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Fight corporate atrophy: Hack your way to digital transformation

Fight corporate atrophy: Hack your way to digital transformation

Inertia makes it difficult to start and scale digital transformation, says Jenny Beresford

What’s the most powerful force in the universe? Scientists would argue that it’s black holes, gamma bursts, self-replication or intelligence. For CIOs, the answer is different. Inertia is the most powerful force that CIOs face today as change agents.

Inertia makes it difficult to start and scale digital transformation. It doesn’t maintain status quo and leads to atrophy. CIOs can track atrophy in their organisation to inertia. Talent and culture are their biggest barriers to success, according to Gartner’s 2019 CIO Agenda survey.

So what does inertia look like? It’s doing nothing because that’s considered safer than doing anything (risky). It’s the engineer who wants to change, but has a project milestone that’s due on Friday; or the CEO who wants to explore new business models, but can’t take risks with the underlying profit model because shareholders will punish even the slightest miss in earnings.

Inertia is difficult to combat because you can’t get your arms around it. But it’ll slow down transformation more than any technical glitch.

Try using tactics that require little to no budget to execute. Small, everyday tactics can make a big difference. They won’t magically scale all of your digital transformation, but they’ll create momentum for faster progress.

Hack your culture

Culture is like a living being who’s hard-wired for survival and self-preservation. Many CIOs have an engineering background. Engineers are great at creating detailed plans, but one for changing everything typically won’t work when it comes to culture because it’s just too amorphous to change at once.

Hack your culture instead. Find one access point where the culture is vulnerable to change and exploit that. Culture hacks elicit an immediate, visceral response. They signal to a large group that change is real and happening now.

Here’s the key: they’re low effort. You should be able to design and carry out a hack in fewer than 48 hours. If you need three months and 10 people, it’s not a hack

Be a diplomat

CIOs who are change agents often tell us they feel misunderstood by employees. They try to move as quickly as possible to drive change. Employees sometimes view them as out of touch with reality, or someone they can outlast by sticking with “the way things have always been.

Become a diplomat instead. Get out of your office as much as you can. One open discussion about digital transformation over lunch is sometimes worth a dozen formal town halls that repeat why it’s important. Shuttle diplomacy, which requires you to be close to your employees, is central to your job as a change agent.

Do less with more

Do more with less is a mantra that no one wants to hear, yet CIOs have to live with it every day. IT budgets are expected to grow only 2.9 percent on average in 2019.

Most CIOs feel like demands on IT are growing by orders of magnitude. This isn’t sustainable, especially given insufficient IT-business resources and digital skills are among the biggest barriers.

A new mantra is needed: do less with more. Business ecosystems will help you do this. Today your organisation might create 100 percent of its total revenue. In five years, your ecosystem may create 5 percent of your total revenue, and your organisation may create 95 percent. This is doing less with more.

Use two-pizza teams

A two-pizza team is small enough (typically five to seven people) to be fed by two pizzas. This concept emerged from Jeff Bezos at Amazon in the early 2000s. Small team sizes are believed to have the ability to innovate more easily, move more quickly and are given strong service ownership.

The CIO of Toyota makes employees the “CEO” of their idea to emphasise their full responsibility and decision rights associated with the idea. This improves the ability to scale proven prototypes, which helps scale digital transformation.

To empower talent to scale important innovations, cancel meetings that have too many people attending. Break large teams into two-pizza teams with full-time participation and no other delivery demands. Make the initial idea creator the project owner to speed up progress and reduce the risk of handoff failure later on. Also make a rule that decisions need to be made within 48 hours.

Change the way you spend your time

CIOs are spending more time on new strategies, business models and operating models. But their day job of running IT and keeping the lights on hasn’t gone away. There are two main traps to navigate: operational glitches and time management.

A CIO I spoke to wanted to spend more time being a visionary for the organisation rather than just running operations. So he delegated IT strategy and operations by creating two new positions, both of which were filled by people who already reported to him, but previously had more tactical roles. This freed him up to spend more time on new business and operating models.

Help leaders imagine new business models

Sixty-three percent of CEOs say they’re likely to change their business models within the next two years, according to Gartner’s 2018 CEO survey. You have a unique role to play in inspiring business model change because of your deep understanding of technology and the data trail that can create new opportunities. Help other leaders imagine what the possibilities for new business models are.

Jenny Beresford is a research director with Gartner's CIO Advisory team. Previously, she served as a CIO in global enterprises, held VP and GM roles in consulting and technology firms, worked as a hands-on enterprise agile coach, an innovation lead and a digital transformation director.


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