DigitalTransformation heading

Digital Transformation Issue 20

David Telford, Vice President of Innovation


With all the talk about digital transformation, it’s easy to get caught up in the tech because it’s where the cool stuff exists. However, we always need to remember that business is about people. Tech is an enabler but without people to design, build, sell, and use the products and services that drive the economy, we really have nothing.

Engaging and empowering people to create and deliver those products and services in the Digital Age takes a different perspective, especially if you’re digitizing your organization.

The Industrial Age brought with it the need for structured predictable environments. Much of this was for safety purposes and to ensure efficiency in the production process. A top-down command-and-control structure was necessary to manage large groups of people, each with a specific function. Procedures and processes were prescriptive and individual contributors were not expected to be creative in how they performed their work.

In the Digital Age, however, we have been forced to adopt different approaches to deal with a fast-paced, uncertain environment where change is attacking from all sides. Agile approaches to traditional processes have created the need for teams who can adjust to achieve work with some level of autonomy, and leadership that is driven more through coaching and collaboration. Work becomes less transactional and more multivariant with individual contributors bringing multiple skill sets, and creative problem solving to the organization.

dig2But this doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all. The purpose of all work in this new paradigm is still focused on driving business objectives. The difference is that the leadership of the team is not directed from the top but rather facilitated from within the team.  People may have more than one role, and in some cases may be on more than one team. Orchestrating the necessary tools and capabilities of these diverse teams requires a Collective Inside-Out approach to measure and manage individual and team success. Cassio Dreyfuss, a Research VP with Gartner talks about 3 principles to lead people in a digital world.

  1. Put People First.  It is necessary to remember that people are the center of the work you do as well as the products and services you deliver. It is critical to instill the idea of “from-people-to-people” to ensure that everyone knows their contribution and the impact it will have on the results. This is done by fostering a culture of collaboration where everyone on the team has a voice and the work is a product of collaboration. The leader’s role is to drive the team toward consensus and arbitrate any disputes.
  2. Develop Trust and Collaboration. Develop processes that engage all members of the team and emphasize fairness and participation without sacrificing performance. Drive team success and makes sure everyone is aware of their contribution to that success. Reward evenly and address performance issues quickly and with an even hand.
  3. Share Leadership. Often your product or service is a complicated thing that requires several smaller teams working on components that contribute to the whole. Unless you are ridiculously adept at multi-tasking, you will need to share leadership with others to ensure those smaller teams are successful. This also helps to empower people to up their game and you will quickly learn who is ready for leadership responsibility and who isn’t. Delegating leadership trust to others helps strengthen the trust your team has in you.

It is possible that not all organizations are ready to break down the hierarchy and build collaborative teams. It’s a big shift. However, as you realize your own digital transformation, remember to keep people first in your planning and look at what you can do to bring Agile thinking to how you work. Next, you can define your priorities and engage your people to meet that digital vision.

dig3This month’s podcast is from Harvard Business Review. It’s about what leaders think “going digital” means versus what real digital strategies should entail. It’s not just about an app.

Understanding Digital Strategy

Share your favorite tech sightings, or other stories at [email protected] and follow me on Twitter @gsi_dave.