How we work: gravitational projects instead of transformation hype
Digital transformation as such is a difficult concept to grasp and the use of the term as a solution for everything has turned it into a meaningless buzzword. The reason for this is the manner in which transformation is perceived and how it is approached.
It must be possible to communicate every strategy, especially if it is attempting to instruct an entire corporation in a new way of working, as is the case with digital transformation. Therefore, the execution of the strategy depends on finding a common alignment with all parties involved: it lives and dies with acceptance and participation. However, transformation models attempt to understand change as a linear elapsing development: transformation is portioned into phases and then checked off piece by piece. At the outset of this phase, thought process is almost always the formulation of the target: the mission, vision, new value proposition or whatever. The result of a competing project, product, company or — somewhat more abstract — method derived from a plethora of supposedly successful projects serves as a goal that should be applied analogously to one’s own company. A typical benchmark thought process: We’ll do it the same way as we’ve seen it done.
The target anticipation is a false shortcut of the digital transformation process. The result of this is salespeople running around with iPads — even though they are unsure as to why they have iPads — simply because customers are shopping online now.
This process shortcut is not what is meant by transformation: on the contrary, because this shortcut gets in the way of transformation. In phase models, every form of communication, every process, and every meeting serves to drive the initiated process into predefined avenues and steer it towards the desired goal/outcome. This is how one moves from a visionary phase into an engagement phase. However, aside from on paper or in a PowerPoint presentation, not much changes.
A common alignment is replaced by clearly assigned tasks as well as a process hierarchy and simply sidesteps the larger and smaller misunderstandings between the participants. The mutually important information exchange between inclusion and misunderstanding remains fully underutilized and leads some participants to feel left out — or, in the best case, to feel as if they are only placeholders in a change management puppet theater.
If transformation is not only thought of as a schematic process, but if the main point is to strongly influence people in their previous actions, this will lead to a far more essential question:
How will you be able to channel the different wishes and developments of your employees in such a way that a common transformation and an individual self-discovery process will be possible?
An alternative concept to the phase model must be in position to transport the motivation and efforts of individuals to that part of the project where they can unfold their potential in the best way. To accomplish this, resources must be managed less and instead openly staged. Furthermore, this kind of project then no longer serves an internal optimization but must — to retain its open structure and to remain understandable to everyone — always be measured to external factors. This does not mean staring down the future corporate vision with blinders on, but strengthening a project and process structure in which a change of perspective can take place and can increase the value of individual areas as well as of the entire project.
FROM TRANSFORMATION TO GRAVITATION
These shifts make it clear that in this type of transformation the prevalent dynamics and power structures within a corporation can be used much more effectively as opposed to a process in which one runs from one phase to the next. A network effect is thereby generated equally for all parties (management, employees, customers). The more the participants enable the project participation of others, the more it is about organizing communication instead of defining goals. Within this communication, transformation ensues and receives its weight and its appeal through the increasing participation of the people who execute it. We therefore aren’t simply talking about transformation, but about gravitation and are describing the path towards transformation as a gravitational project.
The goal of a gravitational project is to exert — through a specific project such as the development of a new product or service — a type of gravitational force in the flow and the idea of what the corporation might look like after transformation. This gravitational force must attract the right employees in the company and become so significant that in the short- or long-term the entire corporation gravitates in a different, more modern direction.
Contrary to phase models, a gravitational project understands the lethargy of large corporations. A gravitational project presides over an identification process in which the entire company is encouraged to demonstrate the best and most promising opportunities: These opportunities range from the development of new tools for the customer service department to the use of inactive technologies or patents; from apparent current product weaknesses to unmet consumer requirements, etc. If we adhere to the terminology of physics, we must first gaze through a telescope in order to see where we want to go. From here, the path differs from traditional change management processes: The identification process is all-inclusive and initiates transformation through participation.
