Digital transformation means an end to ownership

by Elham Jalilzadeh 06 September 2019

Who is responsible for digital transformation? The textbook answer – “everyone” – is as obvious as it is opaque. Simply asking the entire organisation to pitch into digital transformation efforts tends not to deliver, because there is no “everyone” in practical terms. Most, if not all businesses operate with clear delineations of responsibility, where each department or business unit clearly owns certain tasks.

For digital transformation to succeed, we need to dispense with traditional definitions of ownership. To achieve sufficiently fast and innovative results during digital transformation, we need to shift from asking “who owns what?” to “who can get it done?” In practice, this requires a more organic, collaborative approach to completing tasks than most organisations are accustomed to; this can only come about when leaders, managers, and employees are all motivated by the same thing: a shared vision that trumps functional agendas! Only then does ownership cease to get in the way of digital transformation – when everyone is authentically united in wanting what best serves the business.

Island or Continent?

Islands of expertise are over. We’re already seeing a shift in who takes responsibility for digital technology and indeed digital transformation more broadly. Finance, HR, and Operations have already begun to overtake IT as key technology buyers within Australian and New Zealand organisations. At the same time, CIOs are taking on greater responsibility for organisational culture – so much so that their impact may soon equal that of the CHRO’s.

Historical divisions of responsibility matter less and less as the boundaries between technology, culture, and innovation grow increasingly porous and disciplines converge. There are two scenario’s for how this can play out. In one, different teams end up tussling over who does what – fighting to assume ownership either to achieve their own digital agendas or prevent themselves losing relevance as technology advances. In the other, BUs work together – agreeing on who performs what tasks, at what times, based on everyone’s available skills and capacity.

We’re extremely fortunate to experience the latter at Ricoh. We’re embracing “continents of capability”, where joined up thinking forms a greater mass and is better able to respond in volatile conditions. Tori (who heads up Marketing) will often support customer experience and engagement work that would historically sit in Operations. Whilst leading Operation, My team and I not only advocate for Marketing’s campaigns, but also assist with the customer insights and employee engagement where Marketing is shy of resource. Nobody “loses” responsibility for certain tasks or functions – instead, we accept working in a state of mutually rewarding fluidity, releasing or catching responsibilities based on competency and capacity.

One way to describe how we work together might be as “co-leaders” for whom the burning question is always “what can I do to help you out?” We quickly realised that given the sheer pace and breadth of change involved in digital transformation, what matters most is getting the job done, rather than necessarily finding the most formally trained or politically appropriate person to do it. That, in turn, has helped cultivate new skills and leaders from parts of the business which might not always be thought of as the “experts” in digital, like Operations or HR. It also applies to how we deal with partners – giving them increasingly significant roles in creating customer value, or providing best-practice strategic direction, wherever they can do so in alignment with our ethos.

Brave missions trump self-interest.

Recent reports from Gartner and Deloitte Access Economics have both indicated Australia has reached peak productivity. Businesses are experiencing record highs in propensity to quit amongst full time staff. People are burned out, exhausted from the rate of change, unpaid overtime, and over a decade of being asked to do more and more with less.

We are on a mission to help more Australians make worklife part of a great life, so there really is no time to be precious about who does what. Did you know that 60% of technology leaders are already motivated by a higher purpose – twice the number driven by financial gain? Goes to show that having a higher mission matters, which is why we know we can count on our GM of IT to support Marketing and Operations initiatives as well. In fact, he recently took part in a number of round tables, sharing his own experience in driving digital strategies through the Ricoh organisation.

It’s not a race. It’s a relay.

Business transformation doesn’t happen from the sidelines. It is always the result of human endeavour and there is more than a little sacrifice involved. Long days, late nights, tough conversations and seemingly intractable problems to work through. But when you can feel confident that you’re not competing with your peers, and that you are united in your efforts to bring something truly remarkable about in the best interests of the business, its employees and its customers, you can trust and be trusted. And that is powerful.

Sometimes letting go of the part you own is the only way to let everyone own all of it.

More fluid collaboration, and cross-pollination of ideas across lines of business, allows for greater innovation – and our own research found that for 40% of business leaders, innovation is not just a nice-to-have, but a key survival imperative. The best way to survive and succeed in digital transformation, both as an organisation and as individuals with our own professional ambitions, appears to be the same: together.