Behind on Digital Transformation? Get Ahead with Open Leaders

Behind on Digital Transformation? Get Ahead with Open Leaders

Profound changes are afoot. Leading your organization through them requires an open approach.

Disruption is “existential,” notes an article from professional service provider Wolters Kluwer. It’s not just an organizational design issue. It cuts straight to the core of who we are, how we see ourselves, and what we contribute to our environments. Today, the furious pace of disruption is forcing executives to make existential decisions and commit to them much faster than they’ve anticipated.

One source of that disruption is digitization. Digitization is reshaping the way we lead, manage, and work. Even in the scope of the last decade, we’ve seen rapid adjustments to how we live, connect, and receive services. While we’ve been discussing ad nauseum how (or whether) we should be redefining organizational cultures and business models, the clock has been ticking, and the pace of digitization has not been slowing. In his book The Digital Matrix: New Rules for Business Transformation Through Technology, author Venkat Venkatraman argues that, by 2025, differences between digital and non-digital functions, processes, and business models will no longer exist.

So what’s the top priority for leaders in business today? Understanding the existential impacts digital transformation is having on every aspect of human life, and addressing the immediate need to reshape the way we work, organize, and do business. In other words: changing our organizational cultures and developing people capable of thriving in these conditions.

It’ll take nothing less than immediate action. We need to change the way we work and lead our organizations into this new era.

But culture change is hard, and organizational redesign takes time—at least, that’s what nearly every leader says when we agree change is either necessary or inevitable. The major problem is not that we can’t agree change is needed; it’s that we’re standing on past methodologies, processes, and mindsets to make decisions about how to address and engage the change of today and beyond.

Why is this observation so critical?

Old playbooks and models (for leadership, for business, for people development) that have previously garnered success are no longer effective. Relying on these, I often say, is like expecting your emerging technology to work on the bandwidth and speed of dial-up service from 1997. They’re not quite up to the task of meeting speed, demand, and performance outcomes. Contemporary “best practices” are unable to meet the demands of the present, let alone the future. We require new ways of doing things in order to lead in the digital age of rapid change. In fact, I would argue that your success beyond 2020 depends on them.

So if we agree we need to change and develop competencies for engaging rapid change, then how do we proceed?

Open principles and processes—and ultimately open organizations—are vital to the success of digital transformation efforts. By creating space for the key tenets of open (transparency, adaptability, collaboration, inclusivity, and community) to be infused in our workplaces, we can then begin to engage change continuously throughout the entire organization (not just on your DevOps teams).

Change needn’t be difficult. It is only as difficult as we choose it to be. As leaders, we are ultimately responsible for empowering those around us to engage change, new information, and uncertainty with a measure of ease. We need to guide them as we discover the new details, to provide support as routines are disrupted, to help new voices be heard, and to create places where people feel they belong to something greater.

The “simplest” entry point for large-scale change in your organization the way your teams work and the processes they use to solve problems. As Jim Whitehurst writes in The Open Organization, while conventional organizations utilize a top-down approach to driving change, open organizations take a bottom-up approach to addressing what they do, how they do it, and why they do it. This means (among other things) beginning the work of culture change by fueling passion and uniting everyone under a common purpose while sourcing collective wisdom and collaborating to turn the great ideas into actions. Only then can our organizations function as fully engaged and empowered ecosystems catalyzed by inclusive decision-making.

Open (and all that open entails) is also the key to our global future.

Implementing open values, principles, and processes into all facets of our lives—such as culture (both organizational and societal) education, access to information, co-creation models, engineering, and computing—is the best way to build a balanced and free society that paves the way not only for future technological advances but also new ways of working together to build our world.

If you’re still uncertain about the value of openness, I would immediately point you back to the very book you’re currently reading. It’s a prime example of how an open, collaborative, inclusive project works. A distributed group spread across multiple industries, with varied experiences and working styles, can combine their individual talents to co-create a valuable resource based solely on a shared set of well-defined values in a community (see Appendix).

As you continue learning about open leadership—and, ultimately, open culturethis book will provide tools and insights you can use to begin changing how you work.

This article was originally published as the introduction to The Open Organization Leaders Manual, Second Edition.

The Open Organization Leaders Manual, Second Edition

Newly revised and significantly expanded in its second edition, this book is for anyone interested in building more transparent, agile, collaborative, and mission-driven organizations.

Download the Book

Jen Kelchner

Jen Kelchner

I am a creative, a thinker, an analyst, a dot connector, a weaver of communities, a leader, a technologist, an entrepreneur, an innovator, a writer, an international speaker, and a Master of Change who is dedicated to building a better world.  

I intuitively understand the multidimensional transformation process, the technology of people and advise high-level leaders in the private and public sectors from around the world on transformation in leadership and culture.

