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Book Review: The Technology Fallacy

Moving away from the concept of Transformation and into that of Digital Maturity, this book underlines the importance of People and Culture into a journey that is not just about technology. A must read for any leader facing this change, as it reminds everybody that any transformative change needs intention to be successful.

The book by Gerald C. Kane, Anh Nguyen Phillips, Jonathan R. Copulsky, and Garth R. Andrus is the result of a partnership with MIT Sloan Review and Deloitte, and through a focused research on both Digital and non digital companies, has identified some common traits that successful digital players should have.

This book is deeply rooted in the analysis on the survey and interviews done by the authors, and the cluster analysis where organizations have been clustered on a maturity cluster. The concept of Digital Maturity itself Is one of the cornerstone of the book, and is defined as:

aligning an organization’s people, culture, structure, and tasks to compete effectively by taking advantage of opportunities enabled by technological infrastructure, both inside and outside the organization.

The authors prefer the concept to Maturity vs the one of Digital Transformation, to underline, among others, the fact that it is more of a complex journey than a drastic yet one dimensional change.

Digital Transformation is happening. And everybody knows it.

Most books around the theme of Digital Transformation, use multiple pages to explain what’s happening outside in terms of technology progress, and try to convince all of us of the imminence of a transformational era. The good thing that this book reports is that everyone already knows that Digital Transformation is happening. Which must be a good news for all those authors that have written about it. The key question then becomes why are companies not doing enough around it. There are many possible answers for this, but one argument that the authors make is that

Established companies in particular typically face significant challenges from digital transformation—one of the biggest is their past success.

A typical threat in many situations, which is that of not being able to recognize why change is needed. But the research goes on and identifies more threats, that are implicit in the way organizations are structured and work.

The biggest threat that respondents reported falls under internal organizational issues, such as complacency, inflexible culture, and lack of agility. In other words, the biggest threat of digital disruption is in the organization itself—that the company would be either unable or unwilling to change fast enough to respond to the threats posed by digital disruption.

What is identified as gap with Digital native companies, has a lot to do with the following items:

  • communication and decision making structure, which are too slow in many traditional companies;
  • mindset and culture, which are normally set for stability;
  • digitally mature companies tend to have flexible and distributed workforce. Which leads to have to rethink teams and talent.

“Digital Disruption is Really about People”

One of the key contribution of this book is around the centrality of People (and culture) in facing disruption. It’s not the first for sure to focus on this, but ti does it by clearly framing one of the key problems that the acceleration of Technology has created to organisations.

The true challenge of digital disruption facing organizations (and, indeed, a major part of the solution (…)) is people – specifically the different rates at which people, organizations and policy respond to technological advances.

Fig.1: The different gaps between Adoption, Adaptation and Assimilation (Source: The Technology Fallacy)

The authors focus on three gaps that are relevant for this:

  1. The Adoption Gap which is the rate at which individuals adopt technologies. One of the challenges vs. the past is that individuals are faster in adopting technologies than companies, and this per se is one of the accelerator of the current disruption.
  2. Which forms the Adaptation Gap, which exactly the rate at which organisations adapt to Technology change. One of the issue is for sure the magnitude of investments needed, but to a certain extent there’s also the influence of policy and regulations, which lead to the
  3. Assimilation Gap: institution, governments and regulators tend to be even slower in adapting. Thing about labor law, accounting principles, data protection and so on, and how these are today so distant from the needed reality of modern technology.

Each of these gaps poses a different challenge for companies, but at the core the suggestion is the absorptive capacity of all the employee of the company, i.e. their capacity to internalize change to narrow the adoption gap.

Intentional Strategy to move on

Most of the respondents to the survey have identified the Lack of Strategy as the top barrier from maturing digitally.

Fig.2: Top barriers by maturity stage.

For the authors, this seems a typical issue of the tradeoff existing between established and new initiatives, identified as exploration vs. exploitation, and the problem into implicitly balancing colliding priorities.

