Technology as a Steward, not a Master. Five Steps to Enable Disruptive Tech.

Should we still use the term “digital”?  A colleague challenged me last week on whether we should strip it out of our vernacular and simply say Strategy instead of “Digital Strategy” or Business instead of “Digital Business” and just transformation instead of “Digital Transformation”.  I’ve always thought of digital transformation as a level of maturity, a gradual process that unfolds across the organization over time. In that context, disruptive technologies in my experience, are much further ahead than most organization’s ability to capitalize on them. This is not a slight, but rather the reality of exponential tech and the pace of change. Technology is simply progressing much faster than our operating models are able to adapt.

So in this context,  I think it's fair to still use “digital” as a qualifier...to almost everything. Yes, even if it seems outdated. Why? Because change is difficult. In particular when it involves people. (Hint: It usually does.)  Fundamentally, transformation is not about technology but rather what it will enable: a new way of working, a new way of serving our customers a new way of collaborating or going to market.

Technology doesn’t disrupt, people do. Technology doesn’t change how we work. People decide to change how they work. It may sound obvious but when I sit down with vendors and/or creators of disruptive technology the missing ingredient is often a deep understanding of the mindset shift it will require or the internal commitment it will take to deliver on the promise of said technology.  As exponential technologies continue to emerge and converge, the creators and disruptors will also need to act as guides and coaches in order to see the fruits of their labour.

Top Five Ways to Enable Disruptive Tech:

1. Find the Champions

Leaders (at any level, not just executives) must have a shared understanding of the intended benefits and outcomes enabled by any new platform. In particular a shared vision for what will be different. They must then be the change they desire. Find the champions internally that can walk the talk and have internal influence.

2. Assess Skills and Capabilities

Assess level of digital literacy internally as well as skill sets. Does the organization have the required knowledge and know how to manage the change and sustain it moving forward? Even more importantly, do they have the will? If so, gaps can be filled with training or new hires. More often than not, it also involves finding the right set of partners (See point 4).

3. Shifting the Operating Model along with the Tech

Shifting the existing operating model and associated processes to a way of working that can adapt with the implementation of new technology and scale with growth is often overlooked. While I firmly believe it’s critical to take folks out of their comfort zone (and often), it is equally important to not get too far ahead of what the organization can support. To do so generates additional resistance to change and can slow down transformation efforts. This often requires bi-model processes or a mix of slow and fast: make improvements for today but constantly plan for the change of tomorrow. This requires thinking and acting more like a nimble start up.

4. Build an Ecosystem of Partners

Find the right partners, surround yourself with those that share your goals and values while you focus on your core competencies. Establishing an ecosystem of partners for your transformation is as important to your success, if not more so, than the technology itself.

5. Encourage a Growth Mindset

All stakeholders must accept that trial and error will be necessary for success. Example: If you’re working with a group of people that have been doing the same work for decades without any kind of automation you can’t possibly implement artificial intelligence overnight and expect immediate adoption or success.

When we see successful change happen, it often seems fast. We are not privy to the years of trial and error.  Most organizations crawl, walk and then run. They find champions, build business cases and create pilots. They test and iterate.

Technology is a wonderful catalyst for change - it shows us what can be different, the possibilities -  but it must be a steward and not the master. Those that deeply understand how people enable change and equip their customers, their staff, their teams to manage the mindset shift will be the successful ones.