Photo by Johnson Wang

In a recent article I read, written by Adobe’s John Watton, he summed up the organisational uncertainty brought on by digitisation and technology:

“It takes the right culture to achieve the right blend of tech, data and design”

he writes; and in my experience with clients dipping their toes into digitisation – or going bust as a result of cultural failure  to embrace it – I could not agree more.

For every horror story of digitisation going awry, there is another in which digitisation has enabled the organisation to immense success. The wisdom of John Watton and those like him, as well as the research of the likes of McKinsey and Co, have much to reveal about the characteristics that usually end in a successful digital transition.

Trust

Chief among them, it appears, is trust. Yes, trust, especially from the less powerful in the organisation, that jobs will be transformed, rather than cut. How can we expect people to support something that they suspect might cost them their job someday? Organisational trust is at a premium in times of change, and employees need to be encouraged to pull together toward success. It’s little wonder, then, that together with trust, respondents to Adobe’s research cited a cross-team approach and collaboration as being important to the change process.

Customers

Customer-centricity is also essential. Though this is evergreen for a conscientious business, it’s even more important today, when choice has never been wider and competition has never been more fierce. Digitisation must add value both within the organisation, and to the customer’s experience with it, bringing customers what they want, when they want it.

Skills

The digitisation of industries will lead to an increased demand for new skills in digital marketing, IT and more – these are the transforming jobs we are talking about, and it’s actually nothing new.

Back in the 1970s, when the world was being wooed by the promise of computerisation, the same discussions were being held. Computerisation did not reduce employment, it transformed it. Even more quickly than jobs were being lost, entire industries were being founded and others revolutionised. As we become more aware of the possibilities of AI, even tech-heavyweight industries like aircraft manufacturers are realising how important it is to blend technology, processes, and people to gain maximum benefit.

Our purpose is to help organisations build the capability to manage change. I’ve already touched on the importance of culture, but this is just one of several enablers. Prosci conducts research in the field of Change Management and has identified the usefulness of creating a change-enabling system that would facilitate major changes like digitisation. These systems need various capabilities, linked to an overarching change capability.

What capabilities are needed vary across industries and may be unique to each organisation. For example, when we conducted a Strategic Alignment Workshop with an organisation in the financial services industry recently, they came up with a set of capabilities that reflected their relative maturity in managing change, and their plan for several strategic changes over the next three years. One of their goals was to develop the capability of agility.

The capability of agility (not the use of the Agile method) is characterised by various attributes, and many organisations have studied what these are. I like the list that Prosci constructed because it combines cultural attributes, processes and practices and structural elements that drive towards an organisation that is able to respond to and embrace more change, quicker, while staying focused on results. The list includes;

  • Anticipating and planning for changes
  • Fast decision making
  • Prioritising and managing our change portfolio
  • Effectively initiating change efforts
  • Enhancing risk management practices
  • Having human capital strategies that support agility
  • Rapidly developing new/required capabilities
  • Reducing organisational silos
  • Embedding change management capability

It’s clear to see the link between some of the attributes listed above and those identified by Adobe, McKinsey and others.

In summary, therefore, digitisation is not a project; it’s a long-term, deeply entrenched transformation for most organisations. Depending on how big this transformation is, it may consist of various projects (technology, process engineering, HR systems, etc.) or even an operating model change. No matter the size, timing or scope, we cannot contemplate doing this without managing the effects of the change and the change process itself, and simultaneously building the organisation’s ability to do so more effectively in the future.