One of the solution proposed it to understand that developing a digital strategy is not a once in a. while” process, but instead it a recursive process that loops a number of receptive steps, all relevant, and where there needs to be a strong balance between short term and long term strategy.

The example that the authors introduce in chapter 5, is that of Duct tape. Based on the academic concept of affordances, which essentially suggests that people and technology are fundamentally entangled with one another, and which leads to the fact that merely owning and implement ting technology is not enough to deliver business advantage.

Digital Leadership

Our research finds that effective leadership is one of the most critical factors associated with digital maturity.

I share the position expressed in the book, that Digital Maturity does not require a new type of leadership. After all, Digital Transformation is only partly about technology; it is also, and more importantly, about using new technology to enable novel or more effective business strategies. Which, we all agree, is the primary purpose of leadership in a business environment.

Issue is that too many people see positive digital leaders as a kind of wizard. This because there is still a lot of technological ignorance spread across many levels of management. For sure a good Leaders that can improve digital maturity need to have a strong technical mastery, and/or digital literacy.. Through the survey the authors identify 4 “skills” that make or break a digital leader (none of them is new, is just their relevance that changes).

  1. Transformative Vision
  2. Forward-Looking Perspective
  3. Understanding of Technology
  4. Change Orientation.

One of the most important aspects about Leadership in digital mature companies is not just the type of leadership, but how much leadership is distributed in the organization. One of the characteristics of digitally immature companies is that leadership is trapped at the upper levels of the organisation. Whereas mature companies have all experimented successfully with flattened hierarchies and distributed leadership models.

Digital Talent Mindset

One of the other critical suggestions of the book, is that we need to move away from traditional talent assumptions based on skills, and invest in searching and creating the correct mindset.The pace of change imposes a continuous updating of skills, which leads to create a continuous learning environment and a growth mindset across all individuals in the company.

Joined with the above mentioned distributed leadership, this trait will be the basis to transform the organisation into a talent magnet, capable of attracting and retaining the correct talents needed to sustain the change.

Transformative actions need to be taken also in the other talent processes, particularly in helping forming the Work of the Future. As people become lifelong learners and changes impacts roles and tasks continuously, people will have to pivot more often across roles, charting their own career paths in different ways than in the past. A topic that I will treat in a future post.

Becoming a Digital Organization

Any attempt to make one’s company more risk tolerant, more agile, with more distributed leadership, and so on must involve more than simple lip service from management on these issues.

Maturity will come only by creating the right culture mix. And this will come by realizing three important steps: one is that treating Digital Culture is the best way to drive adoption. The second is that digital culture is not just an adaptation to what we have today, but is a distinct and consistent product associated with digital maturity. Which leads to the last point: Digital Culture can only be intentional.

Fig.3: Key Elements of Digital Culture.

I’ve already discussed how important Digital Culture is for Traditional companies, and this books frames perfectly the concepts illustrated, about the mix of practices and needs to repurpose some of the traditional practices, as a strategic way.

One of the intentional elements that we need to consider is collaboration, which is a central element in successful digital companies. Which is not just dropping slack or yammer into the set of tools of the company, but making sure that we radically change the perception of the traditional management style which is not rooted on collaboration.

Conclusion

I think this book is really a must read for every person dealing with Digital Transformation (or Maturity). Far from presenting a “simple” recipe, it candidly illustrates the complexity of the journey that most organizations will need to undertake.

One of the key learnings for me is that the intentionality needed to become more digital is the “deal-breaker”, and is the area where most organization fail. In too many cases I see an attitude about “let it happen”, instead of driving.

And you? How did you find the book?

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Can we do without Remote Working?

The discussion about Remote working, yes or no, has been too ideological in many ways. But too often it fails to recognize the fact that traditional management based on control is the root cause of issues with this form of flexibility. We can only succeed if we are able to retire our management style.

This week I’ve shared on Linkedin and on the Knowmad Magazine a link to an article appeared on FastCompany titles “How to address the pitfalls of remote work“. One of the comment received was very true, and deserves some attention.

