There’s a humorous little Irish story about a man on a journey in Ireland. As he sets off for his destination, he comes to a T-junction but doesn’t know which way to turn. He stops and asks a local farmer who happens to be standing by the side of the road for directions. But the response confused him – “Ah now, sir, if I was going there, I wouldn’t be starting from here”.
Quite often when organisations set out on their digital transformation path, they struggle to make the right start, lack inspiring vision and struggle managing change with their staff. Transformation typically ends up as a series of tactical projects, sometimes aligned, sometimes delivering in silos and sometimes without the buy-in of their people who are trying to adapt to change while doing their day jobs. They either fail or don’t really deliver the business benefits or outcomes anticipated. Most of us are familiar with the 101 (or however many) reasons why projects fail and when it comes to digital transformation, the impact is no different. If it is driven from the top down, with an all-singing, all-dancing five-year plan without any context for your people’s roles or any understanding that new systems and new technologies might be overwhelming or seem forced upon them, then you may as well expect the transformation to bomb.
As a recent Garter article on creating powerful organisational change management said, “Change happens one step at a time, and the first step is the most critical”. The article goes on to make the analogy of a DIY home make-over show with driving organisational change. People need to be part of the journey; the DIY shows are engaging because viewers become part of that ‘before and after’ change story. Employees are engaged at the start if they know what they need to do to prepare for tomorrow’s change and can help shape it – DIY essentially.
While many digital transformation programmes claim to put the customer first, sometimes bringing in external consultants to map out their customer experience journeys, organisations often forget about another important set of stakeholders – their internal customers, i.e. their staff. Your people are the real experts when it comes to understanding your business and your customers. Without them, you’re only touching the tip of the digital transformation success iceberg – this leads to the ‘iceberg of ignorance’. In his acclaimed study “The Iceberg of Ignorance”, consultant Sidney Yoshida concluded, “Only four per cent of an organisation’s front-line problems are known by top management, nine per cent by middle management, 74 per cent by supervisors and 100 per cent by employees.”
What about me?
In its 2018 CIO Agenda, Gartner said that culture was the biggest barrier to organisational change, with certain behaviours in the workforce scuppering the chance of digital progression. When it comes to digital transformation, employees often wonder, “what’s in it for me”.
They are fearful of what new technology might mean for their jobs and fearful of losing control, often with the best interests of their customers at heart. Within the housing sector, this mind-set challenge has shifted from the impact of channel shift on customer services staff to a worry that robots are coming and going to take over our jobs.
CIOs are often challenged with keeping pace with the rate of digital change and the excitement of new disruptive technologies but fear they will be unable to get their employees to adopt them.
Innovation needs to be a component part of the organisation’s culture, with staff motivated, encouraged and rewarded for coming up with creative ideas for solving business challenges. They need to be in the driving seat, not merely passengers on the road to somewhere (or nowhere).
They need to be inspired that while technology can change their jobs, it opens up new, creative and rewarding opportunities for new ways of working. Regular awareness and education on how emerging technologies are enhancing, not threatening, their lives should form a key part of staff training and development.
Burning energy and hothouses
Now we’ve recognised that we need to make the right start, include our people and learn from their expertise, we must inspire them, not scare them with new technologies. How do we make this happen?
That’s where the hothouse comes in. A hothouse can be the perfect start that your programme needs. It can bring your people on board and introduce the possibilities for how innovative technology can solve your very own real-world business problems.
A BT hothouse is an intense, multi-day collaborative event that brings together our customers with experts from across our business in areas such as research, innovation, technology and business change and project management. The aim is to produce clearly-defined innovative solutions to a specific business problem; anything from solving a particular business challenge to setting a future organisational vision and strategic plan. The hothouse is hosted in a dedicated facility set up to encourage team-working, collaboration and healthy competition to come up with winning ideas.
That’s the text-book description, but it’s more than that – it is about inspiring creativity; it is about hard work but fun; and about bringing together a diverse range of people. We often include some of the entrepreneurial start-ups we incubate or other parties from outside the sector to stimulate different ways of thinking and problem-solving. The more diversity, the greater the opportunity for innovation.
We have hosted many hothouses for our customers where new ideas have been bred, brought to life and then taken back into their business as the catalyst for driving and implementing major change. Hothouse events usually last for three days and customers usually say they achieve so much more in those three days than they could have achieved in three months back in their office environments.
In November 2017, Optivo took part in a hothouse with us, bringing together diverse teams from across its recently-merged AmicusHorizon and Viridian businesses, with the objective of setting their 2020 vision. The high-level business problem was, “how do we create the capacity to build more homes”. But Jane Porter, Optivo’s COO, and Jeanette Alfano, Optivo’s director of technology, both also wanted to test how disruptive technologies such as IoT, AI and robotics could change Optivo’s future business model as part of that vision. The important factor was to also achieve this in a way that staff could embrace.
Jane Porter, COO, Optivo, said, “It was great to get everyone away from the normal office environment and working together in a different way. This has resulted in lots of amazing ideas from our staff that I don’t think we would have achieved if they were tasked in the same way while doing their day jobs. It would’ve taken months, even years.”
We brought in our research experts to talk about IoT, AI and other emerging technology disruptors to stimulate creative thinking. But not only that, our experts continued to work alongside Optivo staff over the three days to help them with the challenge. Three teams, with a mix of Optivo staff, BT experts and other invited participants, competed to come up with the winning solution, high-level plan and business case which led to some fantastic ideas.
Optivo’s customer services director, John Barr, said, “It’s been great to have so many different people from different departments and the people from BT working together in such a challenging but energising environment. There were some long days, a lot of effort, but a lot of creativity for what we think are fantastic ideas.”
One of the key benefits of the hothouse has been the feedback from many Optivo people who said they will be now be looking at technology in a different way and they can now see practical ways for how technology can be incorporated into their homes to the benefit of both tenants and staff. Taking staff out of the normal environment and allowing them to see and experience new technology as an opportunity and not a threat is critical for successful and visionary digital transformation. Jane Porter said, “The added value in working with BT is the huge amount of knowledge and expertise about future innovation and things we might not be aware of to not only trigger ideas for the future but for those ideas to be created by our teams.”
And at the end of the hothouse, Jeanette Alfano was keen that those ideas would be taken back into the business and put into practice. She said, “We need to get down and make the ideas happen as our teams have put so much effort into creating our future.” Optivo has kept their hothouse team together and followed through on its commitment, not just with the winning solution but all the ideas put forward – they were all that great!
Philip Brunkard is CIO for regional government at BT Business.