What really should be keeping general managers awake at night

May 2019, article published originally in El Periódico de Catalunya

What really should be keeping general managers awake at night

Through my job, I’m lucky to meet incredible people. Visionary professionals, admirable executives, successful entrepreneurs that have created thriving companies, with hundreds or thousands of employees, from nothing. Nonetheless, many of them suffer from nights of insomnia. It’s funny, brilliant and innovative people, capable of overcoming adversity but who can’t sleep. Some even confess to having nightmares. What’s keeping them awake at night? Digital transformation. In their long sleepless nights, they ask themselves: How is the digital world going to impact my business? Will my company miss the digital train? How can digitalization help me? Digital, digital, digital, a word that’s been hammering in the back of their minds since the coining of the concept “digital transformation” five or maybe seven years ago. And curiously, of the two words comprising it, professionals are obsessed with digital, when they should really be placing emphasis on the other word: transformation.  That is, their insomnia is misplaced. Because, if you’re going to sleep poorly or less (and you can’t blame your ex, your football team, or your downstairs tap-dancing neighbor), you might as well to do it for the right reason.

Technology changes very fast, but we professionals and organizations change very slowly. Let’s not obsess about tech, because is the easy part.

When I refer to transformation, I enter the terrain of professionals who make up company organizations. And the key lies in understanding that companies digitalize but employees transform. And the transformation part is easy to say, but very difficult to do. We love transformation, yes, but that of others.

For technology changes very fast but we professionals and organizations change very slowly; in any case, more slowly than technology. Therefore, let’s not obsess about technology, because technology (knowing about its complexity and immense capabilities) is the easy part.

A short time ago I was invited by a giant company on the other side of the pond to give a lecture at its annual convention, in front of some 750 professionals. After me, the company’s second in command was up to speak. Pleased with himself, he announced the investment of millions of dollars in a new management software. After finishing, during the meal, I had the opportunity to talk to the head executive of the company and I asked him what the forecasted investment in people was, to carry out this important change. The conclusion I extracted was that it was next to nothing. That is, mega investment in digital or in tools and mini investment in the people who must put the tools to use. Is a tool going to change an organization? I mean, deeply change it… I’m afraid not. Technology (alone) isn’t going to transform an organization. Companies are changed by the people working for the organization. Technology is fundamental, without a doubt.

In fact, a new technology can even destroy a company if not adopted in time or not implemented in the correct way.  But technology alone is not going to transform your company. We’re still living in the age of people. People first, digital second.


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