The first step for any organisational transformation to adopt digital practices or new ways of working is to allow employees more latitude. The challenge for traditional organisations is that this pushes directly against their traditional management model of eliminating any variability in performance through tight control of employees’ work.
Many of the key practices and approaches that enable the transformation of organisation receive pushback from managers initially because they don’t fit into a traditional management mindset of task efficiency. Management can tie themselves in knots worrying about comments like “how do we know what they will deliver?”, “what are they doing? they just seem to be talking and playing with post it notes”, “why do we have to spend so much time changing things?” and “won’t all this collaboration distract them from their work?”. The focus of digital transformation is system effectiveness not individual task efficiency. To have the ability to see and effect change at a system level and to deliver purposeful outcomes for stakeholders people need the capability to reflect on change, to design change and to implement it.
Employees will often push back on new digital practices like collaboration, design thinking, agile and experimentation. If you are busy, the returns of this work are uncertain, the demands of your role are exacting and your organisation values expertise foremost, being asked to test your assumptions and engage with others on your ideas can feel like a waste of your valuable time. People need the time and the incentive to participate fully in the process of improving systems not just delivering their personal scorecards.
If your organisation is so tightly managed that employees are 110% busy, have limited latitude in execution of their roles and no ability to effect change, then your digital transformation journey will struggle. Without the wiggle room to consider and make change, your employees will not be able to achieve the benefits of digital transformation no matter how many projects or practices you implement. Until you give your employees the time and the capability to create change in the system progress will be stunted.
For tightly controlled & hierarchical organisations, the step to the high levels of autonomy seen in many digital start-ups can be daunting, if not impossible due to cultural legacies and issues of scale. However, every organisation can experiment with allowing employees a purposeful amount of wiggle room. Trust and autonomy aren’t given. They are won through a process of developing these capabilities and proving success through work. Helping employees to have the capability to reflection on improvements, exercise their discretion and to lead change in the organisation is a simple first step to change for any organisation. The power of this small amount of wiggle room multiplied by a large team can extraordinary. Most importantly, allowing a small amount of wiggle room will help you identify the change agents in your organisation who are capable of leading more and those that you would rather not entrust with the capacity to drive change.
Start by allowing your employees some wiggle room to reflect, to design and to lead change in the system. The rest of your digital transformation can be supplying the platforms, the tools and the practices to make this way of working systematic.