Most companies are still in denial about how critical going flexible is for employees and productivity.

I believe that the discussion on Remote Working has been (as usual I would say) too much taken from an ideological perspective from both who favors it and who is against it.

For sure, we need to clarify that not all jobs can fit a “home working” set-up, whether this is fully remote or not. This is particularly true for customer facing roles (although new technologies have made this distinction not always so critical, let’s think at new phone technologies for customer service centers).

Once we have defined which job can be done remotely, what are the key issues that we face? There’s for sure some myths about home working that needs debunking, and also some practical preparation for the individual.

Remote Working can support true Inclusion across the world.

The weak link however in remote working programs, is the fact that organizations and managers very rarely get prepared to what this added flexibility means. Because it is true that Remote Working complicates the way we traditional manage people, but this is not a good excuse to allow for a much needed flexibility.

I don’t want here to add to the list of exhaustive suggestions on hot to manage remote workers (Quartz published a great article, and so did Fortune with its coaching council). But just point to one critical aspect.

The key issue with management is that it is a discipline born on the basis of a coordination of work measured in terms of input (time) not output. Which in many cases has given has created a working style where performance confused with “desk dedication”: i.e. how many hours I clock in in the office. And BTW, this is not just a cultural element: how many regulatory burdens exists across the world that are all aligned on this idea (think clock-in requirements for example still present in many countries)?

Too often the biggest critique about Remote Worker is “How do you control if they’re working”?

But then a similar question is, how do you control if a person is working (productively) even while in the office?

This is the key conundrum of remote working, the need to create a different trust relationship between employer and employees. One of the side effect of this, I’m afraid, is also to make some managerial coordinating roles redundant (thus flattening org charts). If people are able to work remotely, self-organizing their work, the question about a lot of middle level manager roles might arise.

Remote working is here to stay. I think that the winning system will that of and hybrid between traditional office work and home working, with flexible arrangements that allow individual preferences and balances to be taken into consideration.

What do you think about Remote Working?

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Cover Image by Dillon Shook on Unsplash

Book Review: The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil

After having read some articles and a book on the concept of Transhumanesim, but also with all the discussions that is currently rising around. the role of Artificial Intelligence, I decided to go to what is considered one of the key sources of this topic(s), the 2005 book by Ray Kurzweil The Singularity is Near.

The book is definitely a complex reading. It gives a variegated view of advancements from all domains of science and technology.

Though earlier users of the term “technological Singularity” used it to refer to the arrival of machine superintelligence (an event beyond which our ability to predict the future breaks down), Kurzweil’s Singularity is more vaguely defined:

What, then, is the Singularity? It’s a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed.

The author based most of his assumption on the perception that most people expect progression to be linear, whereas instead is exponential. Which is also the part of the book that is more interesting, with the many examples that the author assembles.

Fig.1: Linear progress vs. Exponential progress.

People intuitively assume that the current rate of progress will continue for future periods. Even for those who have been around long enough to experience how the pace of change increases, over time, unexamined intuition leaves one with the impression that change occurs at the same rate that we have experienced most recently. From the mathematician’s perspective, the reason for this is that an exponential curve looks like a straight line when examined for only a brief duratio. As a result, even sophisticated commentators, when considering the future, typically extrapolate the current pace of change over the next ten years or one hundred years to determine their expectations…

But a serious assessment of the history of technology reveals that technological change is exponential… You can examine the data in different ways, on different timescales, and for a wide variety of technologies, ranging from electronic to biological… the acceleration of progress and growth applies to each of them.

Kurzweil assumes that the “law of accelerating returns” (from him expanded from the original Moore’s law) will dominate most of technology endeavors over time. Thus brining a centrality in the technology over the human components into our future.

The downsides of this book are, in my opinion, the “cherry-picking” of examples that Kurzweil has done in all his examples, but particularly around all those technologies that did not respect his proposal of accelerated returns.

The second key one is that he completely avoids confronting himself with any of the social, psychological, political economical problems. This is a pity, especially because it creates an aura around the book of not being able to critique most of his ideas.

