It was Abraham Lincoln who said, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time.”
I’ve been doing some research for a social housing client which has meant reading a lot of corporate strategies and VFM statements from housing associations. The word that crops up time and time again is “transformation”, and it is usually preceded by the word “digital”.
It made me think about whether all these transformations were reality or fantasy, just like the rise of so-called ‘fake news’. I’m conscious that lots of things you read online, especially in your social media feeds, may appear to be true but often they might not be as they first appear. For the most part, they’re intended to influence you to the writer’s noble position (just like this article) but they can also cause confusion.
How do you test whether an initiative is transformative? Here is my attempt to explain what is, what isn’t, and how to spot the difference. I have leant heavily on the work of Emma Stace, chief digital officer at the Department for Education, and her article, “Transformation is not a programme”.
Many housing providers claim to be undertaking or are about to embark on some form of transformation. However, there are several misconceptions often surrounding business transformation in social housing. These relate to the role of technology and the role of process in achieving meaningful change. Both are required to deliver better customer experience, but neither addresses everything that is necessary to provide real value to customers.
The first major misconception is that transformation is about technology. There’s no doubt that many transformations include the use of new technologies. This is because isolated technology initiatives are not enough on their own to deliver better customer experiences. We leverage technology in conjunction with other strategies and shifts in thinking to satisfy customer needs.
The second major misconception is that transformation is about getting lean or going agile. While changing underlying processes is a necessary aspect of transformation, it shouldn’t be viewed as the primary reason for transforming. Investing in new technologies and improving process efficiency are important aspects of change, but they are not ends in themselves. How often do you hear that a housing provider has gone digital by giving its staff a tablet or smartphone and then claim to be agile as well? At a high level, it takes changing a mindset, people, processes, technology, and measurement.
Five tests of transformation
So, if those misconceptions tell you what digital transformation is not, how can you tell what it is? Here’s my reality checklist for you:
- Is it a positive view of the future? Will it be engaging to your staff and welcomed by your customers? Or will they just see it as a cover story for some form of cost-cutting? If it is, then why not say so?
- Is it irreversible? To use a housing analogy, is this a repainting and repairing exercise or is it a complete overhaul through remodelling? If/when your Grand Design is finished, could you return to your old home?
- Is it inconvenient? If you’ve watched Grand Designs (to continue the analogy) then you know that for the next two years, you’ll have no heating, no carpets and dust everywhere. So, if it’s not messy or uncomfortable and everything appears straightforward then it’s probably not transformational.
- Is it cultural? It’s not just the infrastructure that changes; it’s mainly about your people and their skills and behaviours, from your executive team to the customer service advisors.
- Is it personal? Ask yourself: what will I be doing differently?
If you’ve read this article because your organisation is going through some change or transformation initiative, I wonder how many of the five tests you mentally ticked and whether you still feel your organisational initiative is transformational?
Peter Lunio is the managing director of Insights With Purpose.