Digital Transformation: A Tango between People and Innovation

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By Dip K Sen, Whole Time Director & Board Member, L&T and Sudip Mazumder, General Manager – Digital, L&T

All are talking and trying to walk the digital talk.  The roles of CEOs, directors, practitioners and business unit heads are felt incomplete if they are not talking about digital. Many a times, they are using the big term ‘transformation’ routinely. Yet, when we see the pre and post transformation stages, the companies, processes, technologies etc are almost the same with some minor and incremental changes.

All of us currently use Zoom or Teams or Google Meet and think we are digital. Many us think that we have transformed to a newer world. Of course, we must appreciate that people have changed — they do their meeting from physical to bridgital tools but we need to acknowledge that everyone has done it. Net competitive advantage is zero when all are doing the same.
Though technology must be the vehicle for digital and must be used to harvest the benefits of ‘technology jump’ to achieve operational excellence, new revenue stream creation and delivering superior customer experience, the importance of people remains the core of transformation. The natural question is ‘who is being transformed’. It is the organization, which is made of some positions and positions are held by the people. Therefore, people who are at the core are targeted to be transformed.

If people are in the core and in the physical form, there is another dimension of the people which cannot be seen but may be perceived from outside which needs to be the necessary ingredient. The additional dimension is mindset which I would like to call from organizational context as Innovation. In my view, it is collective mindset of the people. Individually it exists in all but in different potions. Innovation as a mindset is something that needs to be talked about, bred, built, injected, infused and celebrated yet it may or may not blossom in someone. However, organization must always and continuously try doing all of them to take to the desired goal of transformation.

In our experience, people and innovation are necessary ingredients for Transformation. If Digital is the vehicle then for Digital Transformation, the following are the important must-do for an organization charting the part of Digital Transformation:

Design for people at the core – We can get the best of the technologies and solutions, IoT, AI, AR, Mobility, Cognitive in the same solution and make it compelling for saving money or customer experience. However, if we do not think of the people who will use them, who will be touched by the tech solution in some form or the other, the chances of success will be limited and may not be sustained. Ease of use, design and personalisation will be key for all Digital solutions.

People and soft skills – Often I have seen that we take it for granted that a solution will be successful as soon as it is implemented and few users start using it. Often, as a practitioner, we implement a solution who showed ‘positive’ intent to use it as we want to communicate the early success to others. It is a fair assumption though. However, we forget that we need to have a great amount of soft skills to bring that change in the habit to train, logically establish, extra care orientation, talking about issues, giving and taking feedback to deal with people, their resistance, expectation, enablement, support and most importantly assure them of our presence.

Communication and engagement infinite – Engaging people, informing them, taking feedback, making them aware of the changes at different corners, solutions, products, novel ideas, rewards and so on are a continuous process. It may not look as an important job but to ensure the transformation as the top of the mind of the organization and making them part of ‘change’. This also sets the expectation, implicitly, from the people and getting rewarded.

Consistent ‘push’ from top – Bottom up change is incomplete with out a top down ‘push’. Here ‘push’ is key word which does mean pushing the idea of transformation and gearing up for tomorrow. Push should not be coming to the people yet another unreasonable expectation imposed on them. But push will help them acting within. This top-down push should be heard, seen, felt and palpable in the atmosphere within the organization and also, at every interface the management does with the outside stakeholders.

Dopes of surprises – Transformation as a word is known from the high decibel noise it creates but the destination is not. Destination itself is transient but it is known to the top management. Therefore, every temporary destination or milestone is new to the people. Therefore, to help people deal with the unknown is an additional and necessary task for the leaders of transformation. To make it easy, one should create moments of surprises consistent with the ‘transience’ of the nature of the transformation. Gamification of various types, duration, nature helps in creating adoption of hard changes with fun.

Unleash and appreciate new ideas – no idea is stupid. People centric change plays out as win-win for people and organization. People will participate and enjoy when ideas will be celebrated, appreciated, and called out. We all know only few ideas are successful but creating a winning mind set is key for transformation leaders who must get rid of the lingo ’it is a stupid idea’ before it gets mirrored back by the people who are at the receivers end of the transformation.

Stop pre-judging ideas – Transformation destinations as we discussed transient and with small or big milestones which need various sizes and shapes of interventions and initiatives. It is strenuous and often unknown hence make people anxious. Tendency to prejudge and be vocal about the pre-judgment, which many transformers do, must be avoided. One of the top CEOs told me ‘Try, fail and retry. If pass scale’.

Celebrate failures as much as successes – Consistent with my experience and empirical evidence-based understanding of people in the core of the Transformation, it is important to celebrate the failures. It is natural that there will be more failures than success. So be it. Success also can be destroyed for greater success. Failures often can provide insights to betterment and success. The idea of success and failure is with respect to time. Constructive destruction of successes tomorrow is as important as celebration of failures of today. If we want people to be with us in the transformation use all the above drivers and celebrate successes and failures.

DNA transformation has dual strands – We often get complacent and become slave of our successes and start taking a high pedestal resulting in slow down and losing steam of transformation thereby the early won ground. Lens of future and of today are like double strands of a DNA of Watson Kreek Model. They are intertwined. One string must be following leads of H3 and H4 while the other DNA will help going with H1 and H2.

Have you ever watched Latin dance form Tango? More importantly Tango of various types like Spanish or Argentine Tango which have got different pace. However, both the dance form is sensuous and desirable. I vouch, when one watches them, he or she teleports oneself to the dance floor and feels it. At the heart of it, people have innovative and creative minds. Both are required to perform this. Digital transformation is also like Tango of people and innovation — both must be centre of attraction. All the rest all will be like a wrapper to make it enjoyable, successful and be a true winner i.e. the organization and people will emerge out of it transformed, elated and elevated to be the competition’s envy.


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  • Rudolf Dsouza

    Very insightful article. Transformation is around people. And there should be a newer advantage rather than mere zero sum game.

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