Stanford professor Robert Burgelman discovers that successful companies are characterized by the fact that they embrace, and even demand, experiments at their core while still not losing sight of the strategic focus from top to bottom. Content is therefore compiled jointly; mistakes are made within the group. A gravitational project has the following status from the get-go: It belongs to everyone. Even so, the project is not without guidelines, since management compiles the matching of the requirements catalog to the opportunity or the assessment grid. Management makes the decisions regarding what will be implemented because they take responsibility, however in visualization of the way this is done.
If there is an opportunity, then the implementation begins. And for a gravitational project that means that tasks will be performed in the way the company will — and must — work in future. Old behavioral patterns are discarded; instead of control there is participation; instead of phases requiring long planning schedules, the task is to rapidly gain experiences. The goal of transformation is to never be finished, and a gravitational project is the first step. In this phase, the learning curve increases through the application of not only a new rewards culture, but also of a new way of working. Mainly the work on idea boards, open discussions, conceptualization of test scenarios, subsequent work with scrum, development of backlogs — all things that sound self-evident for start-ups are not, however, common for a medium-sized bank. Simply having a multi-disciplinary project team sitting in a room for some time is a difficult logistical act for some companies.
The function of a consultant is also not to tell someone how to do something, but to actively demonstrate it to them.
Experts do not compile drafts for their own use and for the sole purpose of fulfilling a target, but instead they instruct. Execution under instruction means consistently re-grounding the strategy and applying it. Joint work is at the core of the idea. The goal of a gravitational project is not to hang a motivational poster in the restroom, but instead provide a project status update during Monday meetings, show regular video edits from the last weeks, or take everyone on a tour of the project rooms. Transformation must be celebrated and be visible, especially in order to fulfill the main purpose of the project: to provide motivated employees with a room in which their wishes and development can be channeled in such a way that a joint transformation and independent self-fulfillment become possible, and to permanently demonstrate to all others who are not — and who do not want to be — a part of this, what is possible and in what direction the company is moving.
The goal is to create a network of change agents within the company.
The project launch is commenced: in other words, the implementation of a new tool, the exploitation of a new field of business, the introduction of a new service. The pressure of expectations is now channeled and can either result in jubilation or disappointment. Both are desired in every gravitational project. Rejoicing would mean that the new product or the new service is broadly accepted in the market and may already be generating sales revenue. Within this scenario, the project team can rediscover itself and begin creating operational excellence by putting the acquired skills into practice within the new collaborative culture. In this case, additional gravitation is created through the project’s success and business relevance.
If the project fails, malicious glee will rain down from all of those who weren’t a part of the project. They will say that they knew all along that it would fail. And that’s the way it should be. Differentiation is a part of the process and responding to failure with schadenfreude[US1] is exactly the culture that a company no longer needs. It is management’s job to comment and criticize any such moral disparity. In this case, gravitation only occurs through the newly garnered treasure trove of experiences, the time spent together, and the disengagement. Experiments increase the level of self-confidence and generate other, better questions than those that are asked before something is attempted.
Transformation in phase models suggests security because it appears capable of being planned. However, it attempts to use the same methods to solve the problems of which it is the root. Transformation is not creating a top-down goal in order for it to be processed by the base in manageable portions. The outsourcing of innovation functions to external labs and hubs once seemed like a good idea, but it was never truly effective. Not that a lab doesn’t fulfill a specific role. It’s just that the lab’s role cannot be to transform the company. Labs do not fail because they do not come up with good ideas. They fail because they are unable to implement the ideas back into the company. A transformation of the company is not created here, but replaced by demonstrations against innovation. With a gravitational project, the energy is created by the company itself and is always a benefit, regardless if the project is commercially successful or not. A gravitational project releases energy and puts employees into motion, a process that once it is launched is very difficult to stop, even if it is easier to manage. A gravitational project can be restarted as often as required. In cases of doubt, it can be restarted until the company’s sluggishness has been overcome and it has been positioned on a more promising trajectory.
child is a strategy consultancy in Frankfurt that solves key digitisation issues in corporations through radical simplification.
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