Neither there nor expected

November 2019, article published originally in El Periódico de Catalunya

Neither there nor expected

No idea. Let’s admit it for once. In general, nobody knows exactly what to do or how to do it. Some companies have entered the tunnel, others have advanced within it but almost no one has managed to leave it yet. In any case, no one could consider their “journey” completed, because, to top it off, it never ends. Also, there are those who have not even entered the game because they are bewildered, busy trying to survive, to make it to the end of the month, especially SMEs. I am talking about the much-commented (boasted about?) digital transformation.

In the past year, I’ve dedicated many hours to interviewing board members and managers with the aim of understanding in depth the impact of digital transformation on professionals, something we’ll be talking about often in the years to come. One issue that strikes me is how little employees are taken into account in the preparation and design of the plan that is supposed to transform the company. Everything starts (or should) with redefining the company vision. A vision that should allow any component of the organization (small or large) to feel that they are a part of a better future. That is, to understand why they should change and sense that the transformation of their job is going to be positive for them in particular and, in general, for the company.

I see, surprised, how board members (in most cases), without understanding very well what this whole digital transformation thing implies, pass the mandate of carrying it out to the management team. Who, being forced to innovate by order of the board, will include digital transformation in their annual plan, strategic plan, or whatever we want to call it.

Nobody really knows how to face the digital transformation, but I see clearly that if we don’t involve employees from the start, we won’t be able to transform anything.

Since there are no clear examples of companies that have managed to transform through defined and contrasted models (I insist, nobody has left the tunnel), it is complicated for managers to create such a plan. And since they’re lost, they go about it in the same way they always have: ALONE. Meaning, employees are neither there nor expected. They are not involved. And I fear that they are not because that would mean the acknowledgement on the part of management that they themselves do not know how to face an initiative of such importance for the company. Something unthinkable, unacceptable, humiliating. It would discredit the business hierarchy, built over centuries.

On the other hand, we must admit that the attitude of the employees is not usually very positive, because they are not accustomed to being listened to in their day to day, and even less so regarding such sensitive matters. For this reason their stance is usually very “flat”: Tell me what I have to do… we’ll see if I do it.

Now we have a real mess. The deeper I dive into this topic, the clearer it becomes to me that if we don’t involve employees from the start, we won’t be able to transform anything. In order to do this, it’s necessary to work on company culture as well as the capabilities of the members of the organization (from the board to the last employee). More trouble.