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Digital Transformation

I was speaking at a function for business leaders recently when a question regarding what to expect when undertaking a digital transformation project came up. The premise of the question was this individual’s company had recently undertaken a project to select and implement a new ERP system, which is often the backbone of a wider digital transformation effort, and this process opened the flood gates to all sorts of issues and problems for them. They were asking how they could have avoided such upheaval. 

My response was essentially that they should have expected some level of upheaval because a successful transformation project should in fact do exactly that, transform the business. A transformation project does not occur in isolation or without change. The old adage of you cannot make scrambled eggs without cracking a few shells applies here. It should engage the whole company and as such will make someone uncomfortable. It will in fact, put many company wide sacred cows under the microscope and force them to be defended. This inspection, of course, is not always welcomed. There are corporate political power plays to protect and existing staff and executive ranks become uncomfortable when decisions they have previously made suddenly are being questioned. As Ray Dalio mentions in his book “Principles”, when this level of accountability or investigation occurs:

“people tend to be more defensive than self-critical”.

And so it seems as if all manner of problems and issues suddenly appear. But has anything really changed? My premise is no, not much has changed at all. These issues were always there but they were being hidden by other things. Things like the company culture, corporate politics and the unspoken knowns. It is similar to when you undertake an inventory reduction project or adopt lean principles. When you start work on the improvement it seems like all manner of problems start to occur. This perceived increase in problems is one reason why many of these projects start but don’t finish. Executives often say these principles don’t work or are not worth the effort. 

Just like the rocks in the river metaphor, when you lower the level of the water (i.e your inventory levels) you expose the rocks (issues and problems). But rather than addressing those issues and making the rocks smaller and turn them into pebbles (attempt to remove the problem) executives will often default to saying this isn’t working. When in fact what they are really saying is, we didn’t stick with it long enough to reap the real benefits that are possible.

Conflict can actually be one of the most healthy things to happen in your business. I wrote on the power of conflict in this article.

How do you make sure your effort or project isn’t overloaded with problems and issues? The steps I feel you should take are:

  • Expect problems and plan for them
  • Realise that good conflict is healthy, facilitate good conflict and remove bad conflict
  • Realise that between the “bad now” and the “good in the future” is a period of “we need to work through this”
  • Have an experienced guide by your side to help you anticipate the problems and provide guidance through the unknown
  • Ask great questions of your digital solutions partner to make sure they are both technically capable and culturally aligned with your vision for the business 
  • Make sure you backfill your best people and assign them to the project (See my article on succession planning)

If you or anyone you know is looking;

  • To improve the way their business operates 
  • To improve the way they leverage their current system
  • To replace their current system

Give me a call for a confidential discussion on the best way to achieve this.

© David Ogilvie

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