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The key to leading through unprecedented technological change

A person holding a phone and working on a laptop.
by Adam Bennett

As a former consultant, big bank CIO, and having led digital transformation as a CEO, it’s clear that the pace of organisational change is accelerating. We simply haven’t yet reached ‘peak change’. 

This is echoed by Ray Dalio, legendary investor and founder of Bridgewater and author of the book: ’The Changing World Order’. Ray comments: 

“The ability of both computers and humans will improve at an increasing pace. These changes will occur in varying degrees in the next five to 20 years but will add up to the greatest shift in wealth and power that the world has ever seen.” 

The coming years will unlock even greater change as we push further into machine learning, artificial intelligence and even deeper analytics. And as 5G telecommunications takes greater hold, virtual reality becomes mainstream and all kinds of knowledge workers—from doctors through to lawyers — have their jobs augmented by AI, the disruption to our organisations will be big. Very big. 

The emergence of these new technologies and the need to operate the entire tech-stack safely in the face of sophisticated cyber threats, and to deliver competitive advantage through technology is going to grow in importance. It’s very real, and it’s very exciting. Every leader is therefore going to require a working knowledge of technology. They won’t need to be experts, but they’ll need to be informed and engaged. Above all, they’ll have to know how to lead transformation. 

Before proceeding, let me first highlight the need to be clear on the difference between the ‘means’ versus the ‘ends’ when it comes to technology. It’s very easy to consider the implementation of technology as the goal. This is simply not true. Ever. Technology is always an enabler, and the ‘means’ to delivering a business outcome or customer advantage which is ‘the ends’. 

When your technology project shifts from “let’s deliver an amazing customer and/or shareholder benefit” to “let’s just get the bloody system in” you’ll know that you’re moving towards implementing technology as the ‘ends’ instead of the ‘means’. To avoid this pain and to keep technology squarely as the enabler it should be, here are five steps to help you lead transformation.

#1 – Do the Work – Personal commitment of the leader

There’s no substitute for your personal involvement. No one expects you to be the deep technology expert, but they do expect – and deserve – for you to be leading from the front. So, get familiar with the broad technology forces and personally lead the transformation. Leadership of change and driving transformation is not something you can outsource to someone else. 

#2 – Make Decisions – Choose, own and communicate a clear strategy

You have to make a decision, which means committing to a choice. Be clear on how you want to compete and differentiate yourself from your competitors and then thoroughly canvas a broad suite of technologies that might help you achieve this. Carefully choose those that best deliver your strategy.  Ensure you can communicate what you’re trying to achieve – the ‘ends’ and the ‘means’ – in a sentence or two, and make it sufficiently compelling to build engagement and excitement. 

#3 – Build the Team – Get the right people

It’s unlikely you’ll have all the technology skills you need already in house. If you do, then you’re probably not operating at the frontier of what’s technically possible. When assessing technology partners and systems integrators look for temperament (curious & collaborative) and skills (experienced in change). Complement these external professionals with members of your own internal team who believe in the organisation and want to make a material contribution to its future success. 

#4 – Be Thorough – Follow a proven methodology and approach

Technology is always the enabler, so get ready to pull the additional ’levers’ you need to be successful. These levers include leveraging the business processes, organisation structures, people and culture and facilities to actually implement real change. You need to fundamentally transform the way work happens and resist the temptation to simply automate what happens now. 

#5 – Keep Score – Use KPIs to align and provide regular feedback

You must be able to measure and track what you’re trying to achieve. In these times of significant technology change, never has the adage “if you don’t know where you’re going then any road will take you” been more prescient. Focus on the outcomes that you want to achieve (business requirements) the way the technology stack should operate (non-functional requirements) and most importantly measuring the benefits you’ll deliver. Use these KPIs to set clear expectations, and to hold yourself and others to account. 

The degree of technology change we face is unprecedented and growing. Therefore, be clear on the business outcomes you want to achieve, and use these new technologies to enable them. Personally do the work, make choices, get the right team around you and be thorough in pulling the different levers required to implement change. And ensure you keep score with KPIs so that you’ll know you’ve achieved the ‘ends’ rather than calling a false victory based on only delivering the ‘means’.

About the author

Adam Bennett is the Principal of Great Change Consulting, and a former CEO, big-4 bank CIO and management consultant. He’s the author of Great Change – the WAY to get big strategy done published by Wiley.

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