Behind The Scenes of Becoming Digitally Mature
When you have an understanding of where your company is in their journey of transformation it makes the process of change easier to cope with. For some, we have already accepted that change can be messy and still for others, there’s the hope that through some extraordinary occurrence, we won’t experience the challenges that change often brings.
Alas, when we’re able to make peace with the level of maturity we’re at, the reality of some of the challenges are manageable. Note, I said manageable not acceptable. That’s a caution because becoming complacent with the normal issues that ensue during any organizational transition can be detrimental to the culture and strategy of a company. While it’s important to be practical, we don’t want that to become the norm for the people who are going through their maturing. So let’s take a closer look at how this maturity shows up, through the lens of typical human development. It is after all humans who are creating, implementing and managing change. When you read most of the digital maturity model articles... the scholarly ones, there are typically 5 stages. Here's how they occur to me...
We all love babies! There's something very opportunistic about being new to the playing field of transformation with wonder and awe about everything. At this stage, the people really don't know what they're doing and there's no money allocated to figure it out. There's a recognition that digital change is imperative but there's no strategy in place and no clear vision of where they want to take the company. So like babies, there's a lot more laying around and staring at the wonder of tech rather than active leadership and "efforting". You may get some money for website hosting and a little social media if you're lucky.
Nonetheless, we have all been at this stage and whether you're new to digital transformation or in an organization with a lot of talk about technology but more wonder and awe rather than active planning and strategy building, it's safe to say you shouldn't expect much in the way of progressive, agile change. There are still quite a few babies out there - large and small, especially in the Caribbean where I have a keen interest. If you're at this stage, you have lots of company. Use the awe and wonder to get clear on ideas that you like and start working on a vision that can leapfrog you ahead.
The Toddlers & Young Children
We're finding our legs! Have you heard about or experienced the terrible twos... If you're a parent, you probably identify with this immediately. I recall the first experience of taking my son into Walmart and going down the toy aisle. He wanted way more than the one thing I had strategically placed in my cart and so he decided to throw a tantrum. Loud kicking and screaming and swimming on the floor in the middle of the store. Now, if you've spent any time with management teams or boards who have finally decided to take on digital in an intentional way, you may have witnessed a few of these albeit with nicely dressed adults. While activities are still mostly tactical, there's stuff happening. For instance, some type of vision is formulated, ad hoc innovation is now a thing, a little money for current IT projects is at play, teams are hearing about automation and everyone finally has something to complain about!
This can be considered the formative stage and is most important because this is also where formulation of resilience, digital culture and agility is best put in place. Building a strong foundation is best tackled here. Leadership is now assigned to the transformation effort and teams are rallying around projects tackling key process gaps. Although there isn't organization wide knowledge of new opportunities with technology, there is evidence of the desire to learn and grow. It's a great time to create a clear vision that everyone can buy into and ensure that the promises made via the plans put in place are being managed well. What I mean by that is share successes and don't keep failures or pivots a secret.
Now we have it all figured out! But not really... as with the teen stage in humans, we find that there is a desire to act as though everything is under control when the truth is, it's utter chaos. It's necessary to navigate this very normal and messy middle. What it looks like: there's a team in place to manage the digital change efforts, budgets are now allocated for this significant shift and leaders and teams are enrolled in going along for the ride. What we sometimes forget is that we are reimagining the way things are and shifting our approach at the same time. There's lots to design, build and implement which takes time, collaboration and a ton of trial and error.
So while this phase feels like you're finally making significant progress, it is also the time that will stretch your leadership capabilities and that of your people. You may need to seek outside support through therapists aka consultants to bring focus to things that aren't working well and put strategies in place to move you closer to the vision. Unlearning and learning becomes increasingly important during this time. This is because everyone wants to see the freedom presumed to be at the next phase when most things and people are working together and delivering significant and outwardly visible results. Be encouraged, if you can see your companies at this stage of maturity, you're officially on your way. Remain steadfast and committed to the vision you have.
The Young Adult
We're finally on our own! It's such a great feeling when you know you have successfully launched! This relief and utter excitement is felt by all levels in the organization and also by your customers. The percentage of companies stalled in their transformation efforts globally hovers at ~62% according to Statistica. When you read the analyst papers, many companies are struggling but also making really great progress as skills gaps get closed and dedicated resources are put in place to manage the transformation effort. There is a definitive observable shift that shows greater commitment to a digital strategy, the change process and employee adoption. With this comes more natural growing pains as companies settle into new ways of satisfying their customers and staying on top of the newly established P&L. North America, Europe and several countries are at this stage and are close enough examples for the teens and young children to learn from. This is key in avoiding their mistakes while still being able to relate to the possibility that awaits.
The Mature Adult
Welcome to the Masters! If I could sum this up with one country who is ahead of the curve in this regard, it is China. Despite what folks have to say about the politics, I am inspired by the mastery exhibited with their approach to technology and designing the future. That being said, there are smaller pockets of innovative nations globally worthwhile examining. Mastery looks like digital as an embedded aspect of the culture at all levels and a key pillar of the overarching strategy. The execution internally and reception of the market externally is best in class; and the pace of innovation is being set for other organizations. There's always something to learn from those who have mastered the art of transformation. I will be spending some of my time exploring the countries who are doing so as I build my knowledge. I recommend all organizations who are in the baby, toddlers and young children, and teens do the same.