Digital Economy Dispatch #097 -- Lowering the Frustration in Your Digital Transformation

Digital Economy Dispatch #09719th September 2022

Lowering the Frustration in Your Digital Transformation

I’m getting annoyed. Properly upset. I can’t seem to get anything done. And I am not alone. These days I find the overwhelming sensation from many people I talk to about delivering digital transformation is frustration. All the new digital technologies and practices in the world will not make a difference if we can’t change our organizations to adopt them in managed, meaningful ways at a pace commensurate with the disruption taking place in our lives, workplaces, and industries. Yet, it feels like we’re getting slower, not faster. Or is this how it’s always been?

Unreliable Memoirs

I am starting to realize that many of my most vivid memories are things that never really happened. This includes places I recall seeing but can’t find any evidence of having visited. People I’m sure I know but they are convinced that we have never met. Conversations that did not take place, or at least not in the way I recall them. They all contain a grain of truth. Yet, somehow over the years these recollections have morphed into stories that are more fiction than fact.

My family get the brunt of this. When I tell my kids about growing up in Liverpool in the 1970’s, the picture I paint makes it sound like I was lucky to survive from one day to the next without being left for dead by the side of the road. Similarly, my tales of scoring goals as a would-be footballer make me sound like I had the skills of George Best and the qualities of Bobby Moore. Neither of which could be further from the truth, of course.

I am now concerned that my recalled experiences of working life are equally flawed. Did I really start out by spend all those hours punching out Hollerith cards with COBOL statements to feed into a room-sized computer? Was I travelling for many years on trains and planes across continents to attend 1 hour meetings to sell software that didn’t quite work to people who didn’t need it? Maybe.

But most of all, what I recall is that we found ways to make things happen. There was a flow and an energy that moved us from need to action. Nowadays, one of my strongest feelings about working in and with large established organizations is how hard it is to get things done.

I am not alone. In many of my discussions I find that the dominant concern is an increasing frustration from senior leaders driving digital transformation in their organizations that they are not going fast enough. Rarely do they raise concerns about what’s in flight. Much more often they worry that maintaining momentum is hard, alignment of efforts is complex, decision making is too slow, and internal management systems are unable to adapt to support new ways of working. We need to pick up the pace.

A Kick in the Grass

We know that the challenges of digital transformation are many and varied. As described in previous writings, the complexities faced in making any significant change create a natural inertia. We keep doing what we’ve always done. As highlighted in the work of the DIGIT Lab, this is particularly found in large established organizations (LEOs) facing numerous concerns:

  • Large: Issues of scale require change to be coordinated and organized across a variety of different teams, roles, and geographies.

  • Established: Over time, a wide collection of working practices, products, and services have been put in place that now require complex, costly adaptation to be able to continue in the new environment.

  • Organization: Substantial risks must be addressed in revising the structures and management practices that are necessary to ensure that activities are effective, safe, legal, and comply with all relevant regulations.

Overcoming these challenges requires dedication and focus. Their impact in slowing down progress cannot be overstated. So, inevitably much of the energy and investment in digital transformation programmes is taken up dealing with them.

Furthermore, placed in the difficult position of trying to manage existing ways of working and delivering change, it is inevitable that some individuals in these LEOs shy away from such uncertainties by looking for ways to delay decisions and avoid taking responsibility for actions. Overwhelmed with the challenges to enact the changes, my experiences working in a variety of digital change projects is that they typically put foward three main reasons why delay is needed.

The first is one of timing. Change may be needed, but now is not the right time. Depending on the context, this could be due to an upcoming deadline, a change in leadership, a reorganization, or any other similar event. Of course, business continuity is important. However, this can be seen as an opportunity to highlight the importance of digital technologies and practices. In these circumstances, it is essential to find ways to align the digital transformation actions to the current needs.

The second focus for delay concerns the need for more reviews and analysis. Many leaders believe that taking action is inappropriate without more and more data gathering. They convince themselves that more time to study the change will bring the insight needed to gain control. In fact, often the opposite is true. In times of uncertainty, the most effective approach is to take action and learn as quickly as possible by building momentum and guiding the path forward. In times of massive uncertainty, momentum trumps more data.

Finally, the third reason given is that change means increasing risk. In today’s complex and volatile conditions, they will argue that stability is required in order to maintain business resilience. Again, this thinking is at odds with the experience of many organizations today. Adapting to the changing environment is critical. Indeed, the risks of not introducing changes can be viewed as greater than standing still. By engaging in experimentation and supporting flexibility in key areas, organizations are finding that they reduce risks to their business operations.

The Need for Speed

As challenges increase for businesses in all domains, we are also experiencing rising tensions and frustration to accelerate how our organizations move forward quickly and purposefully. The impact of digital technology and processes can only be realized if we face up to these barriers and overcome the hurdles blocking change. This requires facing 3 key concerns: Timing, Completeness of Understanding, and Managed Risk. In this way, perhaps we’ll be able to enjoy the future we all remember.

Digital Economy Tidbits

The demise of co-working. Link.

Remember when co-working spaces were all the rage? Looks like those days may be over. Ever since the WeWork debacle, there has been increasing debate not just about the motivations and mindset of Adam Neumann, but also about the business model behind co-working spaces. Appealing as an easy way to get moving for startups, it seems that scaleups soon want to move on to their own space,

These days, the startup’s most disruptive belief is one that disagrees with the co-working model popularized by WeWork. Unlike WeWork, which sold desk space in a shared floor to workers, Codi thinks that people want a private space to go to, just a couple days a week. The startup is a marketplace that matches companies to properties that fit their flexibility requirements. Then it helps make the move-in process go as smoothly as possible, from design to IT, to even the office snacks and cleaning services.

Does hybrid work actually work? Link.

A major study looking at hybrid working concludes that there is a way to balance the need to spend time in an office with colleagues and the flexibility of working at home.

The ideal solution, according to a new working paper, might be a compromise: Hybrid schedules in which employees roughly split their workweeks between the home and office appear to work best. These schedules allow for the right mix of flexibility and engagement that not only makes employees happier, but more productive and creative, resulting in higher-quality work, the study shows.

Studying a wide range of employees in different working scenarios, the researchers analysed emails they sent, asked workers to fill in surveys, and look at outputs from work activities.

Hybrid work resulted in 0.8 more emails sent per day, and office work led to a 0.5 increase, compared to the group that mostly worked at home. Also, hybrid work is associated with a 58 percent increase in the number of unique email recipients compared to those mostly working from home, a metric that indicates that workers in the hybrid category had broader intraorganizational email networks.