How to increase your organisation's appetite for technology-based change.
The most important success factor for digital transformation is your organisation’s mindset. Taking advantage of emerging technologies requires a different conversation and a new attitude. Damian Pedreschi, Beca’s Group Director Transport & Infrastructure, discusses how to move the dial from automation anxiety to digital dynamism.
In digital transformation, attitude is everything. Unless you’re a start-up with digital in your DNA, you need to shift every conversation – from the boardroom to the water cooler – to get your organisation ready for and open to the inevitable coming change.
As a leading professional services business with engineering in our DNA, Beca is immersed in emerging digital tech. We’re building full digital models of our designs that people can walk into. So, we don’t exactly struggle to get our teams excited about new tools. But even we bump up against resistance when people have to let go of how things have traditionally been done.
“That’s great, but I don’t want to change. Let someone else do it.” We also have occasional moments of automation anxiety. “If our new app can do 60% of the design for a project, what does that mean for my job?”
To help flatten out these speed bumps, Beca is:
- Deliberately creating new roles around technology and the future – For example, for the first time, we have a dedicated role responsible for developing our future technology road maps. The people you recruit into these roles bring with them very different – and important – perspectives.
- Introducing future-focused goals – Targets like revenue or profit are focused on past performance and present models. Because we know transformation is coming, we’ve taken on different goals for 2023, including: new thinking and new technologies. We still use financial metrics, but these are outcomes – not goals.
- Establishing a business accelerator – This is separate from our day-to-day business, with a separate P&L. Its goal to look for early ideas that we can develop by co-investing with a client. We get everyone involved by asking them to look out for problems that need solutions. We have a whole bunch of smart people working with clients across Asia Pacific. They frequently trip over side issues that clients are struggling with. These are fed into the accelerator, with the most promising worked up in sprint workshops over 18 weeks to see if we can solve the problem.
- Putting digital natives in charge of workforce development – The future of work is traditionally led by someone in an executive level. But, with all due respect to those with lots of experience, they’re not necessarily the right people to lead future thinking. We’ve introduced a future focus group – including graduates and developing leaders – with full autonomy to look at how we should be working. The rationale is: these people will be our future technology, client and business leaders. They’re the ones experiencing things at the sharp end. They should be driving the conversation. Already, the group has come up with initiatives I’d never have thought of, including an app to support our inhouse design process.
- Immersing non-technicians in digital experiences – People need to experience emerging technology before they ‘get it’. We partner with digital leaders to bring the latest technology and the best people to show us and our clients what’s possible now – and what’s coming. This is includes the likes of AI workshops with IBM.
Individual influence points
Organisational levers are good – but they’re not enough. We also need to influence individual behaviour. Because merely giving someone the latest piece of software doesn’t mean they’re going to use it to do a good job. That depends on their appetite for technology-based change.
In a group of 100 people, there’ll be those who are intimidated by technology and anxious about being replaced by machines. You can pretty much guarantee these people will obstruct progress and not be happy. At the other end of the spectrum, you’ll have people who are excited about technology because they think it will make their jobs more interesting. You can rely on them, not just to run with a digital tool – but come up with new ideas for using it.
You don’t need to worry about either of these groups. Some will make the transition quickly and a few may not. The early adopters will lead it. But in the middle are the people whose hearts and minds you need to capture to give digital transformation the best chance of success. To do this, you need to:
- Be very consistent in your message – Every day, in every conversation.
- Keep it simple and real – Highlight valuable tools that didn’t exist a few years ago – like video conferencing from your laptop. Everyone thinks this technology is fantastic. So it’s a great place to start the conversation about your next workplace tool.
- Lead by example – If you’re communicating about digital transformation, don’t send an old-fashioned email. Instead, use a multi-channel approach. Deliver the message using a fully automated webinar, videos, discussion boards or apps. Help people live the experience you’re talking about.
- Highlight stories and case studies – Stories of how other companies are using emerging technologies are persuasive, memorable and likely to be repeated around the office. I often use these stories to refute the argument that ‘a machine will take my job’. The real risk to anyone’s job is if our clients or competitors move ahead of us.
Intellectually, most people get that digital is an enabler with the potential to deliver extraordinary productivity gains and innovation. Emotionally, it’s not always a straightforward conversation.
You need to pull all the organisational and individual levers you can to bring your team on board and succeed in this digital age.