To Drive Digital Transformation, Focus on People

StrategyDriven Change Management Article | To Drive Digital Transformation, Focus on PeopleBusinesses from top global firms to main street staples are looking into a future driven by new technology capabilities. Since this transformation is different from any of the dramatic changes leaders have faced over the past century, it requires a different response.

Today’s changes are not unusual in scope or pace. Consider, for instance, the changes in the last several decades: the invention and rapid propagation routine affordable air flight, the explosion of trade and globalization, and the invention of computing, networks and the Internet. New financial innovations enabled both historic global economic growth and cascading global financial failures. These revolutionary developments required equally revolutionary changes, including more truly global firms, whole new industries, new ways of organizing enterprises (think first GM and then GE), new ways of working (email, virtual global teams), and more.

Today’s digital revolution brings three new components: ubiquitous networks that connect people, devices, and systems instantly and globally; the data that these networks collect and the ability to store that data cost-effectively; and processing power and techniques that enable us to analyze and act on the available data. These new capabilities connect to the work we’ve done over the past several decades inside our enterprises to automate processes with tools — such as accounting systems, supply chain, call center, and such. We need to understand the possibilities and threats posed and act on the new potentials to deliver value to customers in a profitable way. That requires a new way of thinking about people and leadership.

The nature of large-scale digital is, I believe, something new in human endeavor. Humans have been able to organize large numbers of people into a common mission and execute amazing things, from conquering armies to astonishing constructions project like the pyramids. Digital is something quite different: it How do we get hundreds or thousands of people to come up with thousands of ideas and decisions with little physical manifestation (software), and align all into a single solution that runs and meets valuable needs? The hierarchical and process-driven methods of the past won’t work well.

But there’s a model of leadership that will. To build great invisible structures out of thousands of ideas that work together and deliver value in the real world, in a fast-paced, highly competitive environment where the tools, people, and problems are all new and at enormous scale, we need leadership that delivers three imperatives:

  • Rigor In dealing with the uncertainties driving agile adaptive process control, there are many crucial decisions to be made. Rigor means clearly defining each decision, gathering and considering facts, thoroughly considering options, and making clear decisions. Without rigor, alignment has to be command-driven. And efficiency in pursuit of decision reached without rigor is just doing the wrong things more quickly.
  • Alignment Teams must work in a way that gets the best input from all members, and gains understanding and commitment around common goals, schedules, methods, and decisions/directions of all kinds. In this new process of invisibly codifying ideas, perhaps dozens or more team members make many decisions every day that are difficult, if not impossible to control. How do we get everyone’s head in the game, draw out the best in each team member, and gain strong alignment on the way ahead?
  • Efficiency People’s time is a valuable commodity not to be wasted. From creating a meeting agenda to establishing a standard format for decision documents to holding in-person meetings instead of meetings by phone, there are proven techniques to drive efficiency that can be learned and adopted. Above all, driving the use of these techniques depends on the stance of leadership. Leadership should make it clear that they are offended by wasting time, as it’s also wasting energy, resources and brain space.

We need this kind of leadership from top to bottom on in our enterprises: on each team, in each role, at every level; whether organized around project or products, agile scrum or lean start-up; whether teams are fully co-located or spread out globally; whether focused on apps, apis, or IoT.  We need it whether we are transforming, adding to, or combining a digitized environment. Improving our leadership may require a long haul for your organization, or it may just mean a continuation and intensification of current practices. In either case, consider these three focus areas:

  • Frameworks Frameworks are the mechanisms through which a leader facilitates a team to accomplish rigor, alignment, and efficiency. In this context frameworks include physical space (e.g., agile studios), tools (communication such as Slack or Jira, etc.), organizational structure (such decentralizing and aligning technology to business areas more effectively), and governance. Frameworks also include cultural practices such as Toyota’s A3 problem-solving approach and Amazon’s six-page memos. Cultural insistence on extraordinarily well-prepared and conducted meetings is another valuable framework.
  • Leader Behavior Leaders must reinforce the focus on rigor, alignment, and efficiency. Don’t accept poorly planned and conducted meetings. Reject proposals that do not include options and supporting facts. Help teams form, adjust, and get and share needed information. Clear paths by establishing relationships with leaders of business areas or partners on which your teams depend. Fight waste and inefficiency in all incarnations. Don’t cripple your teams by over-standardizing! And be involved with your teams, available to make decisions when they need your help.
  • Training Leadership can be taught, though it’s not easy or cheap. Many leadership skills required for digital success are similar to those taught to meeting facilitators. Our leaders need to be able to solicit ideas effectively, examine them in team context, and gain agreement on next steps in a way that persists when the meeting ends. Beyond these “soft” skills, we need to encourage what Toyota calls “Towering Technical Competence”: certainly in the technical areas of data, networks, development processes and such, but also in customer understanding, testing, process engineering, and partner negotiations.  Don’t rely on just centralized training — managers must be deeply involved in the development of their team members and hold them accountable to demonstrate ongoing mastery.

