In the beginning of April (April 11th) we had a post in Børsen where we took at critical stance towards the hype of digitalization. Not that we do not agree that the future is increasingly digital, we certainly do. In fact, we argued, and still believe, that the problem is that many company leaders become lost in awe of their future digital endeavors and forget the digital challenges of the present. Leaders do need to look to the future – that is after all what they are paid to do. They do, however, fail when they are not able to connect the present to that future. Through our research and practical experience, we’ve seen several leaders in large organizations talk about the technology of the future, while their employees are poorly equipped to deal with the digital requirements that is their everyday.
But what to do? How to strike a balance between both looking forward and at the present?
It is important to note in this discussion that digital transformations and digital challenges are terms that can have many meanings depending on what it is that is being digitalized and the type of organization. But no matter what, digitalization involves both technical and human aspects. And it is often the latter which is overlooked. In a previous blogpost, where we discussed the different terms (and their implications) connected to digitalization, we highlighted that the human aspects needs as much as attendance as the technical.
With digital development or transformation, new ways of working are often required – new work practices. This has direct implications for the employees who need to work and, of course, collaborate in new ways. When new technology is introduced, new practices are often required. What this in fact requires of employees in terms of skills, knowledge and changeability is rarely attended to and as a consequence, the employees are rarely trained to handle the new technology.
This is a problem, which we have seen in all types of organizations. Even companies that went through a digital transformation process years ago, but unfortunately still focus primarily on the technological part of the transformation, leaving the employees on their own to learn and implement suiting practices. This is problematic. With no support on this journey and often busy work days, employees often develop practices from half-hearted tinkering, developing a ‘whatever works here-and-now’ approach. The result? Bad habits, which are difficult to change and can have damaging effects on work processes, partnerships and collaboration.
In other words, what we experience is that employees have spent years trying to handle the new (and often constantly changing) ways of working and new ways of collaborating. And because they are left to ‘fend for themselves', rather than being properly trained, they (in many cases) come to consider the new ways of working, the virtual way of working, as a necessary evil.
We believe companies have a lot to gain if they face this present challenge head on, rather than only focus on the future and what it will bring. As we stated in Børsen, companies can gain great benefits, and exploit huge potentials by focusing on and developing the already existing ‘digital practices’.
What to do?
What we address here is fundamental for managing the digital challenges of the present.
First, the interaction between people and between people and machines change, when you digitalize. Either the collaboration between people become somewhat virtualized (either full virtual collaboration where you never meet, or collaboration where you meet occasionally) or your ways of working change because technology support your work in new and different ways.
Second, we have the problem with bad habits. Bad habits are alarming, but what is even more problematic is that often we don’t recognize our own bad habits. Acknowledging that would require us to reflect on own practices – something many find they don’t have time for or are accustomed to do. For others it would be a failure, imply that you are a ‘bad performing’ employee. Few people like to admit when there is something, at which they are not good at. So, leader should stop asking if there is a problem, and start asking others and themselves; is there something that could be better?
By focusing on the present, you also prepare for the future.
In a survey from 2018 by Cultural Wizard, 58% of virtual team members found that their virtual leader lacked the competencies to lead virtually. This fits very well with the fact that only 21% of the virtual team managers reported having received any kind of training. These numbers almost speak for themselves. Acting on this insight, and continuously working to become better, teams and leaders will be more ready to handle whatever digital challenges they will face in the future.
So, before you assume that your organization is ready for the next big technological revolution, take a look at your current business and help your employees. Help them improve their skills, their competencies and their practices. Help them so new ways of working, such as working virtually, are no longer a ‘necessary evil’, but can become a natural and maybe even a preferred way to collaborate.
We’d love to have a chat on how to inspire your employees and organization to rethink your practices. If you want to hear more, reach out to email@example.com