Organizations around the world are struggling to adapt to the constant wave of technological disruption that is rewriting the rules of business. In order to maintain competitive, today’s leaders are focused on identifying the strategies that will create an internal culture designed for continuous adaptability, anchored by teams that are innovative and agile.
It comes as no surprise that the term “digital transformation” has become a catch-all buzzword that bridges every aspect of the business, from talent retention and recruitment to marketing and analytics. The one consistency is the pressure on the organization to change and embrace new disruptive tools — as quickly as possible.
This term is misleading, and we should all stop using it.
Semantically, it means to make a marked change, a single action that renders the subject transformed. Simply put, it is a single journey with a clearly defined end. The notion of transforming is no longer a realistic expectation, and captures an outdated philosophy that grapples with market fluidity. It used to be enough to make one big change to survive turbulent markets, but that’s no longer the case.
Instead, organizations need to embrace the concept of “digital evolution”: the understanding that only a strong commitment to continuous change will help businesses thrive. Evolving is also a type of change, but one that develops gradually and continuously, a small distinction that can have enormous impact on management strategy, organizational culture, and best practices.
For example, processes must be adapted to include regular assessments of both outcome and methodology — a constant self-reflection that is unafraid to identify weaknesses and flaws, and challenge the system that created them. Recruiting efforts should focus on prioritizing candidates whose skill sets include adaptability, a tolerance for uncertainty, and a willingness to experiment. These competencies should be included in job descriptions across all functions and levels of the business.
Culturally, the shift is more philosophical in nature, as management needs to embrace a sense of permanent incompleteness, flying in the face of productivity metrics that relish marking items as completed on a to-do list. Instead, we must recognize that we will never be “done,” because the world will constantly force businesses to adapt and adjust. It’s a new era of business Zen — surrendering to the endless flow of progress instead of fighting it.
Digital evolution happens at both the organization and individual levels, making ongoing learning programs an essential part of the process. After all, if our environment is in constant flux, then by extension, so are we. A regular investment in employee development is a great way to ensure skills are being updated consistently.
Doing this requires analyzing the organizational chart to ensure that the right positions are being created to manage learning initiatives. It cannot be over-emphasized that employees always take the lead from management: If the C-suite doesn’t deem continuous learning as an essential priority, that attitude will be absorbed by employees, leading to lower rates of adoption and decreased curriculum completion rates.
Finally, we must reassess the slew of productivity metrics that focus too much on constant outputs — an outdated byproduct of the industrial revolution that was relevant during the manufacturing age. As more workers transition into knowledge industries, a relentless pace of achievement will do more harm than good to the intellectual capital of a business. Researchers have proved that the brain requires regular periods of rest to recharge and, more importantly, assimilate newly learned information. Currently, many organizations favor a demonstration of constant productivity — a never-ending stream of emails and meetings cementing a cultural obsession with overwork and busy-ness.
A radical approach would be the cultivation of intentional periods of pause, to give employees a chance to reflect on their own performance as well as the organization’s long-term strategic priorities.
A species’ survival is dependent on its ability to adapt to its environment. Digital transformation is no longer an adequate strategy for improved performance. Leaders who grasp this fundamental shift in management thinking can make the change that will help their organizations evolve to meet the new demands of the information era. In an age where the answers are always changing, the only thing one can do is remain steadfastly committed to asking the right questions.