Cultural Pitfalls of Digital Transformation: Part I

A recent study of 500 CEOs sponsored by AWS, revealed that despite a decade of work to help their businesses become more digitized, the vast majority of companies have yet to meaningfully transform their operations and establish true data- driven organizations.

Considering the resources already committed and clear value that technology solutions can bring, this may be surprising. However, as a certified facilitator on Change Management I have been assisting companies with high-visibility transformation efforts for years and I have learned that true transformation is rare and that unfortunately a high percentage of these efforts are prone to failure.

Any transformation effort brings with it a perilous mix of both danger and opportunity.

The opportunity to scale your business, reduce costs, and drive growth are highly seductive to leaders trying to gain an edge. However, few foresee the dangers inherent in workforce disruption, wasted capital, and cultural upheaval that go hand-in-hand with digital transformation.

The critical mistake that many leaders make is focusing too narrowly on the “new” technology tools, while neglecting the cultural transformation and letting-go process that needs to occur for their people to come to terms with the new situation. In fact, many leaders fall into the trap of thinking that people naturally resist change and somehow see them as the impediment. It would seem that the millions of office workers that quickly (and happily) adapted to work-from-home and eagerly adopted Zoom-life would beg to differ.

Adapted from the research of Musselwhite & Jones, I have been using the Change Style Indicator (CSI) instrument for years with teams preparing thoughtfully for transformation initiatives. The CSI tool allows individuals and teams to understand their natural response to change situations and appreciate how that may differ from their colleagues. Armed with this powerful self- assessment, teams are better able to align based on their various strengths and avoid the pitfalls that may come with their unique style. In the end, the goal is to build both flexibility and empathy with the idea the team intentionally equipped have a much better success rate when trying to bring about major change initiatives.

At FortyAU, our primary business is focused on helping our clients to effectively implement high priority initiatives to digitally transform their business. The primary tool we use to drive change are custom software solutions, however we understand that the solutions we build will only be successful if the actual people in these organizations are able to pick them up and use them in powerful ways.

Starting with strategy and design, we strive to understand how clients operate today and where new digital solutions may uncomfortably disrupt their existing business process or workflows. We strive for a highly collaborative software development process believing that participation builds commitment. To learn more about our process and see individual examples of how we make this happen, we have compiled two case studies in which the implementation of digital transformation was quite different.

Let’s dive into our first scenario:

Company A is a fast-growing specialty logistics company that wanted to streamline their operational process, due to new competition in the market – and distribute operational knowledge with the retirement of one owner. The original process was developed over the past two decades, and included manual spreadsheet manipulation (with color coding for status), dual-screen data entry, and multiple 3rd-party web site visits to perform daily delivery work.

After an original attempt (with a different partner) to move the process to a low-code platform failed, FortyAU was brought in to build a web-based application that modernized and automated the process for both the company employees and their customers. FortyAU got to work with project stakeholders (the executive who was retiring as well as several Vice Presidents) to document the future process, design the application, and prioritize feature development. The team got to work developing the product.

The project was projected to reduce service delivery times by over 50% by enhancing automation; increase accuracy by the same percentage due to fewer human “touches”, and reduce the time to onboard new clients and 3rd-party service providers by over 30%.

Several months later, the product was ready for review; the executive leadership was impressed by the final product and excited to release it to the operations team. FortyAU provided product demos and training, but testing was slow, and would halt when behavior that was unexpected to the operations team was experienced. Major changes were requested by the operations team; many of which reversed decisions that were made during the design and discovery process with executive leadership. It soon became clear that there were different expectations of the product between operations and the leadership team.

FortyAU quantified the differences in expected functionality and facilitated a deep-dive with the executive staff. FortyAU worked closely with the executives to drive decisions amongst the requested functionality. Some came from a level of detail that was not originally understood by the leadership team. Some were new ideas that current and future clients could take advantage of. Many of those were implemented without significant discussion.

Other “bugs” or changes, however, were requesting things to be back like they were – “Cutting the ends off the ham” for the business. These feature refactors were – and continue to be – discussed in great detail before a final decision is made, as they represent the modernization of the business as well as the business’ ability to digest these changes and grow.

The client still struggles with this, potentially reducing productivity or, at worst, risking key personnel leaving as a result of the modernization effort.

How could this have been avoided? Be on the lookout next week as we publish part two and Company B’s story.

For more information on how to skillfully navigate change initiatives, please reach out and see if FortyAU may be the right partner for your organization.

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