Successful Digital Transformation Is More People and Culture Than Technology Featured

The Foundation for Successful Digital Transformation:

Secure Leadership

Culture Without Fear

Empowering Individuals

A Few Simple Rules

The benefits to government agencies willing to break away from old legacy customer service programs, which are all too often mired in leviathan 20th century IT systems, and embrace a combination of new 21st century technologies, were clearly outlined in a recent article, Government Digital Transformation, written by Dustin Swayne. Specifically, he spoke to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s use of an omni-channel system named Zendesk. A digital transformation that has now spread organically to an additional six Tennessee departments and being considered by several more.

The adoption of this system, which tracks the journey of each customer gathering valuable ‘real time’ data about each touch with the system, enabled the department to quickly make informed decisions about streamlining processes and procedures in response to customer needs. Excellent customer service at reduced operating costs, was the outcome. In fact, what was achieved can be characterized as “Service Uncharacteristic of Government"™.

 In today’s world of accelerating disruption, the decision to initiate a program of digital transformation by public organizations should be done without hesitation. Never has government had access to digital tools that are inexpensive, easy to implement and capable of changing completely and for the better the dynamics of citizen/government interaction. At a time when public opinion about government performance from all levels is at an all-time low, government must embrace digital technology if it hopes to realize levels of efficiency, effectiveness and accountability long absent from the service government provides its citizens. 

The article Government Digital Transformation described the reasons for governments to embark on a path of digital transformation providing two excellent examples of what it can achieve. However, the need for digital transformation is no less applicable to private sector organizations.

In the business community, digital transformation is rapidly becoming an existential consideration. Traditional, hierarchical companies that have not taken steps to transition or are not at least considering it will become ever more vulnerable to competitors that are. Non-traditional, platform-based competitors are already way ahead. Numerous examples and case studies show that the first one in and a few fast followers most often dominate later.

What Is Digital Transformation?

 It is not just transitioning from the analog world to the digital world of one’s and zero’s by adopting some digital information technology. It is, ultimately, a continual evolution of business process engineering. A never ending, ever changing way of doing things around connected customers whose interests and needs drive an organizations service model.

It is also about leadership and culture creation. Get these wrong and no amount of technology will save an organization from the ever-increasing crush of competition and customer dissatisfaction.

 It is senior leadership committing to the creation of a culture of experimentation, transparency, collaboration, risk taking and accountability and insuring this way of doing business flows down the organization. It is having a tolerance for failure, not incompetence. It is leadership understanding they are not the smartest person in the room and not pretending they know all the answers. That collective intelligence and distributed decision making within a culture of innovation and creativity where all feel free to speak up, take actions, make suggestions and disagree with their managers, what is sometimes referred to as an environment of psychological safety, tend to outperform older hierarchical organizations. It is clear, continual and complete communication about the reasons for change and the goals and expectations of that change from the top of the organization to bottom and from the bottom to top.

Digital transformation requires a new form of leadership in a new type of organization, sometimes described as a flat organization, though ‘agile’ seems a better description. Agile in this article is defined as an organization that operates in a people-centric culture conducive to rapid learning through experimentation and short decision cycles enabled by digital technology that provides a continuous flow of real time data from the customers it serves.

 Leaders in such organizations do not distance themselves from the people who are empowered to make decisions. In fact, they will likely have far more ‘direct reports’ than found in a traditional organization because they want to be near the people who are dealing with the ‘reality’ of the organization. Those who know the true organizational health of the company or institution because they continually interact with the customers who are telling them what their needs are and if they are being satisfied. After all, is not customer satisfaction the single most important metric of whether an organization is prospering?

 To become an agile organization through digital transformation requires leaders who embrace change, not only digital but also cultural. The latter is a most difficult journey. It requires leaders who are selfless. Individuals who see the weakness of traditional command and control structure in today’s rapidly changing digital world. Persons who are confident in their abilities and do not see empowering others by giving them resources, authority and responsibility as a threat to their own position. Leaders who understand that in most cases, people who are given clear responsibility and authority will appreciate the empowerment. They will become more engaged in their roles, feel a greater trust for their leadership and uncover ingenious new ideas of how to move the organization forward in more efficient and effective ways. This is especially important today, when data shows employee engagement is at an all-time low.

 It is the movement of decisions and actions away from a monolithic, top-down, decree structure and shifting them to local interactions of talented individuals in teams that are provided with ‘real time’ data in ‘contextual relevance’. This enables decision makers to readily understand what is important at any given moment, so they can focus on, fully understand and explore details to consistently make timely, informed decisions.

 Organizations can no longer wait hours, let alone days or weeks, for details and/or requisite information that supports decisions. Quite simply, things are just moving way to fast. Data, algorithms and artificial intelligence are changing not only the workplace but also the very nature of work itself. Real time data is necessary if an organization is to gain actionable insights that drive decisions and optimize outcomes.

"Control may be gained from managing through fear, but the cost is loss of creativity, innovation, trust and loyalty." - Burns Phillips

 Most importantly, digital transformation is about people. Individuals and groups working in a culture devoid of fear. Digital transformation demands it be structured on a solid foundation of talented people where operational change takes place at the individual employee level but is based upon the experience and collective intelligence of a collaborative group working toward the same goal. It is a culture that empowers them to make decisions by providing them with the necessary tools and information upon which to make sound, informed decisions. Decisions that are iterative. Frequent, small, imperfect, independent and at the front line but made with the knowledge and awareness of the organization’s broader mission.

 It is making it crystal clear to employees that the freedom to experiment and make independent decisions comes with responsibility and accountability. Accountability does not mean that a mistake is fatal to one’s employment but rather is seen as an opportunity for improvement by learning from mistakes. What is learned is valuable in making an informed decision to back up and take a different direction, one that carries with it the knowledge of what does not work.

 Digital transformation requires a continual flow of communication that gives employees a clear understanding of the overall mission of the organization and the goals necessary to fulfill that mission. It is open and honest trusting them with the truth be it good, bad or ugly.

Be unambiguous as to the importance they play in the organization’s success not just through words but actions that let them know you are confident in their skills and know they can do the job. Give them influence over things that affect them on their jobs and provide them an opportunity to take part in decisions that are job related. All these things will show that you trust them, and they will in turn trust you.

This article broadly addresses three crucial aspects of successful digital transformation, leadership excellence, business process engineering and culture creation. It is not an exhaustive presentation of the composition of each but does highlight them as the essence of digital transformation. What is crucial and indispensable.

Any organization, be it public and wanting to perpetuate its relevancy or private and wishing to stay competitive in the new digital world in which we live, will need to adopt these as the core of their transformation strategy.

"Service Uncharacteristic of Government"™ is a trademark of SATRDE', LLC

This article is the second in a series of articles that seek to create an awareness and dialogue about the rapid, exponential growth of technology and the positive and negative impacts it promises for America's workforce and the businesses and industries that need skilled workers.


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Last modified on Wednesday, 20 February 2019 14:04
Burns Phillips

Entrepreneur and workforce visionary with an in-depth understanding of what the future needs of business and work will entail. SME in workforce strategies to include artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, automation, IOT, robotics and other 21st century digital technologies.  Combines over 30 years of experience in business development, to include manufacturing, and international distribution in over 30 countries worldwide. Leverages 6 years of experience in in agile management and workforce development innovations through digital technology in Tennessee as the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development in Governor Bill Haslam’s cabinet. Led the successful realignment and modernization of a 40-year-old workforce system.

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