Your business is not endurance fit when it comes to digital transformation.

5 min read

Your business is not endurance fit when it comes to digital transformation.

My team and I recently hosted over 140 top executives at our Data, Digital and Talent Forum where we explored these topics as inseparable strategies in the 4th industrial revolution. Why? The simple answer is we watch most companies getting it wrong. Not just wrong, but horribly wrong.

Data, Digital and Talent Forum on 22 May 2019

Big data, data science and other buzz words of digital transformation are bandied about by corporate South Africa like a cheesy pick up line in a dive bar, but the actual strategies to support digital transformations aren’t there.

At Clarkhouse Human Capital, we observe companies starting to roll out their big digital transformation roadmaps. Revolutionary? Well, not really. It’s usually the same bad backend delivering a digital version of the same poor, impersonal service that often creates more complexity and ambiguity for staff and customers alike. Throwing more tech at your problems is not how you achieve true digital transformation.

I like to think of the digital transformation journey as an endurance race, like a Comrades Marathon or an IRONMAN Triathlon. The first time I did the IRONMAN, I had lofty performance ambitions and bucketloads of enthusiasm and determination. But my training was completely amateurish. I had no idea what my actual capabilities were, and my goals were unrealistic compared to my athletic abilities, fitness, training and support structure. Similarly, what I’ve noticed is that despite bold statements that look good on the press release, many companies haven’t really thought-through their digital transformation plans. They are not approaching it wisely and have no idea how digitally fit they are or how to transform in order to get over the many challenges coming down the line. In fact, many companies are hoping that digital transformation is the silver bullet to solve their problems and are just looking for quick wins that don’t last beyond a quarter or two. In ultra-endurance triathlons, there are no short cuts. It is about hard slog, being comfortable with discomfort and pushing through the pain. Results never come quickly.

IRONMAN South Africa

So what should your company be doing to successfully achieve digital transformation?

1.  Know your capabilities:

Be realistic. Just like I was never going to be a sub-10-hour Iron Man finisher based on my athletic ability and time I had to train, companies need to be realistic about their own capability. Unless you’re Google, stop trying to be Google. You will never be that, just like I will never be like Iron Man world champions Chrissie Wellington or Patrick Lange. Endurance athletes set targets based on an end goal that is realistic. I am not saying don’t push, but be realistic and don’t forget who you are and what you do as a business.

2.  Face reality:

The fantasy of finishing an Iron Man and running through the finish line hearing your name followed by ‘You are an IRONMAN!’ goes from dream to nightmare once the daunting reality of the hard work required becomes clear. At work, this often leads to teams feeling discouraged and losing faith in the vision, ultimately ending in failure. When it becomes obvious to your team that they face insurmountable challenges trying to execute an unachievable strategy, they are likely to have a ‘WTF?’ moment and just give up. Instead, take it slow. Don’t try to change the entire organisation in one go. Set achievable goals and intelligent milestones that have the clear endorsement of executive leadership.

3.  Change the way you train, change the way you work:

I love this quote: ‘If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.’ It’s true in life and work. Digital transformation means changing the way we work, manage and lead, and we need to change along with it. If I arrived at the starting line of an Iron Man Triathlon having used old training techniques and gear from 30 years ago, like a big heavy bike, old kit and old nutrition theories, I would be at a clear disadvantage from the get-go. But if I move with the times and include modern supplements, external coaches, high-tech bikes and gadgets that track watts, heart rate and pace per minute the chances are that I would have a far better result at the end of the race.

Companies must  look at old roles, old rules or policies and old structures (like your current capabilities) and redefine what employees need to do to efficiently and effectively serve in tomorrow’s competitive marketplace.  Human Resource teams should be the driver of this, but too often, human resources departments add little or no strategic value beyond typical transactional HR. For example, we’ve seen HR professionals use old copy/paste job specifications and rehash the same old roles looking at the same old outdated skill sets and stealing from the same old competitors. In addition, they fail to look through a digital lens at how their role can add value. Human resource functions will not succeed in today’s market place by using 1980’s methodology. Now and in the future, consideration should be given to the benefits to companies of the gig economy (freelancers), flexitime, remote working, practical virtual reality and utilising employee analytics. What has your company done to become future fit?

4.  Drop the Ego:

I tried to do everything myself when I first attempted the Iron Man. I didn’t consult with outside expertise, didn’t ask for advice from anyone who had done it before, didn’t study the latest sports science research and training techniques. I just assumed I knew what I was doing. My ego failed me. I could have potentially performed at my best, and even though I tried my hardest, instead my results were, unsurprisingly, mediocre. I should have just asked for help. The same mentality applies to organisations. It is ok to not know everything on your digital journey. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent more than a decade studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity and shame. I find this quote by her particularly relevant:  ‘Vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity, innovation and change.’ Adaptability to change, hard conversations, feedback, problem solving, ethical decision making, recognition, resilience and all the other skill sets that underpin leadership are born of vulnerability. And these skills are required more than ever in this day and age of digital and data.  Don’t make the mistake of ‘going through the motions’ and ‘doing what you’ve always done’ if you want to achieve real digital innovation, real creativity and change driven by real data and effective use of talent. A critical success factor in a company’s digital transformation journey is that its leadership embrace their own vulnerability and drop the ego.

Roy Clark has completed numerous Iron Man 70,3 Triathlons in Durban and East London as well a full Iron Man Africa Port Elizabeth race. He is a complete amateur triathlete but a professional Human Capital expert. LOL.

The ClarkHouse team at the Data, Digital and Talent Forum