Compare your company’s digital transformation initiative to the complex NYC Subway system. Interdependent departments are symbolized by the boroughs, each subway stop representing an opportunity to stick to the agenda, take another path, miss a critical juncture, or derail completely. The colorful lines, symbols, and series of numbers and letters on the map illustrate complex human behaviors, motivations, and emotions that could affect your company’s outcome. Because I am not a NYC resident, I lack the confidence that comes along with daily ridership. Stick me in Grand Central alone with the task of getting to the Bronx unassisted, and I’m likely to call a car service. Without explicit direction to ride the train, a person is likely to call upon human experiences to create relevant paths that feel comfortable.
For context, I am old enough to have used every version of the PC and finish my undergraduate degree before social media became widely available. Companies were digitally adapting long before I garnered the professional experiences necessary to influence from my digital transformation position. So, I often wonder, why the sense of urgency around a topic that predates most transformation roles? If a company is rushing to ‘transform’, has it neglected to continuously develop? Not necessarily. It seems intuitive; neglect to meet customer expectations, run the risk of extinction. If human relevance had been critical in boardroom conversations, would we instead be trying to understand digital’s relevance to human transformation? No matter how you address digital transformation, there is no escaping the inter-connected impact of digital transformation and human behavior.
To be considered relevant would imply a significant, logical connection to a matter at hand. For example, believing that face-to-face sales interaction slows the adoption of online self-service platforms gives relevance to human interaction. On the contrary, no effect on adoption implies no human relevance. Digital transformation is HARD, but it doesn’t have to feel impossible for those responsible for the outcome. Here are some ways you can give human relevance to your digital transformation initiatives:
Ride the Train. Identify the customer at the end of the line and create assumptions about their needs and expectations. Put yourself in their seats and move through their end-to-end journey. Can you reduce or eliminate non-value-added activity? Increase capacity? Take note of improvement opportunities by asking questions that start with “why” and “how”.
Use the Map. Communicate a focused roadmap with clearly defined expectations along shorter journeys. To reduce the anxiety that often accompanies digital transformation, deliver maximum value and minimal impact to your teams, embed within existing, trusted business processes.
Try a New Route. Share experiences that encourage vulnerability and use failure to accelerate creativity. When channels are open for collaborative conversation, the journey of digital transformation becomes a collective effort rather than an overwhelming corporate mandate.
Empower the Riders. There is no individual award for digital transformation’s success. In fact, digital transformation is successful when it is fluid, eliminates firewalls, and develops hybrid skill sets at all levels. When you have teams willingly engaging in digital transformation, celebrate them by shining a spotlight on their success. You may be surprised how quick they shift to the transformation express.
By considering the needs and concerns of the people responsible for your company’s ongoing digital development, you not only give human relevance to digital transformation, but also develop an organization of fearless train conductors ready to navigate the complex tunnels of digital disruption.
Christina Broeker, Vice President of eCommerce and Digital Transformation at Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, has drawn comparisons between digital transformation initiatives and the complex system of New York City subway. She argued that the interdependent departments of a company are symbolized by the boroughs of the subway, with each stop giving the opportunity to stick to an agenda or derail. Broeker detailed ways businesses can give human relevance to their digital transformation projects, including identifying the customer and their needs, using a focused roadmap, sharing experiences and empowering team members.
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