Why Digital Transformation and Modern Work Will Fail

Posted by | April 10, 2019 | Uncategorized | No Comments

According to McKinsey, 70% of enterprise digital transformations fail. There are other numbers out there, such as 1 in 5, but at the end of the day they all point to a ridiculously high number.

We can chalk it up to a lot of things – and people do. Lack of CEO sponsorship. Disorganization. Can’t keep up with the pace. Resistance to the change. The list of excuses is basically endless. At the end of the day, there are many moving parts to any large enterprise strategy.

In fact, I’ve worked for 4 different companies now that all claim they help with the digital transformation. At Acquia, we would say things along the lines of “there’s a digital crisis and our CMS/cloud platform helps solve that”. At Localytics, we touted ideas and messaging such as “transform your enterprise to be digital first with our mobile analytics”. Crimson Hexagon had conversations along the lines of “social analytics is a key pillar to your digital transformations strategy”. At my current job with Workfront, we say there is a “digital work crisis” and that our platform helps jump the “digital work transformation gap”.

Haven’t we been in a digital work crisis for at least 5 years now? I remember when I did product marketing at Acquia back in 2014, I used explicit dialogs and phrases like “if you’re not focusing on fixing your digital crisis, you’re going to be dead along with the other 70% Fortune 500s.” It was all to spark an emotional response and worry, but the reality is that we actually haven’t made much progress. There’s more amazing tools than ever to help solve problems…so why are we still seeing such abysmal success rates?

I’d start out by saying that it’s a fallacy to achieve digital transformation because it’s not a tangible or quantifiable goal. It’s an evolution – a continuum of change that will last for the rest of every businesses life. We say digital transformation because it provides a marker and straw man position that gets people worried. It doesn’t help that the same notion is perpetuated by all the big analyst firms that MBAs rely on for their business strategy ideation.

If we get into the reality of it though, digital transformation doesn’t start with a tool. It starts with a a culture change that must be cascaded from the top down. If the leaders are incapable of thinking beyond the quarters and only focus on optimizing for the short term, they will undoubtably fail. The same can be said about the board of directors as well but that will lead us down a tangent of what their role should be.

The culture change is, in my opinion, hilariously simple: change your employees from having a job to owning an experience. That’s it – simple, right? There’s a lot in there to unpack though. Experience implies that they change from specific accounting measures (their goals) to measuring the change in the outcomes that their experiences produce. Having a job creates ivory towers and a lack of ownership. It becomes to easy to say “that’s not my job so I don’t care”. When you shift their responsibilities to owning an experience, the whole thing matters to them – especially if they’re measure by it.

Let’s draft out a couple team examples:

  • Coffee Shop
    • Job = Coffee Barista = Make coffee for customers
    • Experience = Morning Designer = Get customers off to the right start for their day
  • Financial Management
    • Job = Financial Advisor = Plan financial decisions for clients
    • Experience = Financial Experience Manager = Help captain and coach clients financial behaviors to achieve their life goals
  • Product Design
    • Job = UX Designer for Search = Make search experience better
    • Experience = Product Interaction Experience Owner = Change the way users communication with and find information from the system

I’m hoping you notice the difference, apart from the experience side having more words to describe the roles. When you change the titles to be more experience management focused, the roles and responsibilities start to more aptly communicate the “why” as opposed to just the “what”. It also broadens the roles to be more encompassing and provides ownership of the entire process.

There’s a specific and significant reason in expanding the ownership. When employees have a job, they only focus on their world. If you hire someone in, they’re often ambitious initially and then that ambition wanes over time. I think this is due in large part to them not being able to make the larger changes they see impacting their role or the customers because it’s “someone else’s job”. By enabling them to own the experience, they can mould and shape the full experience, end to end, with a measurable impact that keeps them inspired to work. The buck stops at them and they can’t point the blame to anyone else.

The obvious caveat to this is that it can’t be without oversight or some degree of governance and guidance. I’m not advocating for us to hire a bunch of people, change their titles to “____ experience manager”, and let them free. What I am suggesting is that in order to generate the right digital transformation experience, it starts with the culture of ownership. In order to have true ownership, not the fake crap that we write on the job description, you have to change the title and broaden the responsibility.

Now, I’ll pause here and state that I understand digital transformation means a lot of different things to different people. It’s most widely used in the context of transforming business process and efficiencies to be in digital formats. Even then, my above statement still stands and lends to the importance of a CIO or CDO role. These roles should not be “we are going to use this tool to get this job done” but rather “here are a suite of tools that we can use to help craft experiences”. The latter provides latitude for individuals to move and the former jams it down their throat.

At the end of the end of the day, enterprises must recognize that there is a new generation of workers heading into the enterprise who are not content with just having a job. They want a sense of purpose and ownership. They would rather be broke and bitch about it on Twitter than hold down that job. They’re not our parents generation who fall in line and “respect the process and elders” but rather challenge everything that has the hint of BS floating around it. It’s up to companies to usher this new generation of workers into the ownership world and pushing them to own the outcomes. That’s the real “digital” transformation. It’s the transformation that has a focuses on cultural transformation and recognizes that software are just digital tools to help that transformation but aren’t the end all, be all.

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