I recently heard a senior leader ask when the digital transformation they were undertaking would be done — as if there’s a finite point of completion. But this isn’t a rigid set of specific transformational steps. It’s an unrelenting focus on developing the best leaders at every level of your enterprise. The results will be amazing, rewarding, and fun.


About the Author

StrategyDriven Expert Contributor | Michael K. LevineMichael K. Levine is an expert on lean and agile software development and information technology. He’s worked at the US Commerce Department, First Bank System, and Norwest Banks; was CTO of a real estate software firm; and led Wells Fargo servicing technology through the default crisis. In 2011 he joined US Bank to deploy a new branch banking system; then was technology lead at US Bank Home Mortgage, where he now leads all consumer lending and business banking technology. His latest book is People Over Process: Leadership for Agility (Productivity Press, September 30, 2019). He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. Learn more at TheTalesofAgility.com

StrategyDriven Podcast Episode 37 – Making Change Work: Why is Buy-in Necessary and How to Achieve It

StrategyDriven PodcastStrategyDriven Podcasts focus on the tools and techniques executives and managers can use to improve their organization’s alignment and accountability to ultimately achieve superior results. These podcasts elaborate on the best practice and warning flag articles on the StrategyDriven website.

Episode 37 – Making Change Work: Why is Buy-in Necessary and How to Achieve It explores the role of buy-in to the change management processes, its importance, and how to get it. During our discussion, Sharon Drew Morgen, the New York Times bestselling author of Dirty Little Secrets, shares with us her insights and illustrative examples regarding:

  • what buy-in means in terms of the change management process
  • how and when buy-in occurs
  • why people do not buy-in
  • how a leader can get someone who is resisting to not only buy-in but to do so happily
  • when the change agent should begin to seek buy-in from the various stakeholder groups
  • what skills change agents need to gain employee buy-in and how can they acquire these skills
  • what leaders can do to programmatically embed the buy-in approach to their change management policies

Additional Information

In addition to the outstanding insights Sharon Drew shares in Dirty Little Secrets and this edition of the StrategyDriven Podcast are the resources accessible from her websites, www.NewSalesParadigm.com and www.BuyingFacilitation.com.   Sharon Drew’s book, Dirty Little Secrets, can be purchased by clicking here.

Making Change Work!
This podcast is the fifth in a series that teaches leaders how to make change work. The finale of the Making Change Work series will pull it all together; introducing a radical approach to change management – real leadership!


About the Author

Sharon Drew Morgen is a New York Times bestselling author and developer of a change management model based on buy-in that she’s written about in her latest book Dirty Little Secrets. She is the visionary thought leader behind Buying Facilitation®, a decision facilitation model that focuses on helping buyers and those who would be impacted by the accompanying change manage their internal, unconscious, and behind-the-scenes issues that must be addressed before they purchase anything or buy-in to the requested change. She has served many well known companies including: KPMG, Unisys, IBM, Wachovia, and Bose. To read Sharon Drew’s complete biography, click here.

StrategyDriven Podcast Episode 35 – Making Change Work: If Decisions Are Always Rational, Why Are Changees Resisting?

StrategyDriven PodcastStrategyDriven Podcasts focus on the tools and techniques executives and managers can use to improve their organization’s alignment and accountability to ultimately achieve superior results. These podcasts elaborate on the best practice and warning flag articles on the StrategyDriven website.

Episode 35 – Making Change Work: If Decisions Are Always Rational, Why Are Changees Resisting? explores the rationality of decisions and their impact on change management. During our discussion, Sharon Drew Morgen, the New York Times bestselling author of Dirty Little Secrets, shares with us her insights and illustrative examples regarding:

  • why decisions are always rational
  • what causes resistance to logical change
  • what benefits can be gained from resistance
  • how resistance can be avoided when making a change

Additional Information

In addition to the outstanding insights Sharon Drew shares in Dirty Little Secrets and this edition of the StrategyDriven Podcast are the resources accessible from her websites, www.NewSalesParadigm.com and www.BuyingFacilitation.com.   Sharon Drew’s book, Dirty Little Secrets, can be purchased by clicking here.