Surviving Industry 4.0 – think beyond digital

Surviving Industry 4.0 – think beyond digital

At the heart of what we call “digital transformation” isn’t just technology—it’s people, too. When we forget that, we put our organizations in danger.

We live in an age of innovation featuring rapid cycles of change. Futurist Gerd Leonhardt estimates we will see more change between 2015 and 2035 than in the prior 300 years of modern history. To effectively understand this change, we need to step back and see the large scale impact of this age.

The source of the changes is far more than “digital transformation” or “emerging technologies.” We are a connected and aware generation who consumes information in mass volumes in real-time through handheld devices. Policy and regulation are changing. Political upheaval is occurring. New business models are emerging. New markets are appearing. We are part of a global market and a much larger ecosystem—and as with all ecosystems, the slightest shift can cause radical changes throughout the whole of the system.

Transformation beyond the digital requires a new approach to the way we build agile, open organizations—and, it will need to start with how we empower our people to engage continuous cycles of change. With the advent of Industry 4.0, we need empowered, engaged change agents more than ever.

Humans drive change. Humans sustain change. And failing to invest in people as they grapple with change could be problematic for your business.

The importance of now

The cycles of innovation will not be slowing down (in fact, it will be speeding up). To really understand the urgency and importance of people development today, consider this.

The 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey offers the subtitle “Millennials are disappointed in business and are unprepared for Industry 4.0″—before even launching into the study. The survey’s findings lead to a staggering awareness that organizational and people team leaders have not taken Millennial workforce development seriously. They are underprepared for the speed of innovation and for basic teaming skills.

Why should you care, you ask? According to 2017 statistics:

  • 56 million Millennials currently are in the workforce; making up the largest group
  • Gen Z began entering the workforce in 2016 and now comprise 5% of the workforce
  • Millennials will be 75% of our workforce by 2025

As the composition of technologies inside our organizations changes, so does the composition of people—and that means the composition of expectations is changing, too. If you expect your company to not only succeed but thrive in the 21st Century, you’ll need to make an immediate investment in interpersonal and managerial competency training.

The engine of change

The rules of engagement have changed. Transformation needed for our workforce, business models and organizational ecosystems must go beyond “digital transformation” alone. However, our approach to building applications, systems, and new technologies cannot be the same one we use use to train, engage, and prepare people. Digital transformation, policy and regulation changes, new business models—all are tools, vehicles aiding the achievement of new ends or goals. But they’re not driving the change. The change engine itself is fueled by people.

Our efforts to make technology work for humans requires applying human dynamics to solutions rather than just technologies.

An inclusive, holistic approach

Change is personal and response varies by context.

For example: You’ve probably worked on projects with someone who seemed resistant to the initiative. They may have asked 1,000 questions. Or they wanted to continue to reiterate, over and over, the legacy of what had already been built. As an innovator, your likely assumption was that they were being “wet blankets” to the team and initiative—and, had no place on an innovation team. (Am I right?!)

Or maybe this was the case: As a detail-oriented risk mitigator, you might have been given a project full of creatives who you don’t understand. It is frustrating. The need to move fast, without details, or a risk assessment—this boggles your mind. You’re thinking, “Vision is great and all, but let’s talk about the potential pitfalls along the way.” It has raised all of your red flags, and your assumption is they aren’t in touch with reality—and might not even be that good at business.

Each of these (too common) scenarios depicts a mismatch of attitudes toward change. In my work, we’ve discovered that people engage change in nine different ways across a spectrum of filters. The output of the change engagement—a “change language,” if you will—reveals a person’s positive contribution to either drive change (and aid in adaptability) or to optimize and sustain the change. When combined with interpersonal competency development, this awareness of positive contribution allows each person in an organization or on a team to understand how to navigate change by leveraging their strengths.

This awareness also helps people avoid feeling displaced or like they’re not contributing value to a process or project. It also provides them with a communication style that aids in their being understood. Taken together, this increases engagement and fulfillment in the work, as they’re operating from a more natural and comfortable position.

When a leader then leverages this information to build a well-balanced, high-performing team, they’re providing the entire organizational ecosystem with an engine of change that can now “surf the wave” of innovation rather than be caught in the undertow.

Each person in your ecosystem has the capacity for positive contribution and value to either drive change, adapt, optimize, or sustain change. Everyone has the capacity to be a valuable contributor, to channel the way they engage with change, and to make it work for everyone. This understanding combined with interpersonal competency training is what will drive the engine of change.

To become a true open organization, the shift to people development with interpersonal and change competency development must be a top priority in order to sustain growth.

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Jen Kelchner

Jen Kelchner

I am a creative, a thinker, an analyst, a dot connector, a weaver of communities, a leader, a technologist, an entrepreneur, an innovator, a writer, an international speaker, and a Master of Change who is dedicated to building a better world.  

I intuitively understand the multidimensional transformation process, the technology of people and advise high-level leaders in the private and public sectors from around the world on transformation in leadership and culture.

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