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Digital Transformation Is Not Something You Do – It’s An Attitude

John Palinkas

Institute for Digital Transformation

About 10 years ago, the Institute for Digital Transformation was hired to perform an ITIL (process) assessment at a major financial services firm. During the assessment, one of the positive traits we noticed was a very strong company culture that cared for its people. As we got further into the assessment, we found that even a positive trait taken to an extreme can have negative consequences.

The role of company culture

The company wanted to ensure that every person felt they were being heard. So they had evolved into a consensus culture. On the surface, this does not seem bad, but it caused major issues because critical decisions were being postponed until everyone could agree.

During the assessment readout, I used the following analogy: a train is out of control and headed for a cliff, but the disaster is a few months away, so they have time. They form a group to analyze the problem and form recommendations. As the disaster gets closer, they meet more frequently and start suggesting solutions. But not everyone agrees on one solution, so no decision is made. The disaster is imminent, and the group still cannot reach consensus on a single solution. So, the group fractures and different smaller groups implement their own solutions. And somehow, the combination of these solutions averts the disaster. The group is satisfied that they solved the problem and goes their separate ways. In reality, they averted disaster, but never addressed the root cause of what initially caused the problem. And the problem will reoccur.

Implementing effective solutions

After the assessment, the Institute was asked to return to address a major corporate problem. For the prior two years, there were ongoing infrastructure outages that were affecting the company’s ability to manage their funds under management – trillions of dollars. They had been using the approach described above and failing. It was the new head of IT who asked us to find a solution to this problem.

We spent a month planning and six months implementing our solution, which eliminated 85 percent of critical infrastructure outages and 92 percent of emergency changes. We did not install any new hardware, made no software changes and only made a minor change to the incident management process. Why did we get such dramatic results?

Simple. Remember: the corporate culture valued their people. The people felt valued and wanted to deliver the best service possible. They prided themselves on rapid restoration of service after an outage. Our solution was to change their focus from restoration to prevention. We created worker teams and empowered them to find and correct the root cause of every outage, and ensure that it would never reoccur. We transformed a culture of good firefighters into a culture of fantastic fire preventers.

Digital transformation

One of our guiding principles is that management knows best what needs to be fixed, while the people doing the work know best how to fix it.

Analysts tell us that the majority transformation efforts fail. Research identifies behavioral and cultural issues as the leading cause. Is it any wonder? Digital transformation is viewed as a project or program, something that needs to be done to an organization. True digital transformation is an ongoing journey that needs to be internal. It starts with the people who do the work understanding the need for change, spreads to the culture, and eventually transforms how services get delivered.

Think about that as you start or continue your transformation journey.

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