Making Change Work!
This podcast is the fourth in a series that teaches leaders how to make change work. Coming editions of the Making Change Work series will explore the steps to gaining the buy-in and committed effort needed to implement change successfully. We’ll cover topics including:

  • Why is buy-in necessary and how to achieve it?
  • Putting it all together, a radical approach to change management: real leadership

About the Author

Sharon Drew Morgen is a New York Times bestselling author and developer of a change management model based on buy-in that she’s written about in her latest book Dirty Little Secrets. She is the visionary thought leader behind Buying Facilitation®, a decision facilitation model that focuses on helping buyers and those who would be impacted by the accompanying change manage their internal, unconscious, and behind-the-scenes issues that must be addressed before they purchase anything or buy-in to the requested change. She has served many well known companies including: KPMG, Unisys, IBM, Wachovia, and Bose. To read Sharon Drew’s complete biography, click here.

StrategyDriven Podcast Episode 34 – Making Change Work: The Problems of Change Management: Bias, Resistance, and Push

StrategyDriven PodcastStrategyDriven Podcasts focus on the tools and techniques executives and managers can use to improve their organization’s alignment and accountability to ultimately achieve superior results. These podcasts elaborate on the best practice and warning flag articles on the StrategyDriven website.

Episode 34 – Making Change Work: The Problems of Change Management: Bias, Resistance, and Push explores the problems associated with change management, namely, that of bias, resistance, and push. During our discussion, Sharon Drew Morgen, the New York Times bestselling author of Dirty Little Secrets, shares with us her insights and illustrative examples regarding:

  • how contemporary change management models handle resistance
  • why with thousands of years of amassed leadership experience change management isn’t easier
  • what leaders should be doing differently to avoid resistance to change
  • what part personal bias plays in change management and how to overcome these biases

Additional Information

In addition to the outstanding insights Sharon Drew shares in Dirty Little Secrets and this edition of the StrategyDriven Podcast are the resources accessible from her websites, www.NewSalesParadigm.com and www.BuyingFacilitation.com.   Sharon Drew’s book, Dirty Little Secrets, can be purchased by clicking here.

Making Change Work!
This podcast is the third in a series that teaches leaders how to make change work. Coming editions of the Making Change Work series will explore the steps to gaining the buy-in and committed effort needed to implement change successfully. We’ll cover topics including:

  • If decisions are always rational, why are changees resisting?
  • Why is buy-in necessary and how to achieve it?
  • Putting it all together, a radical approach to change management: real leadership

About the Author

Sharon Drew Morgen is a New York Times bestselling author and developer of a change management model based on buy-in that she’s written about in her latest book Dirty Little Secrets. She is the visionary thought leader behind Buying Facilitation®, a decision facilitation model that focuses on helping buyers and those who would be impacted by the accompanying change manage their internal, unconscious, and behind-the-scenes issues that must be addressed before they purchase anything or buy-in to the requested change. She has served many well known companies including: KPMG, Unisys, IBM, Wachovia, and Bose. To read Sharon Drew’s complete biography, click here.

StrategyDriven Podcast Episode 33 – Making Change Work: What are Systems and How Do They Influence Change?

StrategyDriven PodcastStrategyDriven Podcasts focus on the tools and techniques executives and managers can use to improve their organization’s alignment and accountability to ultimately achieve superior results. These podcasts elaborate on the best practice and warning flag articles on the StrategyDriven website.

Episode 33 – Making Change Work: What are systems and how to they influence change? explores what systems are and their importance to effectively managing any change. During our discussion, Sharon Drew Morgen, the New York Times bestselling author of Dirty Little Secrets, shares with us her insights and illustrative examples regarding:

  • what systems are and their role in the change management process
  • why ignoring systems makes change harder than it needs to be
  • the types of systems leaders can expect to deal with when making a change
  • how systems go through the decision-making process to determine whether to except or reject a particular change

Additional Information

In addition to the invaluable insights Sharon Drew shares in Dirty Little Secrets and this edition of the StrategyDriven Podcast are the resources accessible from her websites, www.NewSalesParadigm.com and www.BuyingFacilitation.com.   Sharon Drew’s book, Dirty Little Secrets, can be purchased by clicking here.

Making Change Work!
This podcast is the second in a series that teaches leaders how to make change work. Coming editions of the Making Change Work series will explore the steps to gaining the buy-in and committed effort needed to implement change successfully. We’ll cover topics including:

  • The Problems of Change Management: bias and push
  • If decisions are always rational, why are changees resisting?
  • Why is buy-in necessary and how to achieve it?
  • Putting it all together, a radical approach to change management: real leadership

About the Author

Sharon Drew Morgen is a New York Times bestselling author and developer of a change management model based on buy-in that she’s written about in her latest book Dirty Little Secrets. She is the visionary thought leader behind Buying Facilitation®, a decision facilitation model that focuses on helping buyers and those who would be impacted by the accompanying change manage their internal, unconscious, and behind-the-scenes issues that must be addressed before they purchase anything or buy-in to the requested change. She has served many well known companies including: KPMG, Unisys, IBM, Wachovia, and Bose. To read Sharon Drew’s complete biography, click here.