In many ays this book is an eye opening. It has the definitive advantage of having brought a lot of the topics that we label “transhumanesim” to a wide public, in an organic way. But at the same time, it made this also look a lot more as a religion (and there’s a chapter in the book about this…).

Practical Implications: Artificial Intelligence in the Workplace

One of the topics that led to my interest into this reading, was definitely the Artificial Intelligence development, and it’s taking over of a lot of tasks. We all see this as a reality in today’s world, and is becoming more and more a field in which, as HR professionals, we need to take a standing. I’m not particularly fascinated about the Turing test dissertation that the author gives, and the reference to how AI will impact the Future of Work.

However there are two key ideas that I take away from this book:

  1. Whatever we do (or rather don’t do), technology advancements are impacting the way people work. Organisations that fail understanding this aspect, will quickly disappear from their markets because there is no way to go back.
  2. AI is not (anymore) just about automation of repetitive tasks, but it will be more and more about managing (and reducing) complexity. An area we always thought of being a Human Domain, can now be more and more delegated to machines.

And you, what do you think about this book?

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Image credit: Gisela Giardino, Flickr.

Digital Transformation in Traditional Organizations. It all starts with Culture.

The topic of Digital Transformation is often seen as an opposition between digital natives and “the others”. But how can we transform a more traditional organisation, while preserving some of the traits that have made the success of this organisation?
The answer is to look in Culture first, and in making sure we intentionally embed values and practices in the transformation journey.

When approaching Digital Transformation in many organizations, issues arises to how much we need to change without impacting the more traditional operations. Partially this is also a reaction to one of the most typical objections that many do when looking at the transformation on the markets. “We cannot be Google”.

A very interesting read on how a traditional company should address this transformation, comes from a MIT Research published on Sloan Business Review: Building Digital-Ready Culture in Traditional Organization.

Foundational Values

The research has first of all identified 4 foundational values that characterize successful Digital Transformations. What’s interesting is that these where based on assumptions cited from digital native companies, but have been validated by leaders of more traditional companies undergoing transformation.

Fig.1: The 4 Key Values of Digital Culture. Source: MIT Sloan Review.

Recognizing the immense scalability of digital solutions, digital leaders typically focus on creating impact, assuming that profit will follow. […] The other three values support that mission. Speed helps companies stay ahead of competitors and keep up with rapidly changing customer desires. Openness encourages employees to challenge the status quo and work with anyone who can help them achieve their goals quickly. Autonomy gives people the freedom to do what’s right for the company and its customers without waiting for formal approval at every turn. Together, these values can foster an engaged, empowered workforce where employees feel a personal responsibility to constantly change the company — and often the world.

If we do recognize these aspects in most truly digitally native companies, it’s often hard to imagine how some of these can be “allowed” to live into more traditional organizations. One of error many organization make is to think they can allow these only to a limited group of people, “the digital team”. In this incubator mindset the problem is that the foundational element itself, Impact, cannot be limited, unless we want to negate its lasting effects.

Putting this into Practice

The MIT research shows that these values infuse a number of practices in Digital Organizations. More traditional organizations instead have developed other practices consolidated over time. And although these are often mocked from truly digital natives, they are essential to guarantee the stability of organizations that some time have more than a century of lasting success.

Fig 2.: Alignment of Digital and Traditional Practices. Source: MIT Sloan Review.

Figure 2 shows a possible alignment between the practices that Digital Natives have established, and more traditional practices present in consolidated organisation. This however should not be seen in terms of an unreconcilable gap, but more into a mix that can make the success of a traditional organisation that can become Digital.

The strategies to obtain these are easily identified, and are about building the practices that traditional companies don’t have (based on the values seen), preserving the practices that give an advantage to the traditional model and reorienting those that instead create a burden to the agility of a company in reaching the results.

Build the practices that are needed for success.

Experimentation and Self Organization are two key practices that needs to be enabled if we want to be successful. The link with autonomy, impact and openness is clear. What-summer important is to tie this in with the correct data and KPIs.

our analysis shows that rapid experimentation and self-organizing strongly drive measures of self-reported performance, including growth and innovation.

