If Going Digital Is All About Change, Why Are We All So Useless At It?
The human psyche is designed for emergency braking. It’s not so good at long-term self-preservation.
Humans aren’t great at long-term preservation. As a society, we are prone to procrastinate, go with the status quo and not upset processes.
I can feel a few of you getting ready to hit the ‘comment’ button… but before you do, consider global warming, the obesity epidemic and lifestyle diseases.
These aren’t simply examples of controversial challenges, they are all examples where we have data staring us in the face for a very long time, but have simply chosen to ignore it, question it, or failed to change our own habits to save ourselves.
In fact, it gets even worse – these are great examples that show most of us let our habits change us, in spite of the data.
This blind spot has a dysfunctional effect on society, and it goes some way to explaining where companies find themselves with digital transformation efforts.
If we don’t know how to eat properly, do we really know how to run our companies properly? Are we actually capable of making the best outcomes for our people and employees?
Making sense of data to drive change
There are many different examples in our world at the moment where we’re not using or making sense of, data-to-drive change.
One of the challenges is that we just don’t realise the availability of data, not only within our own organizations but also the volume and quality of social data on offer. We currently eat, sleep, exercise, express our attractions, and indeed run our lives through social media.
So there is a wealth of data on pretty much anyone, sitting in myriad systems of different companies – LinkedIn, Google, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and others.
Combine this data with financial, shopping, family and education profiles and you start building a very powerful picture of any audience for any company.
Data reticence could be solved by applying our understanding of human behavior to the dynamics of business. After all, we can’t disengage the individual from company dynamics.
Disrupting the status quo requires harnessing the broader humanity that makes up companies and allowing them to make changes at a grassroots level. We need to stop focusing so much on influential individual leaders; the grassroots personality of a company is far more effective in driving change and making sure it happens.
As technology leaders, we need to call on the grassroots of every company – from the retailers who are manning the tills to the cabin crew flying, serving coffee and tea, to the cleaners of gyms. These are the key people who can drive the type of changers that impact their customer interactions the most.
Leaders make less of an impact than we think
There have been hundreds of books dedicated to leadership, and how a single person can turn companies around. However, examples of poor leadership show that organizations (and countries) continue to operate despite them. Just look at the US. Perhaps not optimally, but things tick along.
This is because, like a marriage, 100% of the success or failure is not down to an individual, but the sum of its parts. Let’s, face it, if the greater mass of society is clear on the definition of a good society, it wouldn’t matter who is shouting nonsense from the top!
It’s the same for a company. I’ve been involved in many projects where success is credited to the top, but in reality, it’s been driven by dedicated and passionate individuals lower down the ranks that push for change.
We need a little organizational rebellion
While it sounds like I’m calling for rebellion… I’d prefer to call it ‘controlled anarchy’. I am frustrated with the rate of change that organizations are making with their digital journeys, and I want people to start questioning the status quo.
This is particularly important as we move into an age where growth won’t be as easy as it has been for the last 25 years. It’s time for a wake-up call in companies that don’t want to hear dissent, questions or feedback, even though that’s what they ask for… how many employee surveys have you filled out and seen little change or update.
Speaking of surveys, they are the single most used instrument in extracting information about how people feel, think or do their jobs. So why do we use them if we know the answer won’t make a difference.
The rate of change is accelerating supposedly
How often have you heard the following comments:
- The company is doing well; we don’t need to change much.
- Our climate isn’t changing, we don’t need to change.
- I need to go on a diet but one muffin won’t hurt me
- Why do we need to do something now?
Unfortunately, the need to change is irrefutable, according to the data. The average lifespan of a Fortune 500 company has dropped from 67 years in 1920 to just 15 in 2014 and that’s predicted to continue to drop to less than 10 years my 2026 as disruption accelerates.
I don’t trust anyone who tells me what is happening in the next 20 years if the company’s average life is heading to just 10 years. Instead, we need to focus on next week, next month, next year and make sure get some intensity in the decision processes we are managing and executing.
And yet I’m still walking into companies that have five years objectives and 20-year plans! Planning for these time frames may make you feel comfortable, but it’s a waste of the planning process.
I want us all to feel challenged, to feel that we are not doing or exploring or questioning enough. That’s the dynamic we need back into our organizations to continue surviving.
Bring back the pioneering spirit
I’m not seeing the kinds of projects that we should be seeing when I visit our customers.
That’s boldly disappointing.
We have the technology and architecture to make exciting, dynamic changes happen. Today we are enabling a 50-year old company to maintain dynamic petrol pump pricing across thousands of pumps and petrol stations simultaneously and change the price of each petrol pump based on dynamic changes in real time across the sub-continent of India. It’s IOT at its very best and is a game changer for the company and the way in conducts its business.
This example – Indian Oil – is a testimony to the power of embracing change from within. A 50 -year old government-run company that was privatised took the passion of a senior member of the IT team to make this change happen.
The CEO and Chairman had the vision, but the godfather of the change process was Mr Abhishek Chowdhury, Senior Manager IT. We need more Abhishek’s to stand up and make change a reality across all our organizations.
However, that example is an exception rather than the norm. It’s disheartening to see many companies being underwhelmed to the advances we have made in data management. They are either delayed or conservatively hamstrung and see data as a problem rather than an opportunity.
The time is now
It’s time. We all have a job to do. We need to turn back the clock on almost thirty years of lackadaisical lifestyle. We have been driven as a society to eat poorly, procrastinate rather than execute and make excuses rather than change what we do and how we act. Is that the type of company we want to be part of?
From my perspective, I want to work with a company and people who are uncomfortable. These are the people who have a better understanding of what’s actually at stake.
It’s no longer acceptable to hear from our customers that they’re implementing technology that their IT leaders are more comfortable or familiar with – We want to hear from people who share the CEO or leaders’ vision, know it’s going to cause some organizational pain, but are accelerating towards change anyway.
These are the people that are going to survive the digital and data disruption of the next one, three and five years.
Are you going to be one of them?