How to Create Digital Transformation That Sticks

Change is a tough sell, whether it’s taking place in our personal lives or in business. Digital transformation that could potentially change the entire ecosystem can be especially tricky, but it can be done with the right attitude. The biggest challenge to such a transformation “is not just behaving different as a leader, but getting the entire company comfortable with ambiguity,” Siobhan McFeeney, Vice President of Business Transformation at Pivotal, tells Lean Startup Co. She spoke about common potholes of digital transformation at Lean Startup Week 2017.

The Lean approach, which Pivotal employs as part of their toolkit in helping their clients promote change through technology, requires being comfortable with the unknown, Siobhan says. This can be a scary place for many people inside a company and requires leadership to clearly identify roles for everyone in this new landscape. “It’s not that folks are resistant to change, they simply don’t know their role in it, and if they don’t know their role, they don’t change.”

Allow time for change
The next biggest challenge to overcome is a tip that Siobhan took from working with Opal Perry, Vice President and Divisional Chief Information Officer for Claims at Allstate Insurance. “Opal feels the amount of time for a new change to soak in and become a new behavior takes a lot longer than people think,” Siobhan says.

Leaders and employees alike often get excited about experimentation and learning but “go back to their job and snap back into their old behaviors.” Siobhan emphasizes that it’s crucial not to underestimate that time and to create an environment of daily experimentation.

Becoming digitally transformed and “committing to experimenting in a new way,” requires leaders to carve out dedicated “soak time,” Siobhan says.

To embed these changes deeply, “you have to do it every day,” Siobhan says. “Don’t assume they’ll carry those new behaviors; make it easier for them to be successful by making success factors align with those behaviors.” That often means changing how goals are measured to allow employees “the freedom to do the right work.”

Leadership has to engage
Leaders who don’t internalize the changes and make them part of the ecosystem will find obstacles at every turn, Siobhan points out. “The minute they try to push it into business, or ask finance for more money, the whole machine comes to a grinding halt,” she explains.

“I’m a big fan of asking, ‘What was that internal moment you realized this big digital transformation meant you, as a manager, were also involved?’”

As an example she describes the process when she worked with the American Automobile Association (AAA), where the goal was to change the compensation plan for tow truck drivers. Despite having “really smart consultants and lots of data, we had the hardest time, they resisted, people were unhappy.” Eventually, Siobhan took it upon herself to learn how to drive a tow truck to understand just how hard these people’s jobs were. “You’ve got to do the work you’re asking of others.”

While not every leader has to try on every role in the company in order to sow deeper change, leaders have to be an active part of the process. “Your best shot at success is to give [employees] the environment to experiment over and over again and you do it, too, as their manager.”

Learning should take priority
One example of a successful transformation is their client Home Depot, which she describes as “a more advanced success than others on this journey,” because leadership doesn’t just preach and talk, they have embedded a Lean model into their thinking. “It’s an entire new lexicon inside the company. When I heard leaders say ‘What did you learn?’ not ‘What did you build’? It was a sign of real change,” Siobhan says.

She points to the CEO’s quote, “What this new way of thinking does is it prevents you from falling in love too quickly.” Siobhan feels this has had a profound impact on his journey as a leader and in finding out what customers want. “He wants to be open that he doesn’t have all the answers. You have to be okay distilling the fallacy that you had all the answers anyway.”

Don’t assume leadership is aligned
Another stumbling block in a digital transformation is realizing that while team leaders may all use the same words, they are often running with vastly different ideas of what these mean. In a leadership exercise with one client, she asked twenty-two team leaders to define the same term, and she received twenty-two different definitions. To avoid this, she recommends, “Spend time up front to make sure people are on the same page. Avoid jargon and describe what the work actually is.”

She says leadership teams can fall prey to an “expert mindset” where they believe they have all the know-how already and forget that they, too, must be open to change. “No leadership team every thinks they need a leadership alignment workshop, but they all do, and they all find it insanely valuable.”

Technology isn’t everything
Lastly, Siobhan reminds us that while technology “is hugely part of the enablement” of change, it is not sufficient on its own. “We have to think about how humans interact with it.”

Moreover, Siobhan suggests thinking of digital transformation not as an additive process, but a new way of doing business altogether. “You have to dismantle a process, not fix it.”


Also published on Medium.