Digital Transformation Is a Movement, Not a Moment
I remember thinking about 2000 like it was going to be the Jetsons. And here we are, two decades into the 21st century, and I still don’t have a flying car or a robot housekeeper!
Color me upset.
The lack of flying cars notwithstanding, we are living in an amazing time of technological progress and digital transformation, and it speeds up every day. We are using technology in ways we couldn’t even imagine way back in that futuristic year of 2000, but sometimes those leaps of progress are not even noticed in the moment. It’s only when we look back and reflect that we can see the incredible strides we’ve made.
The concept of digital transformation has been with us for some time now, even covered a year ago in Techtalk. How is your social good organization exemplifying digital transformation? Any flying cars yet? Are your teams walking around with digital wearables using artificial intelligence to tell the gift officer what to ask a potential donor? Probably not. Have you replaced your entire staff with robots? I haven’t seen that yet. More importantly, is digital transformation something that is ever really “done”?
All organizations need to be vigilant and ready to move, adapt and grow as we put more and more technology to use to achieve greater outcomes. But as we look back over the last 20 years and look forward to the next chapter, there are two noteworthy things happening: first, digital transformation is much more incremental than just a single instant or decision; and second, the more technologically advanced we get, the more important it is to focus on the human/cultural side. These lessons are very similar to my area of passion and expertise: change management.
First, I think you would agree that true transformation is not a moment, but rather a movement. Incremental change is powerful and, quite frankly, the way things actually get done. Here is a fun prank: Move your coworkers desk an inch every day. Will they notice today? Tomorrow? Likely not. What’s more likely is that they’ll walk in several days later and say, “Who moved my desk?” but only after it had been moved a significant distance. Digital transformation is not unlike moving that desk. One day you’ll reflect and say, “Dang, we are doing things so much more differently than we used to!” But you probably won’t have that revelation until you’re down the road.
What are the lessons here? I am always a proponent of dreaming big and communicating that vision to your team. But inside of the big vision must be smaller steps — manageable progress markers that your team can achieve, promote and move on.
McKinsey tells us that one of the key markers of successful transformations is to “move fast, renew often.” This is similar advice to the “quick wins” strategy often encouraged in change management practice. So, think big, but know that big change comes from several smaller chunks.
Technology Doesn’t Change Behavior
Along the same lines, watch your expectations of promised revolution from day one. Yes, you should explore and invest in new technologies on a regular basis to stay as relevant as you can — but software doesn’t change behavior. In other words, technology won’t make a gift officer finish a contact report, or have that donor meeting, or change your organization’s culture. Influence it? Sure. Make it easier? You bet. But the technology itself won’t do that — so don’t promise to others that it will.
Second, given the digital landscape, be sure your people and your organization are ready and able to adapt as necessary! How will we engage donors or measure outcomes in 10 years? How can we balance the old reliable with more progressive thinking? From a leadership perspective, a key place to start is to cultivate a team and a culture that values openness to change and readiness to pivot.
Cultural change is famously slow and difficult, but it is achievable with focus and leadership. To start, leadership should agree to encourage teams to value change and risk-taking. Next, the team should operationalize that. This might mean small incremental wins in technology (as discussed above) — but more importantly, it should also mean that your teams know that some misses along with the wins are OK.
If my manager encourages me to think outside the box, there are going to be some risks that do not pay off. From a cultural perspective, the organization must celebrate that loss; not try to avoid it. True digital transformation will only happen with a willingness to change, adapt and evolve. Those incremental changes will one day be enough that you look around and say, “Who moved my desk?”
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say,” and that is true when applied to cultural change. If you want your organization to be nimble and ready to take chances, do it yourself. Show people how you took some swings and had some misses before that home run, and celebrate both.
Technology is moving faster than ever, offering incredible opportunities that should be embraced. But as you step toward digital transformation, remember the lessons from change management — all change is incremental, and no matter how advanced the technology, you need to support the human element.
Editor's Note: This Techtalk column was originally published in the March/April 2020 print issue of NonProfit PRO. Read the full article here.
Michael Reardon, PhD, is a senior principal consultant for the Business Consulting Services team for Blackbaud with more than 20 years of experience in organizational communication, change management, virtual work and corporate identification. Prior to joining the Blackbaud team, Michael worked as an assistant professor in the department of communication at the College of Charleston where he was honored with Faculty of the Year awards in 2009 to 2010, as well as in 2010 to 2011.