Are your Digital Leaders out of step?

by Ricoh Australia 25 July 2019

Every digital transformation requires its internal champions - are your digital leaders in-sync, or out of step?

These champions build momentum, challenge the status quo, and encourage everyone else to do the same. In doing so, however, they can sometimes go too fast – running so far ahead that they end up leaving the larger organisation behind, or even pigeon-holing digital transformation as the responsibility of a single team or business unit.

At Ricoh, the Marketing Team, tasked as being the organisations “Quarterback”, set out to be those champions – and at a certain point, we found ourselves “running too fast” for the rest of the business. We had led the co-design of the GTM strategy, so the change was intuitive to us, and we underestimated the effort required from the broader business to lift.

That forced us to rein in our pace, reassess what we were really seeking to achieve, and seek out even more alignment with our peers. An essential ingredient to better leverage the human factors (the 'people elements' that often become the greatest barrier) is co-design. Strong vision set by Andy Berry, our Managing Director enables us to bring our teams together to co-design (we leveraged 2nd Road’s AcdB Planning Model) that formed the basis for the need to change and what success looked like. Strong lines of communication, coupled with transparency of actions and motivations across the entire organisation, remain the best way of minimising the very human factors that almost always derail well-intentioned transformative efforts.

Technology and people: out-of-sync by default?

Early adopters and champions of digital should remind themselves what one professor at MIT calls the First Law of Digital Innovation: that people change at a much slower rate than technology. 45% of business and IT leaders already feel that technology has significantly accelerated the pace of innovation in their organisations – which, if left unmoderated, quickly puts mounting pressure on teams to move faster without necessarily knowing how, or why. If we let technology dictate our pace of organisational change, we end up playing a constant game of catch-up that not only wastes resources but also ultimately burns our people out. Rather than simply aiming to achieve the fastest pace possible, digital transformation leaders can – and should – deliberately set the pace of change to challenge, but not overwhelm, the rest of the organisation.

Getting digital leaders and the broader organisation in-sync around transformation may mean “falling behind” the rest of the market for some time – although I’d question exactly what that really means in terms of actual revenues or opportunities. But by doing so and aligning everyone on the priorities and purpose that should underpin digital transformation in the first place, digital transformation can finally stop being just about technology, or just a one-off “project” confined to a specific business unit.

That was what initially happened at Ricoh, where many felt as though digital transformation was just a marketing campaign – a lot of new messaging, but not necessarily requiring action on their part. We had pushed the agenda too quickly, moving too quickly from talking to our people about how it would affect the fundamentals of working and selling and serving customers who are themselves transforming to rolling out future phases.

At that point, we had to turn around, listen to, and further educate the broader business on what digital transformation meant, with language relevant to each business unit’s and team’s everyday work. This means we are now spending additional time “training the trainer” and partnering with our People & Purpose team including Jessica D'Souza to leverage our leadership community to help embed our approach to ensure how we initiate and manage change is embedded in the broader organisation. We call our approach the Business of Change, reflecting that this is ongoing and just part of how we operate – we are all in the Business of Change.

Collaboration and communication first

The best way to ensure digital leaders stay in-sync with everyone else, is to start with clear lines of communication between all parties. That’s something many Australian businesses still struggle to do: our Innovation Study earlier this year found fewer than one-third always involve staff in reviewing innovation outcomes, and only 38% of organisations consistently check on staff needs before implementing digital solutions.

What we’ve found when talking with our customers is that any engagement is only ever around how employees or customers will use a technology that has already been selected.

This is despite the fact those who do seek the understanding of their people beforehand, and factor their people’s views and concerns into the vision and strategy behind digital transformation, tend to experience less disruptions during the process and generally achieve productivity gains more quickly. The more agreement around purpose – like the customer-first mindset that we constantly come back to in Ricoh’s digital transformation – the better. Studying the end users, truly understanding their world before any solutions are designed is imperative, particularly to achieve any productivity gains from transformation projects.

Often, we tend to think of digital transformation as a one-off – it happens only a single time, almost like an experiment that we all hope works out. From my experience, it bears stronger resemblance to the famous Martin Luther King Jnr quote “by all means keep moving”. The important thing is to always be moving forward but at the scale and pace that is effective for your organisation. That’s why we’ve adopted a truly iterative approach. Digital Transformation has no definitive “finale”, and its points of reference constantly change as technology – and more importantly, customers and markets – continue to evolve.

By investing in collaboration and communication first, we not only ensure that the entire organisation understands the full value of transforming, we also lay the foundations for a much more coherent and committed response to long-term changes in how we do business. Providing a common framework on how to initiate and manage change will provide the clarity and confidence to overcome the challenges of change, expediting initiatives. It will also help transform your culture to ensure the ability to initiate, manage and sell change is at its heart.

Most digital champions will have heard or even quoted this apocryphal proverb before:

If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.

Starting off with collaboration, communication, and commitment to the purpose of digital transformation may mean going slower than digital leaders want to. But we need to remember: it’s not about us, or our own ambitions. It’s worth losing a bit of time to “go together” with a clear purpose and vision in mind.