How to Destroy Barriers to Digital Transformation

By Alison Boothby


Smart people, working in a creative and collaborative environment and supported by social business technology can achieve incredible things, yet despite a wealth of material available on new ways of working, emerging technologies and organisational theories, too few organisations demonstrate the desired capabilities that are necessary to survive and thrive in the 21st century.

To help understand what’s going on, we’ve taken a look at the latest research report from Post*ShiftOvercoming the Barriers to Digital Transformation – which explores today’s organisational capability gaps and gives some useful insight into why the use of ESNs and collaboration platforms all too often fail to go beyond the initial adoption phase to achieve genuine business impact.

Implications for the entire business

Many of today’s digital transformation case studies focus on the technology deployment and miss out on capturing the full scope and potential of digital transformation. It’s more than redesigning the customer experience; it’s more than automating routine processes; it’s more than introducing social software. It’s about a total rethink of how an organisation is structured, how it gets its work done, its culture and its leadership.

Lee Bryant, founder of Post*shift

The report highlights several organisational issues that are looking more like barriers than enablers with the three top culprits being: leadership culture & hierarchy; central departments & bureaucracy; and top-down approach to change. Lee Bryant of Post*Shift describes these as: “forming the calcified spine of the old operating system that is currently holding so many firms back.”

Christine Overby, CEO Shift*Base Research

In Christine Overby’s research, she spoke to 25 Heads of Digital and Human Resources to learn how they are retooling their organisations in response to empowered customers, digital competitors and product commoditisation. They acknowledge the struggle, with today’s operating models upholding outdated norms of structure, work practices, culture and leadership.

How Change Becomes Routine

A key problem with organisational change efforts has been the treatment of change as an initiative – a one-off, top-down wave outside of the flow of normal daily work. This might produce short-term improvement but, like crash diets, rarely sustainable impact. This is articulated well in a McKinsey article Build a change platform, not a change program.

For change to stick, it must be felt throughout the entire organisation, embedded in daily workflows and measured frequently. So the big question is: How do you translate ambitious digital transformation aspirations into small, everyday actions, so that change is gradual and accepted?

To answer this question, the Post*Shift research turns to behavioural economics and, more specifically, the concept of “nudging” to shrink change to manageable increments. One of the most successful and widely-known examples of nudging comes from the Quantified Self movement, in which people track their personal fitness data and, often unconsciously, make daily positive changes and become healthier.

Post*Shift believes you can adopt a similar method to managing your digital transformation efforts – tweaking, iterating, and shaping them based on measurement and feedback loops. They call this the Quantified Org approach.

Putting the Quantified Org Approach into Practice

At its heart, a Quantified Org approach draws from memorable story-telling and iteration so that, over time, you, your team, and your organisation embrace the adaptive ways of working made possible by digital and social. Also drawing on current organisational theories such as holocracy, agile teams and the tribe/guilds models, practitioner interviews, and their own client work, Post*Shift’s report contains plenty of sound advice to help organisations get on track with their digital transformation journey.

A good place to start is to find out just how adaptive your own organisation is and for this Post*Shift have designed a nifty Adaptive Maturity Test which scores the four categories of attributes detailed in their adaptability model – structure, practice, culture and leadership. Completing this diagnostic test will help to quantify progress on your transformation journey and it gives you personalised recommendations and prioritised actions to become more adaptive as an organisation.

People continue to crash diet because they want quick results, even when suspecting the diet ultimately won’t work. When it comes to transformation, a Quantified Org approach satisfies the need for immediate progress while also sustaining change actions over a longer period.

To read the full report, download your complimentary copy of  Barriers to Digital Transformation.