By Elizabeth Lukas, CEO of Decoded, and Audrey McGuckin, CEO of Audrey McGuckin Talent Solutions
How does an organization achieve ‘digital transformation?’
Personally, we think you have to trigger people’s individual aspirations in order to change a company. If you educate someone as to how they can advance their career through change, or leave behind a legacy through change, they will see themselves and your proposal in a new light. Otherwise, your employees will parrot the right answers, and then you wind up with a sales team that understands the product, but not the solution; you get executives debating blockchain, and then Googling it after the meeting.
“Change” is an understatement for the ongoing disruption generated by the Fourth Industrial Revolution at Fortune 500 companies, nearly half of which have disappeared since the year 2000. The journey is even weightier for businesses rooted in legacy industries due to the digital transformation now essential to survive. Most firms have gotten the message, but even the most well-intentioned can struggle to execute. In our day-to-day work with leadership teams, we’ve seen firsthand how one thing – reframing core assumptions – can make or break unlocking meaningful growth.
What do we mean by core assumptions? Sometimes, it can be a person’s way of thinking. Sometimes, it can be an entire organization’s. Reframing these assumptions (e.g. “Millennials are entitled”) can replace resentment with motivation, and align individual and organizational goals. In the case of the Millennials example, what if we saw a new workplace demographic as part of the greater context of five generations in one workplace and the broader array of skills and human assets it brings to bear? Who wouldn’t embrace it?
Here are five more common assumptions in need of reframing:
1) People are afraid of change
Repeat after us: people are not as afraid about change as they are about not understanding their place or role in change. And if they don’t understand their role, their bigger fear often becomes one of asking too many questions. When someone hears something like “we’re not a credit card company anymore, we are a digital network,” naturally they will wonder what that means for their jobs and whether they have the right skills to survive and thrive. That doesn’t mean they’re scared to hear about change; on the contrary, the things that excite a C-suite about technology are probably just as interesting to the rest of the company. But people need to understand the change and feel empowered to claim their role in it.
2) “This is an IT issue”
Regardless of the department or company, technology will impact everyone’s job significantly. Since 2002, the share of all U.S. jobs that require extensive and mid-level digital skills has surged from 45 to 71 percent of the total. Meanwhile, nearly 4 million of the nation’s 13 million new jobs created since 2010 – 30 percent – required high-level digital skills. Compartmentalized thinking about technology is a one-way ticket to irrelevance. How proactive have you been about educating yourself? About educating your coworkers and company?
3) Hiring more millennials will expedite a digital shift
Millennials will comprise 75% of the workforce by 2030, so of course it’s wise to embrace this new generation, especially as they are the first truly digital natives. But there is more to the transformation of a business than how comfortable the employees are with a smartphone. Culturally, millennials are very open and expectant of flat structures, which is an excellent attitude for rapid feedback, among other uses, but not necessarily for implementing best practices.
Meanwhile, there is a huge and oft-untapped “carrot” for older workers to reexamine their work processes: the opportunity to leave behind a legacy, a fingerprint on the organization. It goes without saying that what you can achieve in a year with a new worker, versus a senior worker who understands the business, is night and day – so carefully assessing what incentives would motivate a professional who’s already accomplished much behooves thoughtful employers.
4) “Don’t fix what isn’t broken”
If the only thing you knew about Toys“R”Us was that it was the world’s largest toy retailer in 2017, you might think the business was doing great – until you learned that it also filed for bankruptcy that year, too. In hindsight, it seems obvious that by ignoring e-commerce, brick-and-mortar retailers were setting themselves up to be vanquished by the Amazon juggernaut. But another assumption just as lethal to toy companies was that younger generations would simply use digital to buy the same toys online. While that has definitely transpired, even the toys are facing competition now from digital entertainment on an iPad, or through Netflix.
As it turned out, the implications of the disruption Toys“R”Us faced were more complex than merely changing where people bought their teddy bears. Remember this lesson the next time your company justifies delaying much needed change because the latest quarterly results were outstanding, or your customers love you (for now). Ask yourself: if a digital juggernaut is birthed by this industry, will it be us?
5) (Mis)interpretation of digital
As discussed above, a common mistake companies make is to underestimate the scope and size of the disruption ahead because their view of technology is too narrow. Yet, businesses err just as often by making the opposite assumption, that digital transformation is too big and too complex for anything but enormous, innovative firms. Unfortunately, change does not care if you are a small or mid-sized company.
Assuming that vanguards like Google or Amazon have a playbook to cope with the disruption wrought by digital transformation is wrong; Silicon Valley has not yet invented a crystal ball. The only thing successful companies understand better than most is that just because digital is important, and applies to everyone, doesn’t mean it has to be complicated. We recommend you start with the simple step of reassessing the core assumptions you hold for yourself and your business. If you were another person looking in, how would you reframe these assumptions to maximize their transformational potential? What would you change?