Digital Transformation Got You Frustrated? (Read This!)
Synchronization isn't linear.
Digital transformation (done right) is fantastic. The goal is to improve efficiency, value, or innovation for organizations, employees, and customers. When digital transformation is effective, it's seamless. When it isn't -leaders are frustrated, and initiatives fail. Synchronization, for instance. A key component of digital transformation. Whether it's your favorite streaming service or the pitch deck your team is working on, you open the app, and wah-lah 🪄 you have the latest. If by some chance it doesn't work, you find the sync button, and boom, everyone or every device is updated. It seems linear, right? Device (or person) A, B, etc. have the same information simultaneously.
While in the background, the technology has to work linearly in the foreground, the human side of things is far from linear. In the foreground, it's about flow. By definition, synchronization is to move, operate, and work exactly together at the same time. And that's where the frustration comes in. Technology is linear by design. Humans are created to flow. Technology is logical and rational. Humans are not. Humans think and execute linearly, but flowing comes with letting go of linear thought and execution and working with what Life presents. Leaders believe they can use digital transformation to scale-up 2X, 5X, or 10X, and when they create this perfectly linear technology, they become frustrated when it fails. It fails for a lack of flow for the human side. A lack of synchronization - working together. Let me explain this lesson in synchronization through an example of synchronicity that happened to me this week.
A lesson in synchronization from synchronicity
In a previous post, I wrote about how innovation is prescriptive before it is disruptive and that Life constantly provides just what we need. This post is another excellent example of Life providing what I need. For example, I start my day with solitude, inspirational reading, and planning; next, I tackle my to-dos. These activities are the linear path of a typical day. However, Life sometimes has other plans. For example, I highlighted the following in my morning reading. A book titled Power vs. Force - the hidden determinants of human behavior.
To “make sense” has ordinarily meant to be definable in terms that are linear: logical and rational. But the process, and therefore the experience, of life itself, is organic―that is to say, nonlinear by definition. This is the source of man’s inescapable intellectual frustration.
I was frustrated with a situation in my work life, so I noted the quote as applicable to me personally. Then, I moved on to planning and execution. But Life continued to synchronize what was needed. Next up was a post by a fellow innovative consultant from India. Here is an excerpt.
Not everything scales up linearly. A geneticist in the late 1980's was awarded the Nobel Prize for creating a horse twice the size, twice as long, twice as high, twice as thick and four times the number of useful chromosomes of the standard horse. Expectation was it should be able to do double the work of the normal horse. By the time it was fully grown it was unable to stand on it's four legs due to its weight, it's dermal fat were twice as thick as normal while it's surface area was only four times that of a normal horse, hence artificial cooling was needed for the skin. It was perpetually hungry and was needed to feed eight times a day."
Can you imagine winning a Nobel Prize for something that failed?! 🤦🏼♀️ This story of the horse sounds oddly familiar to our thoughts about technology. Supposedly it makes us superhuman so that we can accomplish twice as much—precisely the logic of eliminating administrative assistants from high-level professionals. Oh, now they have access to everything at their fingertips through technology. They no longer need an assistant; they'll be able to DO.IT.ALL themselves only faster. Continue to compound this thought pattern with every technological advance for leaders in the last decade, and is it any wonder we have leadership burnout and a crisis on our hands.
And lastly, another post from a fellow leadership consultant from Australia shared this quote:
You manage things, you lead people. -Grace Hopper
My reply to this last post was the clarifying moment The moment all three of these thoughts synchronized (all came together) into this post. My reply to the previous quote, "I believe a parallel idea that leaders often get wrong with innovation (which includes digital transformation) is the idea of efficiency Efficiency is for machines (process, systems, AI, etc.) People are not linear. It's more important for people to be effective." That has certainly been the case with organizations' internal innovations or digital transformations.
So if the frustration and failures of digital transformation stem from the rigid linear nature, what is the correction needed? The answer lies in the first quote - it's missing a key ingredient - the ORGANIC aspects. Creating technologies that linearly work in the background, but organically flow in the foreground. Next, I will unpack the how and I'll share tips to move forward, ensuring that your digital transformations do not ignore the non-linear human side of the equation. Specifically, we'll use the great resignation's issues as examples in our explanations.
Technology is fantastic when it helps life flow.
Think for a minute about some apps on your phone you absolutely love. Now think of a few you tried out for a bit but ended up deleting. While there may be multiple reasons for the deletions, I suspect that a key one is that they just didn't flow with your life the way you had hoped. It may have synced between your devices, but it didn't sink with you. It was missing the organic. This lack of flow is a serious problem for businesses. According to Gartner Research two-thirds of employees have to hack work to accomplish their routine tasks. In their research, they note employees spend 1.9 hours extra hours a day. For the 10,000-person organization this amounts to 3.1 million wasted hours, 1568 wasted FTE and $78.4 million in financial loss. Below are seven areas to consider when making sure the organic compliments the linear in your digital transformation and employee experience initiatives.
