Recently I had an interesting discussion with a consultant for one of the Big 4. It was about a futile yet vital detail in a large digitalization program, the usage of Media. He swears by Social Media and I think that’s a bit thin. It triggered through the interesting question about how valuable “old management toolkits” are today to help manage the digital challenges and the many crises it has to deal with.

Let’s take a look at where we are right now.

  1. The Leaders: Crisis of Care

We will all agree that (regular) face-to-face communication has always been the most effective way to engage with any employee of any generation. Yet it’s a luxury in these fast moving and volatile times. Even managers are volatile these days. The sheer pace of work often prevents them from attending the basic (emotional and informational) needs of their teams (or it’s the perfect excuse for not engaging). Mid-level managers have gone virtually all together and show up physically twice a year, if at all. And if higher management comes down to the arena, it’s a “once in a lifetime thing” in massive (time-saving) pseudo participative events, like Town Halls. New technologies, volatility, globalization, uncertainty, and speed of changes have created a real Crisis of Care amongst managers that translate into highest ever levels of disengagement of employees and lack of trust in- and credibility of what managers have to say.

I recently asked several colleagues from my last assignment what they remembered from a Town Hall meeting 4 months ago with their CEO… Indeed, nothing more than that he has been there and that he seemed a friendly guy. At least that’s positive but very thin on both information and motivation and anyway, a “tool” change managers will seldom get to use these days. Considering that “Digital Competency is Change Competency” (Jane Ren), this Crisis of Care is truly worrying.

2. The Media. Crisis of overkill

Who can honestly say he reads or answers all his emails? Who copies in everybody just to be “on-the-safe-side” as one doesn’t really know whom to trust or believe? Who seriously listens to- or participates in all his WebEx calls? Can you honestly say you didn’t try to avoid another (virtual) meeting you perceived as useless? Do you think that too many managers (and employees) use too many media (and messages) in an attempt to “substitute” or even avoid true human relations and communications?

Corporate Communications (and consultants), in desperate efforts to precisely help solve the problem, throw often more (now also social) media at their demotivated and frustrated employees (Latest studies from Gallup show a global 72% disengagement).

I asked a Corporate Communications Director of a large pharma company very recently about her motivations to line up more (social) media in the organization and her expectations on their effectivity on the occasion of the launch of a company-wide Yammer. She admitted that such decisions are partly driven by the “Everybody-else-does-it” argument and by despair as existing media don’t reach audiences or audiences ignore them. Expectations on improvements through more media are low as there is no serious will (or budget) behind it and the real solutions to the challenges can’t come from plugging in more media. How worrying can it be to start a company-wide digitalization project in such scenario?

3. The Message. Crisis of Purpose

Too many, too long, too blurry, wrong moment, too boring, untrustworthy, and more important: no clear purpose in messages about why we go digital for each Gen-Group? Defining and communicating the purpose and measuring efficiency and effectivity (per role, age, and target group) is a priority leadership task. Yet it seems to have been snowed under by other priorities and reduced often to a poster on the wall with corporate values and an occasional Town Hall. If employees don’t know or remember their purpose, one has to look at the Board Room and challenge their real interest in leading change (or lead at all). If employees don’t know or remember the CEO’s last message, what can be expected from the rest of the chain of command, busy keeping their heads above the floating line? Do you want to go digital without addressing these crises first?

 “Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change”, is a quote from Dr. W. Edwards Deming and his second of 14 points for managers. I was first introduced to them in the early 80-ties, nearly 40 years ago! .

His old toolkit holds some really valuable lessons for (Digital) Business Transformation, including those that address the crises.

4. The Digitalization: Crisis of Leadership

I have been involved as a Change Management and Communications Leader in half a dozen of very large Digitalization Projects, only this decade, all in industrial and production environments and globally. They all shared in more or less extreme all of the above challenges and some very own ones that were all neatly captured by Dr. Deming. Allow a quick review of some of his learnings.

1.      The Constancy of Purpose. Why are we doing this?

2.      Adopt the New Digital Philosophy…and accept ALL the consequences. Not just talk about it.

3.      Institute Training.

4.      Institute Service-Based Leadership.

5.      Drive out fear (and bring in trust and respect).

6.      Break down barriers between departments (and start cross collaboration).

7.      Substitute Leadership (bring in those able to lead by service).

8.      Remove barriers that rob employees from their pride to deliver decent work and be rewarded for it.

9.      Vigorous self-improvement and learning (emotional intelligence, social intelligence…).

10.  Transformation is EVERYBODIES job. Put everybody at work. Nobody is excluded.

40 years ago…how much of the above can be applied today on any digitalization project?

5.  The Change: Crisis of Size

The before described “Crises” are the current playing field of a (digital) Change Manager. He has to reach all Employees, Boomers, Generation Jones, Gen-X, Gen-Y… And he needs to do better than his Communications colleagues who have to inform and motivate “only”. He needs to trigger changes in employee mindset and transition behaviors through the creation of awareness, engagement, changing mindsets, influencing their motivations. And he has to do it within the same boundaries of existing information overkill, lack of employee motivation, outdated organizational and management cultures and through a chain of managers who maybe never heard of Dr. Deming’s learnings, were never trained in the concept of service-based leadership or don’t care, to name some of the corners of the playing field.

The size of the Playing Field for Change is much underestimated, often over-focused on technology (only), while not defining properly the size of the field.

6. The Roles: Crisis of Culture

Lack of CM knowledge (not identified as the main priority), pressure of existing workload (everything is urgent) and pressure from the own colleagues and managers (technology is important, people not so much), or even own character and attitudes, push many (top) managers to stay on the managerial side of things and “delegate” their Change Leadership to their change and project managers to step into their own sponsorship- and communications roles and responsibilities. The problem is that Change Managers do not have the authority or the credibility to exercise these roles and responsibilities or act directly upon employees. The only thing they can do in such situation is maneuver within the given constraints (and become part of the problem), leave, or get fired if they push back.

Digital Transformation of any business will work as soon as managers find the road to (Service Based) leadership and attend personally their employees’ needs, especially during such changes, and communicate proactively, demonstrate empathy, and get involved in team members’ goals.

It doesn’t matter what or how many messages and old or new media are used. They are all supportive to face-to-face interaction of the leaders and without such action, useless. Managers who know their team members on a personal level and understand their strengths, their goals, and what motivates them, get the job done.

Too simple to be effective?

André Baken