“Nearly every organisation today is attempting to become more agile, flexible and adaptive.”
- Dr. Richard Claydon, Co-founder EQ Lab
This is simultaneously a response to the digital transformation of work, in which the ability to rapidly adapt to changing conditions is necessary to organisational success, and a response to the demands of digital workers, who want more flexibility and choice in how and where they work. This presents a few challenges to current thinking.
The Digital Transformation of Work
Most organisations appoint people with IT/Technical backgrounds to lead digital transformations. At the level of going from analogue to digital (digitisation) and creating digital products and strategies (digitalisation), this is fine. However, digital transformation refers to shifts in human behaviours and patterns of work within the newly digitised and digitalised environment. That requires Behavioural Innovation.
There are three common approaches.
- Innovation Labs: This involves separating the exploit and explore functions of the organisation, ring-fencing the digitally-focused innovation lab from the wider organisation so it can operate free from its constraining patterns. The problem with this is that organisations need to explore how to better exploit the known market, as it will be attacked by digital competitors from all sides. Spinning out an innovation lab merely places an organisation on the same footing as its tiny competitors, attempting to create a new product that will digitally disrupt themselves.
- Change Management: This involves importing practices that supposedly work in your digitally-sophisticated competitors, and drawing up a step-based timetable for implementation. The problem with this is that the practices are often contextually inappropriate for the work being done, resulting in demoralised staff wrestling with unsuitable methods that increase workloads and complexity. A second problem is that humans do not respond well to step-based change initiatives, which are increasingly being deemed as ineffective and poorly evidenced.
- Process Training: This involves training your staff in digital and start-up methodologies, such as agile, design thinking, or lean business canvas, or having them take part in hackathons. The problem with this is that if senior leadership do not understand how the methods contribute to the strategic advancement of the business, they do not get implemented in any meaningful way. While they might be enjoyable for staff, they are not effective or impactful, and can result in negative experiences of work for those trying to put them into practice.
Alongside these challenges comes a further shift into hybrid work.
The Hybrid Employee Experience.
This poses a few more questions.
How can we control the work that is being done when we have such fragmented access to managers and control of employees?
How do we maintain behavioural coherence and organisational culture in such hybrid environments?
How can we communicate effectively and rapidly without the sheer amount of information overwhelming the recipients?
How can we collaborate and innovate in environments in which we rarely meet - important given the data that some 90% of innovative ideas happen in semi-formal and informal organisational settings?
How do we ensure employees aren’t struggling with their wellbeing because they feel isolated or overwhelmed - a huge potential performance and bottom-line cost?
Digital Transformation requires deep knowledge of human behaviour - how and why humans change, how and why they resist change, how people come up with ideas, how good collaborative practice manifests, how trust and respect get generated between people, how productivity happens, how to make communication more effective, how cultures and subcultures for, how conflicts get resolved.
Behavioural Innovation comprises knowledge of all the above to help add depth, richness and success to the human side of digital transformation, and ensure all the shiny new digital technology is backed up by employees who understand what behaviours are required to deliver ongoing value.
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