How do you prepare your organization’s culture to fully embrace digital transformation?
I was honoured to speak on a panel at the Public Sector Network event Virtual Digital Government Road Show: Turning Policy into Practical Delivery to talk about that very subject. Over the course of an hour, my fellow panelists and I shared our experiences and insights and I wanted to share my responses with you in case you find them helpful.
How would you describe an environment that best enables public sector productivity and collaboration?
For an environment to enable productivity and collaboration, inclusivity needs to be a priority. It can’t just be about the cool kids. Silos and bubbles need to be broken down and not just focus on those that are sometimes considered the focus, like “digital” people. For example, like any curse of knowledge situation, digital types are very good at talking to digital types because they speak the same language, but that’s not culture change or inviting to an outside environment. That’s a bubble. A silo. It can be seen as unapproachable to those outside of it or worse yet, elitist. Productivity and collaboration need to be part of the DNA where those terms aren’t used, but rather just how you work.
Some ways to foster a productive and collaborative environment include:
- Curiosity – better understanding the work of others in your organization will not only help connect dots to new opportunities, but also help grow empathy.
- Fluid leadership – titles denote responsibility, not leadership. Leaders can come from anywhere and should be allowed to with new processes, new goals, new ideas and new inspiration.
- Risk awareness (not aversion) – digital innovation is new for many. Even those who work in this field, aren’t comfortable with everything that could be proposed. An understanding and welcoming to the possibility of failure is essential. And not just in lip service, but in action (embracing failure) and reaction (removing blame and identifying lessons learned). Risk needs to be understood, embraced and prepared for… not a reason to not do something.
- Clear purpose and values – visions, missions, purpose statements and values are essential so everyone knows where they’re going as they work together to determine how to get there. How can you get where you are going with no direction? Collaboration and productivity are inspired by a sense of meaning and purpose.
- Accountability and empowerment – productivity and collaboration are largely fuelled by proactive movement. And that movement has to be connected to a feeling of having skin in the game. A feeling of ownership, of their expertise being honoured and relationships being valued. Allowing for for this will also help build confidence in teams and in the environment they work.
How can you help to digitally ‘onboard’ colleagues/team members?
It can be difficult for those who don’t have a lot of experience with digital tools or who aren’t comfortable with them, especially now when they have to adopt them so quickly. For those new to the organization, it’s important to hire the right fit for the culture you’re trying to build or have already established. One of the key traits to look for in new hires is adaptability. How do they roll with change? What are examples of quickly adopting new platforms and new processes successfully in a team environment?
For those colleagues and team members already part of the company, focus on learning and knowledge transferring to bring them along:
- Learning – experiential, learning online through various digital resources (and especially beyond what’s offered by your organization), joining communities of practices or networks.
- Transferring – biweekly professional development, mentoring/coaching, approachable presentations
And remember, there are NO “stupid” questions. To help onboard your team, they need to feel comfortable asking for help and clarification around topics you may think are obvious.
What are the key leadership competencies needed to enable digital transformation in government?
I’d like to stress that “leadership” shouldn’t be defined by rank or hierarchy. There are those at every level that can help lead digital transformation, championing these new platforms and inspiring others in adoption. To think only of executive is short-sighted and far from inclusive, and could force you to miss out on an opportunity to effectively manage change.
The most important competency with the greatest impact I’ve found is strong communication. To properly lead a digital transformation, your audience needs to understand the value of what you are trying to do and what transformation might look like and its benefits. In that, all effective communication includes two parties – the sender and the receiver. What is said and what is understood. Getting that right is key. But there can be barriers to making that connection:
- Curse of knowledge – use common language. If you’re using language and terms that mean something to you but nothing, or something different, to your audience, you’ll have some problems. Terms like “innovation” or even “digital transformation” may not mean as much because corporate over use has turned them into dilluted buzzwords. If you’re going to use them, define them first so your audience can be brought into the journey.
- Be interesting and engaging – the messenger is as important as the message. I’ve seen great ideas buried and ruined by 127 slide deck presentations because experts want to push information rather than reach their audience. If you want to connect with your organization, make sure the right person is communicating effectively, with a bit of showmanship.
- Understand your audience – What matters to them? Though your idea might be important to you, your audience probably doesn’t care. Until they need to care. It’s not their fault. They’re busy and have their own world. Make it about them.
Further competencies I’ve found that are essential in leading change include:
- Taking initiative – Be proactive! You can’t wait for people to come to you with questions and confusion. Leaders lead. Get information out there.
- Service-oriented – Look at it like you are serving your employees and how you can solve their problems with digital transformation.
- Engaging – connection is bolstered by face-to-face interactions (or at least when they can see your face). Come out from behind the emails and websites and be a person to who you’re trying to build a relationship with.
- Relatable – be someone that others can understand. You can’t come off with barriers or a “removed” approach. Those you are trying to get on board with digital transformation will be frustrated if you’re not someone they can relate to.
- Patient – transformation doesn’t come quickly. Look at it as a long game, and stick with it.
- Accessible- make yourself available by whomever is interested to learn more.
- Curious – it’s not just about implementation of digital, it’s also about understanding the business areas of others and their work. It breaks down silos and builds empathy to help with change management.
- Empathic – you work with humans, with their own challenges and frustrations, successes and milestones. Be kind.
- Stoic – remove ego from your leadership. It only gets in the way of progress and connection.
How do you measure your progress in changing culture?
Measuring culture change is hard. It’s not an easy “checked box” on a to do list or a straight forward return on investment. This isn’t a short game but rather an organic shift. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have a strategy with milestones and check-ins along the way, it’s just that it’s not a regular project management exercise.
Large organizational culture shift can take time. And to get it moving, it must be modelled over time by leadership through action. And even that won’t happen right away. I really enjoyed this Harvard Business Review article on focusing on a movement over a mandate.
To measure your progress, I recommend first defining success. What are your desired outcomes? What are you trying to achieve? What does success look like? What’s the scope of the culture change? (are you trying to shift public service-wide, organizationally, team, etc)
- Internal – increased and vary participation and buy in. After you do a presentation, does the audience ask you lots of questions?
- External – increased public engagement and kudos
Then, you need to provide avenues for VoE (voice of the employee) to flourish. Some ways to do that:
- Focus Groups – establish a group that represents your audience and all its diversity (geography, responsibilities, hierarchy, gender, ethnicity, disabilities, etc.) and use them as a litmus test for your progress. Have they noticed any shifts? Are they or their networks able to do things they weren’t able to do before?
- Temperature Checks – enact informal interviews with various members of your audience conducted by their peers to get an honest assessment of your progress. Those who are interviewed change with each cycle.
- Surveys – conduct a brief survey that includes examples of desired outcomes and behaviours so you can get feedback on if your culture is changing.
Remember, once you hear back from these business areas, and are provided examples of success, share them with the larger audience. Your organization will model the behaviour they are shown as examples of success, especially if they see personal value in it.
How do you prepare your organization for digital transformation?