O is for ORDER
Order is heaven's first law - Alexander Pope. I don't recall where I first read it, but it has stuck with me. While plants need water and sunlight, it's impossible to throw seed on the ground and dose in water and sunshine and expect the healthy plants to grow. You might be lucky and have some sprout up but they will soon die because they have not developed a healthy root system. Similarly, there's a reason babies aren't born with teeth. They don't hit the ground looking for their first cheeseburger. Their digestive system isn't fully developed. Nature is certainly subject to this law. However, we tend to forget, humans are a part of nature. And thus this law also applies to business. And these examples illustrate why. When the order of nature is awry, it is not sustainable. How many HR intiatives never made it off the ground because they were unsustainable in your business? Is the workload you've subjected yourself and your team to sustainable?
R is for RHYTHMS
In a recent LinkedIn post by Paul Slater, CEO of Billion Minds and previous guest on the Cultivating Potential podcast he shared a picture of a squirrel and wrote:
This little fella (talking about the picture) has something to teach us. During the warmer months when energy sources are freely available, he is highly active, gathering food, socializing and mating. When energy is LESS available (such as in the winter), he conserved energy by sheltering in place in a tree, and using the reserves he has built up. In other words, he is effective because he adapts his behavior as conditions change around him, using energy when appropriate and conserving it when appropriate.What do WE do by contrast? Most of us don't adapt at all - if our energy is high, we wastefully burn it on things that don't matter to us. If our energy is low, we try to push through, causing us to get sick and less sustainably effective.We all have the same number of hours in the day. How we build, conserve and use energy is the main difference between us.
Whether it's the seasons, our energy levels, or sleep patterns, humans have rhythms. And newsflash for some - it's not 24/7/365. Are your leaders adept at noticing the signs of these rhythms and making adaptions? Employee burnout ranks high on the reasons employees are resigning, so I suspect not. How can you adapt your policies, systems, and employee expectations to reflect the necessary rhythms?
G is for Growth
Unlike order or rhythms growth is high on the list of most organizations - for themselves and for their employees. And in organizations favor - humans want to grow. Like in nature, growth means thriving. Only one slight problem organizations totally ignore order and rhythm among other things when it comes to growing their employees. Similar to the added responsibilities that leaders had at the elimination of their assistance is the burden being put on employees to gain knowledge and grow. It's an added weight (mental and in their limited resources of time) rather than delivered in a way that synchronizes with their work. Growth is more than adding knowledge. Growth is about being a better version of who you are today. And to what end? How often have you as a leader gone to training, seminars, etc. and never made application in your day to day work.
A is for Advancement/Accomplishment
Not only do we as human wish to be better a version of ourselves (to grow) we also want a sense of advancement or accomplishment. It is a natural desire to for us to want to experience a sense of accomplishment or to have advanced what we are working on in a day. Yet according to my interview with Paul Slater, his research shows that the majority of today's knowledge workers end most days not knowing whether they have moved the needed on the work they set out to do. What a feeling of defeat for humans to have worked hard for 8, 10, 12 hours and end the day questioning whether they advanced their work at all. 😟 How do your policies, technologies, and
N is for Needs
Revisiting our apps on your phone example above. In your search for the right app (let's take a to-do app as an example) the reason you kept one app over the other is that it met your needs. Sure there are dozens of apps that you can record, track and check off your to-dos. But the one you kept is the one that met your needs. Apps are a simple example. Digital transformations or transforming employee experience takes needs to an entirely different level. It's why I believe the future of leadership is leading by design. Using the innovative principles of design thinking for leadership practice because it starts with the needs of its users. Inside organizations have various groups of people (users) with various needs. Take for instance the advent of systems for screening applications. HR professionals needed a way to sort threw hundreds of applications and designed systems for their needs. But in the isolation of this one need there have been unintended consequences. Rather than getting the right candidates, they often get the candidates who know how to manipulate the system. A manipulative person is not necessarily your ideal employee. Not to mention, it totally ignores the needs of the applicants. It has dehumanized an experience that should be solely focused on the needs of the human.
I is for Inspire/Incite
If you have been reading my posts for long you know I love technology. I'm an early adaptor for sure. It's possible that I'm drawn to it because of my value of learning. For me learning not only comes up as a must-have value but also a top five strength according to Gallups Strength Finders. However, beyond learning when I consider my top favorites technologies, it comes down to two categories - it either inspires me or incites good feelings in me. In fact, a couple years ago, I deleted Facebook because it was doing neither. When was the last time a digital transformation or change management initiative inspired your employees or incited good feelings within them? I write about how design thinking can achieve just that in this post.
C is for Connection
One of the issues in the current work-from-home vs. return-to-office debate is that we are missing the connection. What this argument rarely touches on is that connection is not physical (only necessary in love relationships) connection is a feeling. Example, I can have a Zoom meeting with my bestie from Austin, whom I've not seen face to face for several years now (thanks C😝VID) and never have a hint of Zoom fatigue. Why because the feelings of connection are positively strong. Yet work Zoom meetings are either totally devoid of feelings that connect us or are filled with negative feelings that frustrate and exhaust us. I go into detail on this topic a Leading by Design Meetup titled: How to Create Connect, Culture and Loyalty in a Virtual World.
Organic is good for you, your employees and your business
Today's employees want work that flows. Flows not only within the hours they have dedicated to working but flows with their life. By balancing the linear digital side with the organic human side all individuals and organizations alike can thrive at greater levels. If that sounds appealing to you, then I invite you to reach out for a complimentary consultation to discuss how design thinking can benefit your next initiative.