If enterprises are going to succeed in their digital transformations, they need to be able to shake-up and challenge the status quo within their organizations. In fact, not being able to challenge the status quo is one of the biggest barriers to successful digital transformations. Yet, challenging the status quo is always a risky move for individuals and small groups within organizations.
“Many large organizations are intrinsically unable to challenge the status quo and execute a large scale successful digital transformation,” said Mads Hennelund, advisor at consultancy Nextwork. “There are good reasons for this, since established bureaucratic organizations are built in order to handle complex procedures.”
“Most CIOs, CTOs, and enterprise technology leaders want to challenge the status quo, but doing so can be dangerous because there’s no room for error,” said Laura Stringer, principal at strategic consultancy Ninth Fourth LLC. “IT leaders are under intense pressure to deliver continuity and multiple competing projects on an insufficient budget.”
But it’s even more than just budget. It’s human nature’s near-ubiquitous aversion to change and inability to endure a number of losses on the road to find big wins. Stringer and other experts we questioned about challenging the status quo all agreed senior business and IT leadership must acknowledge the risks inherent with experimentation, while also providing a comfort level so teams can execute on transformational initiatives.
Some initiatives will certainly fail and some will succeed. Ideally, like a portfolio of investments, while some investments will fall short, the winners will more than make up for the losses.
“The organization needs a shift in culture to encourage all employees to become more open to changes in their daily processes and tools–digital transformation is largely about creating a culture of constant learning. Without the pressure to provide perfect continuity in current technologies, IT leaders can become more comfortable trying new things,” said Stringer.
“This is one of the reasons why it’s common to see large organizations collaborate with smaller companies for projects,” said Hennelund. “In the financial sector we see a flourishing fintech and insurtech market around established banks and insurance companies. Companies successful in challenging their status quo are those that can navigate between these collaborations or even small in-house sub-divisions that develop new digital IT-based projects,” added Hennelund. “Putting into place a quick decision-making process is also critical.”
This could include making it possible for stakeholders to hold meetings and move forward with their consensus without always having to get board approval.
Such shifts in behavior require culture change. So, how do organizations and IT leaders get there?
First, leaderships needs to make the staff feel safe taking risks and, even potentially, failing. “This only happens in an environment where current practices can be freely challenged without repercussions from upper management,” said Nabil Freij, CEO and GlobalVision International, Inc.“This means that upper management needs to be on board with digital transformation.”
Only then is the right culture, one that can safely challenge the status quo, possible. “The right company culture is extremely important. One that embraces adopting technology, taking calculated risks, thinking outside the box, rocking the boat, challenging status quo, rejecting complacency, empowering employees to lead and overcome challenges…is the essence of enabling digital transformation,” said Freij.
The ability to challenge the status quo all begins with building the right culture. A culture that encourages fresh thinking and intellectual risk taking. “Thirty-eight percent of CIOs think their digital strategy would fail without an innovative and experimental culture,” said Joe Garber, global head of strategy and solutions at Micro Focus.
If so, it’s essential for organizations to build and maintain such culture.