holistic strategy, allowing you to expand or contract the scope of your digital transformation based on each successful step forward.
We’ve been moving toward this vision of a modern workplace for some time now, including individual and team-based productivity solutions, and vastly-complex information management and collaboration processes. We have seen innovation in almost every aspect of business, and yet we’re just beginning to understand how connected our people, systems, and the information created and managed by them can be harnessed to further improve the ways in which we operate and innovate. THAT is what digital transformation is all about — finding better ways to leverage these connections to better engage with our customers, get more from our employees, optimize our business workloads, and transform our products and innovate.
Lasting organizational transformation happens when you take slow, measured steps forward.