The challenge especially in this area is to make the organisation gets ready to experiment with new ways of measurement. We can’t use traditional financial-oriented reporting alone to measure the impact of new innovations.

Preserve what makes the difference.

In too many instances the risk of transformations is to throw away everything. Reality is that traditional models have been able to establish a level of stability and integrity that allows stakeholders to be at ease. These are valuable practices, that need to be nurtured and preserved, maybe just by reassessing their consistency with the new reality. Stability in this framework might take a different angle than in the past for example.

An example of a relevant preservation is financial discipline. Many successful traditional organizations have been able to keep a valuable relationship with their shareholder because of the way they achieved results. This is definitely an element that needs to be preserved.

Reorient what could drag you in the past

The key challenge is in reorienting the practices that are more rooted in the past, and often work against the necessary to be fast, to experiment, to self-organize. One example that comes to mind is the budgeting process. Organizations need to move from multi-year or yearly investment plans, and get into more agile and nimble processes, to be able to support with flexibility the necessary technological agility.

There’s no one single way to succeed

The most important word in digital transformation is not digital, but transformation. Launching technology projects is just the starting point. The ultimate goal is to move from building systems and processes to building capabilities — building a culture where innovation is the norm and where employees constantly seek learning and growth, making the most of the best new technologies and techniques.

This strong link with culture makes it clear that there cannot be a one solution that fits all. Many tools are needed (from organizational design to change management practices), and for sure Leadership Commitment is one of the key components. However we cannot limit ourselves only to the softer side, we need ways to enable these practices (alo quickly).

I’ve already discussed to what I see as a potential solution: a mix of three disciplines that “fit” the transformational need, and that should be extended to the maximum possible to enable the correct practices in organisation.

Fig.3: The Three Mindset of Development. Source: @jonnyschneider

If you extend these mindsets from software development to the entire way problems are identified and addressed in organizations, you will immediately find out a new frame of mind that can enable both the practices identified and the underlying values we have seen above.

The advantage is that these mindsets are rooted into practices that can be more easily acceptable also by traditional organizations. Design thinking is the best tool available to enable a new customer orientation more in line with digital principles. Lean can help reorienting the excessive focus on rules, by correctly prioritizing what to keep and what to modify. Agile will help creating the framework for experimentation.

To summarize, Digital Transformation becomes a challenge not because of its technical component, but because of the need to reshape the intimate culture of an organisation. This does not mean getting away from everything that a more traditional organisation has built over time, but by carefully mixing the best of both worlds. Above all, taking conscious decisions about what to change, when and how.

What do you think is biggest obstacle in achieving this?

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Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

Book Review: Drive, by Daniel Pink

Drive, the surprising truth of what motivates us by Daniel Pink, is a book published already 10 years ago, but that still scores high on Amazon’s bestsellers. It was suggested to me by a colleague, and thus my recent reading.

The book key idea focuses on the gap existing between how Motivation is treated in the workplace, and the results of social science research that shows that instead most assumptions are seriously flawed. Much of what we (assume) we know around motivation as managers, is therefore wrong.

Part of this is because we assume all tasks at work are the same. There’s instead a difference, the author states, between the way we approach these. Tasks are either: (1) Algorithmic—you pretty much do the same thing over and over in a certain way, or (2) Heuristic—you have to come up with something new every time because there are no set instructions to follow. Understanding the nature of the task is the first step to understand what motivates us.

The best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table: Pay people enough so that they’re not thinking about money and they’re thinking about the work. Once you do that, it turns out there are three factors that the science shows lead to better performance, not to mention personal satisfaction: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Daniel Pink, Drive

Researchers have found that extrinsic rewards can be effective for algorithmic tasks—those that depend on following an existing formula to its logical conclusion. But for more right-brain undertakings—those that demand flexible problem-solving, inventiveness, or conceptual understanding—contingent rewards can be dangerous. And in a world where most of the first type tasks get automated, the second area become more prominent in most of todays jobs.

