The single key success factor for Digital Transformation (#DX) is people. But those people need to be engaged with & inspired by the transformation and ultimately they have to become “Believers” not just in change but also in you.
This latter “ask” can be very difficult for some leaders to understand. They’re used to delegating tasks and overseeing stable processes rather than creating belief.
The single biggest promise you are asking staff to believe in is that you will transform the organisation in ways that make work a much better experience. You will make work better for them, you will make that big chunk of the day they spend performing for you an unparalleled, positive experience.
You can speculate on or propose any number of other reasons for why employees should engage with transformation – efficiency, improved customer experience, cost, innovation. None of these matter more to employees than their own careers or the quality of their own work-life. The best of them, the ones you want to have working for you, think it’s their right to work in a place where they have creative work and are respected. Loved even!
That’s what makes them Believers. If you can deliver it.
Establishing Believers might be a tough ask – and I would say that this is a core strength of many start-ups & unicorns – but the heightened employee engagement that comes with belief will help your digital transformation because put simply, it is the only way to directly address the cultural issues related to change.
DevOps is a case in point. Nearly everyone buys into the common sense aspects of combining teams which have traditionally been separated. It makes good sense to be interdisciplinary. However, it can push some leaders’ noses out of joint. Suddenly they are not leading their own speciality; work is less straightforward than it used to be; they have to earn their bread by working harder. Not all leaders like that scenario.
Very few organisations think through how to make team leaders’ work lives better when they move to DevOps.
Those leaders are taking a step into the dark. The only reason they will do it willingly is if they believe your promise that their work lives gets better.
To be convincing senior leaders have to lead by example. Leading the change, by changing yourself, is the only way to earn credibility.
One of the points we make in Flow is that leaders have to show that they are committed to change but just delegating the responsibility. All too often, change comes as a diktat from above. A new person is appointed and everyone is told that change is on the way. It’s going to mean empowerment and a few other good things.
Most people in work, however, have experienced negative change and negative empowerment. Very often these experiences are associated with the language we use to describe change now – lean, especially. Lots of people have seen friends let go because of lean programs. So here comes lean again…. keep your head down.
People bring these legacy experiences to transformation. Their first requirement is to see that you are really serious about it and you are prepared to change too.
That’s one of the reasons why, in the book, we are recommending a serious review of senior leader portfolios as a good starting point for transformation. We also recommend new customer analysis, insight and segmentation to align senior leaders with the real needs of their markets.
Beyond that though many of the belief trigger points come from your attitudes and actions. Here are five small steps towards building belief by leading the change.
1. Transparency and humility. I often meet with small groups of employees for open and honest conversations. We talk about how serious the organisation is this time around; what change will really mean; what my role is and what level of responsibility I will take on to protect them. We exercise extreme transparency (using our walls to depict all sorts of information) and I personally demonstrate my interests & beliefs via social media and blogging and by turning up at meetups so that I am very public about my need to learn. I challenge other senior leaders in a public way so that staff can see we really are all in this together.
2. Dealing in possibilities. One of the changes I’ve had to make over the years is to switch out of sceptical mode when talking to younger staff. I’ve lost count of the times when an idea comes up that I think is whacky, and even off the scale, and then it goes viral and I’m left thinking: I would have voted that down. It is all too easy to flatten people by dismissing their ideas or by saying, that’s not what we’re here for. But I’m learning, I don’t know everything! I’m often dependent on other people’s crazy notions and I realise that we are now dealing in new possibilities rather than the old mantras like not invented here or it’s not our core. Almost anything is possible and my duty to staff is to keep an open mind. I like to respond by saying great idea or sounds good. And then add a little: any way of testing that before we commit? – Just so that people realise we are in a business and we need disciplines too.
3. Doing the hiring. Entrepreneurs have a big advantage over us because they interview everyone personally. One wrong team member can easily destroy the dynamic of a team. And the same must be true within a large organisation. Hence being at the heart of the hiring process is the only way to ensure the preservation of the right culture or indeed the steps involved in the creation of a new one. In my last role I spent over half my time interviewing. And nobody got hired into my department without meeting me first. It’s an essential element of flow culture that everybody knows what we are aiming to achieve, can contribute and is excited by it.
4. Cleaning out the toxic culture. It’s pretty clear to staff what I believe in (DevOps, KanBan etc) and the change I want to implement (i.e. Flow). However, there will always be someone trying to stop you! And whilst it’s not always possible to spot the Machiavellian people, one must be determined to deal with toxic employees and get the right people on the bus. One of my enduring regrets as a leader is not dealing with this kind of problem early enough. I’ve worked with great coaches to help with team composition and building team dynamics. But I only wish I’d been stronger in the past in moving people on quickly whose main aim was to torpedo a good ship. There really are people who will deliberately stop the flow and you have to help them find another career.
5. Creating the right focal point. Taking a company on a journey of disruption is not easy. Buy-in from process owners can be tricky, as they are usually part of the ‘process’. They are invested in it. And tackling legacy systems can be difficult given the costs, risks and history of failed large scale-projects. With Flow, we are trying to shift the mindset towards constant attention to process improvement, even process co-design, coupled with an incremental test & learn approach. We break work down into very small batches so we can demonstrate step-by-step success which in turn builds trust and confidence and gives us lessons that we can all absorb. Our whole focal point is small steps, regular successes, and rapid learning, and behind that the ability to co-create the processes that get us there and bring in the tools that make life easier.
That’s just five small points. We go into more detail in the book but these are things to think about. On a final note, as a leader, when things are going wrong try to avoid becoming too hands-on or conversely going hands-off when things are going well. It’s far more powerful to participate in the flow, attend stand-ups, make decisions, speak with everyone and exercise hand-in-hand collaboration rather than hands-on or hands off at the wrong time!
The article is based on my experiences and I would like to thank my Haydn (my Co-Author of Flow) for helping with the drafting of this piece.