Mastering digital disruption is primarily a people issue - not a technology issue

We have encountered the enemy and the enemy is us

A four year research project conducted by the MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte has just come to an end.  For a period of over four years, more than 16.000 people were surveyed about their experience with digital disruption and the adequacy of their organization's response.

The results are in.

"The true challenge of mastering digital disruption (and a major part of the solution) is enabling people.  Companies can effectively navigate the challenges of digital disruption by undertaking initiatives which are far more organizational and managerial than technical."
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Source: The Technology Fallacy: How People Are the Real Key to Digital Transformation,   MIT Press, 2019

One of the central questions which was asked in the survey addressed the nature of the threat which organizations face as a result of digital trends:

  • Yes, markets are being disrupted and traditional products are becoming obsolete. 
  • Yes, new competitors are unexpectedly arising - seemingly from nowhere. 
  • Yes, the more an organization takes steps to digitalize, the more cybersecurity issues are encountered. 

Identifying all these threats and ranking them as big threats to organizations was to be expected. However, the number one threat which was identified may be a bit of a surprise for many companies undertaking measures for a digital transformation.  The number one challenge which was identified in order to successfully navigate the turbulent waters of digital disruption:

The organization's ability  to respond appropriately to the digital challenge.

digital disruption peer2peer learning

Lack of Agility, Complacence, Inflexible Culture

All levels of an organization need to learn, grow and adapt in order to become a truly digital organization. C-Suite executives need to propose a bold new vision about how their organizations will adapt to this constantly changing world.  Project managers must create an operating environment which is more conducive to effective work and collaboration in a digital age.  Employees need to respond to digital disruption by mastering new skills through continual learning.

An effective response to the changing environment must involve all aspects of the organization. This includes concrete actions and clear communication about how the organization is changing.

Unfortunately the organizational congruence needed to mount this type of response is sorely lacking at many companies.  Some executives may not understand enough about the emerging technology to plan strategies, make necessary changes and/or understand the urgency of the task.  Investors may care more about short-term profits than the long-term viability of the company.  Many leaders who are approaching retirement may not have the interest and/or energy to invest in change which will be necessary in order to to adapt for a future beyond their tenure at a company.  Employees may not sufficiently understand the need or be encouraged to learn the necessary skills to be able to work and collaborate in teams in fast-moving and ambiguous conditions.  Last but certainly not least, clear communication about digital strategy and why certain changes are key for success may not be ocurring and, as a result, employees on all levels may be 'in the dark' about the company's emerging future.

Only by fundamentally changing the way the organization works - through flattening hierarchies, speeding up decision-making, helping employees develop needed skills and successfully understanding both opportunities and threats in the current and future  business environment - can an organization truly be prepared and successfully adapt to a digital world and its on-going challenges.

Ultimately, organizations need to learn how to learn together.

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