Motivation cannot be reduced to a “carrot and stick” mentality.

The author illustrates also that research also that the secret to high performance isn’t our biological drive or our reward-and-punishment drive, but our third drive—our deep-seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities, and to live a life of purpose.

This undermines the traditional managerial “carrot and stick” approach, and Pink identifies 7 deadly flaws in this approach.

  1. They can extinguish intrinsic motivation
  2. They can diminish performance
  3. They can crush creativity
  4. They can crowd out good behavior
  5. They can encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior.
  6. They can become addictive
  7. They can foster short-term thinking

According to the author, if you take the issue of money off of the table, the things that truly motivate people are:

Autonomy, which is the desire to direct our own lives. Best way to achieve this is by giving people autonomy over the four T’s: their task, their time, their technique and their team.

Mastery, the urge to get better and better at something that matters. Yet most modern workplaces seems to be built on the lack of engagement and the disregard for mastery.

Purpose, the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. Luckily some businesses have begun to rethink purpose in how they operate, but way too often the link between the company’s purpose and the individual one is still left to chance.

“Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.”

Daniel Pink, Drive

Here below also a beautiful animation that summarizes the key ideas of the book.

Video 1: RSA Animate: Daniel Pink, Drive

A lot of the ideas put on the table seem almost “natural”, however we see how difficult it is to move away from the main ways we try to incentivize people at work, practices that are buried ion assumptions that prove constantly wrong. I truly believe that it is HR’s most important task to retain a new understanding of motivators at work. Compensation needs, wherever possible, be taken out of the equation as the sole way to achieve this, and instead focus on the way we redefine jobs, roles, responsibilities, and create environments where people can really thrive.

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Should we kill the OrgChart?

All HR professionals know that one of the biggest struggle in Organisational Design, is to get managers to move away from simply reasoning in terms of “Organizational Charts”. I guess you all have faced the common scenario in which a manager involves you in the need of an organisational change, and starts the discussion… with an already drafted Organisation Chart.

What should be the last step in a articulated process, becomes instead an assumption, which too often ends being a self-fulfilling prophecy, where change is often just a way to achieve other goals.

Probably this is one of the main reason why some authors have already started wondering if we should definitely kill the OrgChart, also as a tool to simply guarantee compliance, or at least just write it in pencil.

In a very interesting post about the Five Myths of Organisational Design, Naomi Stanford goes to the origin of the word myth to explain the one she has selected first: Design is about the organisation chart. “The myth arises from thinking that the formal elements that can be expressed on a chart are the organisation. Why and how this myth persists could be to do with attitudes and beliefs around formal relationships.”

A lot is probably due to the fact that Org Charts easily interpret the aspiration of vertical growth in an organisation. Despite all efforts, to many people still look at this element, especially from a. psychological point of view. And also try to represent the complexity of career models (how many times did we watch a box in the org chart being placed few millimeters below an other, just to underline a different seniority?)

For decades, managers imagined that corporate ladders were motivating and that dreams of climbing them would drive superior performance’

Margaret Heffernan, Hierarchies lie at the root of corporate decay


For sure Org Charts represent a good way to visualize context. However, they fail at representing the complexity of today’s organization in many ways. Has anyone succeeded in really making a matrix organisation work with an Org Chart representation? What about key relationships at work? Organizational Network Analysis very often describes much better the power and communication lines in an organisation, than an org chart. And as we experiment with new organisational structures, the OrgChart start loosing a lot of its appeal.

Fig. 1 : Social Network Analysis provides alternative way of representation.

No one of the alternative ways to display org relationships has really appealed to me, so I don’t think we’re going to say goodbye to it in the short erm. However we need for sure to work with managers and leaders to ensure that organisational change does not happen by simply moving boxes on a chart, and instead look at all the elements that constitute an organisation, and that are often left out (thinks governance just as an example).

What’s you point of view on Organisation Charts? Should they still exist?

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