Digital Transformation & Building Agile People

We won’t succeed with digital transformation if we don’t help people become more agile and engaged.


The 2017 Red Hat Culture Survey found that digital transformation is changing business inside and out. Most respondents (91%) agreed that technological developments are altering the way organizations in their industries must operate in order to succeed.

That’s going to require taking a hard look the frameworks for how they work, the values they adhere to, the mission that aligns them, and the operational processes that drive the engine—in other words, their organizational cultures. It’s clear that (due to various types of transformation going on) we must not only address operational needs, but also the way we think about doing work.

In a prior article, I looked at four areas that must be a part of the conversation for digital transformation success. But I’m now aware of a major point we’ve overlooked: The rules of engagement have changed. Currently, the focus of so many change efforts has been on the digital aspects fueling innovation sprints—without addressing the key needs to be evaluated in advance of implementation and changes.

Yes, our frameworks will need to change. But if we’ve only implemented new processes and frameworks and still haven’t developed agile people and empowered them with the skills they need to adapt to change, our change efforts will continue to fail. So over the course of this forthcoming series of articles, I’ll unpack all the ways the traditional rules of change management are shifting—and explain how your teams and organization can succeed with their transformations by thinking beyond the digital.


New rules of engagement

It’s time to step beyond the digital in order to succeed in the rapid state of innovation we’re all experiencing.

It’s time, that is, to change the way we think about the value of the people in our organizational ecosystems by empowering them to rapidly respond to this change—and by providing the necessary skills and tools for becoming fluent in the critical task of engaging with change. Last November, when interviewed on CNBC’s Squawk box, Red Hat president and CEO Jim Whitehurst said: “We found that when projects typically fail, it is usually not the technology, but has much more to do with the way companies operate.” Jim went on to say that companies looking to transform the ways they work must examine their cultures, processes, and systems.

In response to Jim’s assertion, host Joe Kernen replied:

Does every company need to hire Millenials? Who else knows how to operate in the current environment? It seems there needs to be a mass transformation that must happen to change the way people think to get to open source, digital, and embrace new technology.

Are the Millennials in your organization really pushing all the change typically tied to digital transformation? Or is it the case that your entire business hasn’t really upgraded its operating procedures?

While Millennials are the trending scapegoat, let’s be honest: Millennials are not who or what is prompting the need for change in your organization. And, while it isn’t about Millennials or even digital transformation, Joe Kernen was right about one thing: For transformation to happen, people need to change the way they think.

In previous decades, engaging in change has generally fallen into two initiatives: change readiness and change management. Change readiness involves processes focused on controlling the change, but does not allow for what happens outside of that controlled space. Change management consists of building and executing the roadmap to roll out changes, but has been failing at a rate of about 70% for many decades.

Millennials are not who or what is prompting the need for change in your organization.

The current speed of innovation in the market, the move to open organizational models, and the shift to more agile and project-focused working groups have caused us to throw out our playbooks for “normal” business operation. Truth be told, whether your organization is open, closed, or somewhere in between, you must begin to acknowledge the new playing field we’re on and embrace the skills needed to thrive in it. In order to thrive (and not just survive), people and organizations alike must begin thinking beyond processes and tools; we need to begin focusing on people’s capabilities for responding to change. Using sailboat rules to navigate in a speedboat race will mean you not only lose the race but also likely capsize, losing people too.

Organizations have been able to navigate change solely by using change readiness principles—which are based on internal control of change and predictability during a process. We can no longer expect to do business with sailing operations and rules while navigating a lake full of speedboats.

This leads to a new way of thinking and doing.


Doing it differently

Change readiness focused on the value of the people, their contributions and the insights generated by their working together will address the disruption for those in “sailboats” (the disrupted) and those causing “the wakes” (the disruptors). The speed of innovation and change is only increasing, so we must become change-ready. We must have the skills to become rapidly-responding, agile humans who can ride the wave of change rather than allowing the chaos to control us, our teams, and our business.

In the next part of this series, we’ll discuss one of the most powerful weapons to engage change—the empowerment (and contribution) of people in your ecosystem.


This article was originally published at; an open source knowledge community sponsored by Red Hat.

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