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For digital transformation to occur, leaders must articulate a compelling alternative – and better future – to which employees and stakeholders can aspire.
It’s so hard to convince people to quit the status quo for a future they can’t visualize.
They’ll start asking themselves: what will become of the new organization’s structure? Will their present skills remain relevant? Will they lose some privileges?
And so on…
It’s really hard for people to think rationally when exposed to such uncertainty. Especially when the perceived stakes seem high.
That’s to say you need to share as complete a picture as possible of the future organization. And you need to do this before people can believe and join the transformation effort.
I’m about to show you how to create a compelling image of the future, that will help people to visualize and know where you want to take them.
If you share a vision that is vague, people will fill the gaps with any information they find out there. And too often, this external information will likely mislead them.
And some people would prefer to pay attention to negative information out there. Because that kind of enforces their desire to remain in status quo.
Therefore you must clearly and explicitly articulate a compelling image of what that alternative future will be.
And this will help people to know what to expect.
So how should you frame that alternative future so that it’s desirable and believable by members of your organization?
1. Paint a holistic picture of that future
Too often, leaders fail to inspire people because they focus their transformation vision on only one or two dimensions – usually strategy and structure aspects.
This is just part of the story.
For instance, I often use Mckinsey’s “7S Framework” to help companies paint a complete picture of the future.
The 7S Framework suggests that a model of the future organization should specify both hard elements of organizational design, such as strategy, structure and systems, and soft elements, such as staff, skills, management style, and shared values – while paying attention to the fit between them.
Therefore, the picture you paint about the future should help people in the organization answer the questions:
- What will be the organization’s strategy? And what will change in the way the organization competes in the business environment?
- How will the structure of the team change? In other words, what will change about the hierarchy and lines of communication?
- What will change in the daily activities and procedures that staff use to get the job done? In other words, how will HR, IT, Marketing, and Financial systems change?
- Will the company’s shared values change? What will be the new culture – will the organization be more innovative, data-driven, agile, more customer-oriented, more open, or more collaborative?
- How will management and leadership style change? In other words, will it be more inclusive and participative, or will it be more centralized?
- What will change about the staff? Will some positions disappear? And will there be new positions?
- What new skills will employees need for the jobs? Which skills will become obsolete? How will the organization help employees fill the new skills?
2. Match strategy and values
It’s extremely hard to execute a strategy that is not aligned with organizational values.
And values represent a key component of every organization’s culture. That’s to say they stand for what the company does, its mission and how it represents itself.
Your organization’s culture determines whether a given strategy can be executed or not.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast.Peter drucker
For instance, a strategy to leverage cloud capabilities and enter new markets will fail if the organization’s culture does not tolerate risk taking and the exploration of new ideas.
The organization’s values must tolerate failure, else people will hold back from risks that are necessary to learn about the new markets.
So you should observe and identify what needs to be adjusted in the values to guarantee the success of the transformation.
And it often time, a lot of communication, and behavior change in order to change an organization’s values. So make sure you start early, and create the incentives that influence behavior change.
3. Specify acceptable and unacceptable behaviors
It must be clear which behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable. And leaders should model the desired behaviors and teach people whatever skills they will need.
For instance, if you’ll have a new digital marketing process, then an expert may have to sit with the marketing team to help them establish goals, create content and run digital campaigns.
Likewise, if the product team must start using the design thinking process, there should be a series of workshops for them to learn and master this new process.
And you may need to incentivize this change of behavior by reviewing the key performance indicators on which employees are evaluated.
Companies that succeed in digital transformation take the following tasks very seriously:
- setting strict rules about acceptable and unacceptable behaviors,
- ensuring that leaders model the desired behaviors, and
- firing people who refuse to adopt desirable behaviors.
4. Point to living examples
Many transformation initiatives are modeled after the successful practices of other companies, or successful units within the same organization.
In other words, it helps when you can show your people a living example of an organization that mimics what your future will look like. It makes the vision more tangible. And even more believable.
Some companies even send employees to learn best practices from other companies.
And I don’t mean to say you’ll find a company that exactly mimics how your future organization would be.
Therefore, you may point to few aspects in more than one company. The goal is for people to see a living picture.
For instance, you may find that you want your customer support team to be as good as that of company A, and your supply chain process to be as smooth as that of company B.
In short, you just need to show familiar examples, so your people can visualize the future you’re selling to them.
Now let’s Conclude…
We’ve seen that it’s not sufficient to develop a transformation vision and communicate it top-down like Generals do in the army.
Employees and stakeholders need to visualize how that future will be. And it must be compelling enough so they find good reason to abandon the status quo.
If you’ve not done so yet, then feel free to check out this complete guide on leading and managing digital transformation.
And then stay tuned for more in coming articles.
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