One swallow doesn’t make a summer – and successful pilots and experiments don’t make a digital transformation. Only when digitalization crosses the full breadth of the organization, it will have an impact on business performance, so says the recent “Transformers survey” by the ‘Financiële Dagblad’. So intuitive the saying, so little surprising this conclusion should be. What is surprising however, is that according to the FD, even the ‘digital champions’ hit the wall here. Is it really that difficult, or are we just not doing it the right way?
Well indeed, it is not that simple. But often we just have the wrong approach: what would you make of this? You are told that most of your tasks will be automated, that you no longer have the right skills, but that you can take training courses to increase your ‘job mobility’. Doesn’t this sound a bit like: ‘we think we are better off without you’? No matter how you are going to react, you certainly will not do everything in your power to make this digitalization a success.
But then, what is the right approach? Because ultimately, tasks must be automated in order to remain competitive. Your employee no longer has the right skills and training is required. It starts with the realization that especially these employees often have the knowledge and the experience that every digital transformation needs in order to succeed. They know the customer, the market and the product. They know where the problems are and what can go wrong. It seems logical to spend all energy on IT, innovation, data department or the young generation. But without the right context, the right knowledge and experience, you will not be able to use the digital resources in a way that will lead to a true transformation of the entire company.
Understanding this is already a good start. But when you bring the “old hand” and the “young blood” together, you can almost literally see the gap in front of you: The one talks about personal customer contact, the importance of birthdays of wives and children. The other talks about digital marketing, social media and data. In the best case, this conversation ends without a fight. But it will not bring your goal, to roll out the promising pilot throughout the whole organization, one step closer. To be successful, you will have to bridge this gap.
In order to rapidly develop digital pilots and experiment with new technologies, most organisations have set up a separate innovation department or internal ‘start-up’. Here the digital talents are brought together and resources are made available to develop new products and services without the restrictions of the ‘normal” organization’. They are the ‘elite’ who must win the future. Traditional KPIs such as profitability are not (yet) applicable. Everyone speaks data and algorithms. They focus on creating new offerings. Taking others along is not their job.
And then, when it is time to roll out their successful pilot across the entire organization, they often lack the ability to mobilize the necessary support. Because communication skills fall short, they can’t make the innovative principles accessible to non-technical people. Instead of discovering new worlds, they have the feeling that have to drag along the old organization.
The “normal” organization, on the other hand, lives on continuity and predictability. Nothing is worse than not achieving the objectives from the business planning. Here the money is earned that keeps the organization alive. Traditional KPIs are ‘the’ mean to maintain course. The language is about processes, product characteristics and customer relationships. Often the major IT projects of recent years are still engraved in the memory: disruptive, ‘incomprehensible’ entry screens and, above all, restraining and controlling.
And then the innovation department comes with a new service, based on data and completely new, automated processes. Customer relationships for example are now determined by an ‘incomprehensible’ algorithm and handled without human intervention. It should not be a surprise that most people in the ‘normal’ organization do not have the necessary knowledge to understand how all of this works and what they are supposed to do now. But without understanding, they will not be able to determine what this initiative will do with their main goal – achieving the business planning. To hit the brake, then seems to be the most logical response.
If you want to bridge the gap, you will have to take action. You will need to give your people the direction, motivation and resources to build a bridge. Implement the following 3 steps consistently, and you make sure that your digital innovations have a real impact on your business results.
First you must make it clear to everyone that digitalization and innovation is the only way to remain successful in the future. As an entrepreneur you are prepared to take risks. But at the end, the business results are the only measure of success. A pilot isn’t a success yet and the yearly business plan is not an aim in itself. With that you cultivate a sense of urgency. No one can lean back and think, this is not about me. Both groups will have to work together. And you will do everything necessary to make this happen.
The root cause of the gap is the lack of skills and competencies: The ‘normal’ organization often knows too little about data science, artificial intelligence or the internet of things. And the innovation department often lacks entrepreneurial skills such as mobilizing resources or communicating effectively. You must identify which competencies are needed where and when and which competencies are lacking. You can do this the easiest by using freely available competence frameworks. For example, the digital competence framework and the entrepreneurial competence framework of the European Commission. With this, you make the competence needs of your company clear to everyone.
Now you have identified the needs, the next step is develop a matching learning offer. This does not have to be expensive or time consuming. There are several major providers that offer a large variety of online courses. And certainly for the most sought-after digital and interpersonal skills, there is a wide choice of high-quality training courses. Often these courses are even for free and you only have to pay if a certificate is requested. With these courses you will certainly not turn a controller into an artificial intelligence programmer and a data scientist not into a communication advisor.
And that is also not what you want. You want the controller and data scientist to work together effectively to roll out your digital innovation across the whole organization. To be successful, you will have to link the learning offer to a learning obligation. And you need to give your employees a ‘time budget’ to follow the courses.
If you have followed these steps, you have achieved more than just bridging the gap. Now, the ‘young blood’ and the ‘old hand’ are not only able to understand each other. They are also able to join forces and improve your digital innovation. The ‘young blood’ can now not only describe the digital innovation, he/she can also explain the underlying principles. And the ‘old hand’ now has the skills to understand these principles and to relate them to his/her own knowledge and experience. He or she can ask questions, make proposals or identify risks.
All of these help to speed up the further development of the innovation. The ‘normal’ organization can now see the opportunities and can estimate how the innovation helps to achieve the goals of the business planning. The innovation department no longer needs to drag anyone. Instead, it is challenged by the existing organization to go one step further. Now, it is in everyone’s interest to roll out the innovation as quickly as possible.
Clearly, the success of digital is analogue: meaning people.
If you work in this way consistently, you will develop what research firm Gartner calls ‘digital dexterity’. Their research shows that employees with digital dexterity are three times more productive than others. They launch digital initiatives faster and deliver more value from them.