Though much has been written about the need to “digitally transform,” the process has often been viewed with apprehension. Deep pockets, large teams, and complex methodology are assumed to be a baseline requirement. For businesses struggling to make it through the pandemic, there is but one looming question: How do we survive today and plan for tomorrow, and is “digital” the silver bullet?
The scrappy but innovative responses that many businesses have exhibited during the pandemic prove that digital, or even “digital transformation” efforts do not follow some predetermined script. It’s often assumed to be like switching on the lights in a building, one logical floor at a time. But the reality is messy. You’re more likely to switch lights on from the second floor, then jump to the 43rd floor, back down to the basement, and then perhaps step out of the building and wonder if you were in the right building after all. We, therefore, think of it as a digital migration and not a transformation.
If your organization is considering how to get serious about digital, or even begin a migration, however incremental, we have five principles for you to keep in mind when contemplating how and when to switch on the lights. They account for the complexity of re-assembling your people, processes, products, and services within a complex legacy infrastructure.
1. Be realistic — embrace where you are
The pressure to check the box on digital is high — from investors, shareholders, employees, and customers. Before rushing to purchase any enterprise technology solutions, it’s vital to understand your current ecosystem. This must be done with a good understanding of what needs to change relative to what can change (at least in the short term). We’ve seen many examples of this during lockdown — from queuing mechanisms for high-volume websites (it’s not pretty, but at least it acknowledges what’s possible and is clear to customers about what they can expect), to the pivot to direct-to-consumer business models when the usual retail outlet is unavailable.
2. Be humble — put your customers front and center
Often your customers are known only through cells in a spreadsheet. When things get complicated, it’s easy to delete the cell and dismiss a human need. It’s critical to create a culture that allows customers to affect your present while helping to define your future. Make the customer part of the process of defining “what’s next?” Honor and champion serving customers from the boardroom to the cafeteria. Encourage your employees to go beyond the script (or write a better one). Find moments that put all your people closer to the customer mindset, and show your human face. Take data from disconnected spreadsheets, find patterns, and tell human stories with them. You’ll know you’re doing it right when there are anecdotes told at the water cooler when we’re back in our offices, or over Zoom meetings before then.
3. Be precise — take intentional steps that join up
There is an often-used phrase: death by a thousand cuts. We like to think of many businesses’ migration to digital as the opposite: crafting a new life by a thousand stitches. Every stitch matters. The focus then becomes less on macro actions and grandiose strategies and more on micro-interactions, like how you behave in the quieter day-to-day moments, for example, the way in which a lot of companies have simply reached out to say thank you for being a customer in spite of all the chaos. To find and create these interactions you need a blueprint that creates a detailed view of technologies, processes, and how people work together. You find the breakpoints and fix them so they all work in concert. It creates consistency in your actions so your business works as a unified front.
4. Be inclusive — mix the dreamers and the doers together
Internal innovation teams are often dismissed by operations and engineering teams as oblivious to the hard slog of reality. Yes, these groups tick differently, but you can set them a common ambition. Identify both the pioneers and the pragmatists in your organization, then put them in teams together. Through this marriage, tomorrow should be grounded in today and today should have an eye towards tomorrow. People will share a common vernacular, processes, and artifacts as they work together. This mutual understanding can then be taken back to their individual teams. Rituals will become established that bring them back frequently to work together. One curious benefit of the global pandemic has been a very real redefinition of innovation. In more stable times, it can feel like organizations are desperately trying to differentiate through incremental steps; in times of strife, meaningful innovation is the only strategy for survival.
5. Be human — your people are all you’ve got
Never underestimate the value of loyalty. You have employees that have demonstrated the highest degrees of resilience during this time. People follow people and are influenced by them. So if jargon and acronyms like “C-suite, Management, ELT or SLT” echo your hallways, it is likely that your leaders have become divorced from the respectful, purposeful culture they aimed to cultivate. If you are leading a team through a digital migration, model the behaviors you want people to embrace. Don’t let a townhall meeting define you, or a roadmap dictate the communications deadlines you set yourself. Find and empower your loyal people. They are your learners, storytellers, problem solvers, and risk-takers, and they are critical for the journey ahead.
We encourage you to embark on this journey into digital migration with a beginner’s mind. If you approach it with openness, eagerness, and few preconceptions, you’ll set your team on the right path. They will help you get around that building and switch the lights on, floor by floor until you start looking like a lighthouse showing the way.
Illustrations in this article are by Mike Andersen(Method). Edited by Erin Peace (Method). The piece was written by Reema Pinto and John Oswald. They lead the team of smart, kind & brave humans at Method New York and London.