Practical strategies for digital transformation

Screenshot of Heidi's article, as printed in Signals

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers” – Voltaire

The best way to transform an organisation is to start with a clear vision and a deep understanding of the people who work within it. Leaders who have a clear purpose, who can change from giving orders to being a mentor, who advocate for personal growth and freedom, will enable their employees to bloom and deliver great services. Real transformation comes from better leadership.

Learning new leadership behaviours is hard. Here is a list of things leaders can do to create a top-down framework for change, and allow for bottom-up transformation.

Give teams problems to solve, not solutions to implement

Many senior executives have climbed the corporate ladder by having big ideas and having others execute them. But employee loyalty now comes from feeling trusted. A big part of showing trust is coming up with the right questions and allowing others in the organization to come up with the right solutions. This also gives teams more responsibility for the results, no matter how good or bad they turn out. Satisfaction in the workplace these days doesn’t only come from getting monetary incentives from a job well executed. Good workers will get satisfaction from being actively engaged in solving problems.

Have a long term vision, but work for short term goals

It is certainly easy to come up with traditional KPIs such as increased sales or fewer customer complaints. But these don’t always reflect the way you want teams to behave, or the goals you want them to accomplish. What if you stopped trying to come up with KPIs and set human goals for you organisation? What if you identified your client’s goals and set those as your own? How would that change the way your collaborators work? Encourage delivering services which solve problems, rather than selling products which increase your revenues. Sales are just the result of a series of other good practices. Making your operational goal to “transform the entire organisation” is almost impossible to achieve. In fact, just like “being agile”, “transforming” should never be a goal. If achieved, how would you know it’s better than what you have today? So try setting small, tangible user-centered goals which you know will allow teams to work for a purpose. And those goals should be directly related to solving user pains.

Have a clear value proposition for your employees

Time is everyone’s most valuable exchange currency. If you truly care for your end users, it shows. If you truly care for your employees, it shows even more. If you have people working only for sales, they will never have a sense of purpose which will generate loyalty to your organization. They will quickly move on to the next job which pays them more for their time.

Don’t invest in fancy office spaces just because they look good in a photograph. Try and really understand what good work-life balance means to people. Invest in spaces that help teams get things done: open plan spaces reduce friction for communication, but make sure there are spaces for quiet concentration too. Relax the dress code and the office hours. What matters is the outcome, not what people wear to the office or how many hours they spend inside it.

Create the right kind of incentives so that everyone in the organisation has an equal chance to shine

Make sure everyone you hire has a career path that makes sense to them. Not all designers and developers want to become business managers. Allow for people with amazing technical skills to develop them further and freely. If you only have middle managers who tell people what to do, but not mentors who show people how to do them, you’ll end up having underappreciated, brilliant people who don’t see a future in your organization.

Promote user-centeredness, not just agility

Being “agile” does not always mean being “user centered”. Make sure your organisation knows the difference. Agile coaches will advocate for better team structures, balancing skills, further communication channels and even for better technology, but this does not necessarily mean being user centered. Having a user experience team does not automatically make you user centered either. Having a user centered approach means using user behavior data to make decisions. It means being able to pilot and discard ideas as fast as you come up with them. People’s needs change as fast as technology changes; being agile should be the way you deliver user-centered services, but it should not be your main objective.

Spend more time with people who are different from you, rather than with people who are at your same level in the hierarchy

Spend more time with people in the organization that are different from you and give them a chance to get to know you at a more personal and approachable level. If leaders just keep having meetings and hanging out with other leaders it will be hard for them to really understand the delivery teams’ actual needs.

Hire for soft skills and humbleness, not for hard skills and knowledge of technical words. Hire people who you would like your kids to hang out with, not those who you would like to go out and party with. Don’t jump to hire those who say more than 2 technical words you don’t understand in an interview: they will most likely be trying to impress you, but if they’re not humble enough to bring their true selves into the interview, they won’t be humble enough to accept their mistakes and recover from them while at work. That might turn out being costly for your organization.

Advocate for cooperation, not for competition

Don’t reward people solely for their results, but also for how they’ve achieved them. Allow for recognition of those who cooperate, who let themselves make mistakes, learn, recover and improve, and those who have found a way to motivate others to work with them for a shared goal or purpose. Recognize those who have learned or mastered a skill in order to share it with others and have acquired new ones to compliment their teams.


  • Heidi Uchiyama is a digital government and finance specialist, based in Lima, Peru

This is part of Signals, summer 2019

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