How to get Unstuck and Bridge the Digital Divide

 In Change management, Coaching, Digital Transformation

For most organisations the last decade has been an exhilarating rollercoaster of technical advancement. But it’s also generated a lot of cultural confusion – many companies still can’t create the behaviour change they need.


The digital divide

Lots of organisations started on their digital journey by setting up teams tasked with being the ‘digital’ function. And they were kept very busy. The sheer mass of shiny new digital things led to a lot of activity. But it also led to a divide between digital and everyone else.

As time passed, leaders saw they needed digital teams and traditional teams to intermingle. Value doesn’t come from tech alone – organisations can only realise true value when this runs through their DNA. But not everyone was enthusiastic about this change, with old cultures often refusing to adapt. Some of them even fought back, leaving many organisations stuck.

The answer is to get employees on board with new behaviours. To realise their digital agendas and get unstuck, organisations need to get all their people digitally enabled.


Bridging the gap

All of this means that employee engagement is taking centre stage over the digital pyrotechnics of recent years. Leaders know that digital is now business-as-usual – so helping all their employees learn the skills and behaviours to support that is vital. We’re all going back to basics and focusing on people and value. But not all of us are finding that easy.

If your organisation’s struggling to reset the agenda from a technically focused path, here are some suggestions for how to get back to a people-focused one. One that creates the change you need.


1. Give people a new frame of curiosity

We all like to belong, and organisational cultures create a need to conform. But lots of businesses now have two competing cultures:

  • digital innovators who want shiny new things
  • traditional hierarchies who favour familiarity.

Members of both tribes will conform to their group’s narratives. So you need to provide a middle frame they can both move into that sits between the two camps. That means it must be within both group’s comfort zones – avoid asking either one to make a huge leap. Both need to be able to see a purpose and identify with that new narrative.

Curiosity is a great basis for this. It gives all employees permission to investigate and discover. In a curious frame you make it OK for people to explore what the organisation’s next move is, and work with you to create a way forward.

Curiosity is a long way away from telling people to behave differently (most of us don’t like being told to behave a certain way). It’s a frame that gives them the chance to ask ‘Is this creating the value we need?’, without feeling like they’re swimming against the tide of their tribe.

The design of the frame is key. You must make sure it’s free from any blame or negative positioning from either side. And for that you’ll need good storytelling and communication skills.

Get this right, and you’ll broaden the digital narrative, giving people the space to ask if your organisation is doing the right thing. You’ll make it OK for leaders and employees to come together and explore, question and find solutions. All of which offers great insight.


2. Create a new space to think

‘Groupthink’, the psychological phenomenon where a group makes irrational or strange decisions to avoid disagreeing with the consensus, is unavoidable in business. That’s because everyone’s working hard to keep the wheels turning (that is their job, after all). And it takes a massive amount of energy to do that – employing more people, starting more projects, all to keep the company dream alive – which doesn’t leave much time for reflection. Stopping becomes unthinkable. And let’s face it – it’s not a great career move to question that, is it?

But what if the gravy train isn’t delivering the change you’d hoped for? Then you need to take the time to find out why. You need to break the groupthink and change it to a narrative that rewards curiosity. Pull the bonnet up and take a look at what’s going on. Give people the space and permission to stop, take stock and, if they need to, reset.

This is a brave and strong leadership choice to make – it’s far easier to just keep on going. But it’s a choice you’re unlikely to regret.


3. Remember that digital is still really important

Digital innovation is, of course, still vital. But organisations need to slow down a bit in their rush to keep up. Delivering digital needs more than just glossy tech – companies need to teach their teams to look more widely at what will make innovation work. What support do they need? People can’t change as fast as a server can.

Changing the culture, mind-sets and behaviours of a workforce is the biggest part of any organisation’s digital agenda. Don’t underestimate how hard that will be. But taking a step away from a tech-only approach is a great place to start.


4. Get people involved

The best way to get people behind change is to give them as many opportunities as possible to get together and start a conversation. Create space to build a shared understanding around the common goal of finding value and getting the organisation moving again. You can’t do that in a memo. Design the creative space to learn and explore in a way that employees will accept.

We’re past the stage where an isolated group of employees are the only people with digital skills – now everyone needs these. Give all leaders the space to provide feedback and learn new skills. So design conversations that give them space to grow. Help them bridge the gap between digital and everyone else. The leadership skills your leaders were taught ten years ago aren’t the ones they need today. Nowadays it’s about learning, sense-making, building commitment, inclusivity and resilience. You need to teach these as part of your change effort. Once leaders understand they’re not expected to know everything or have all the answers, they can develop new behaviours, get space to grow and find new ways of being.


Who sees the elephants on the hamster wheel?

Every organisation sits in its own bubble, with its own way of doing things and its own hamster wheel belief system that determines what it does next. There’s a huge amount of organisational culture that shapes how we see the world – an awful lot of shoulds and musts. On top of this, leaders are naturally resistant to in-house advice from their peers – they can’t help but question their motives. When you’re within, complicity is prized. All of which makes it impossible to see objectively.

But there is a way out. Bring in outside eyes to help you look at the hamster wheel and see if it’s what you need it to be. This can also help remove the bias of an internal person with an agenda or a career path to navigate. An outsider can ask those dumb questions about the elephant in the hamster wheel without worrying about their position or advancement.

At Making Change Happen we want to empower organisations to find a way that’s right for them. We work to give them the space they need to get unstuck and keep moving forward. We act as a partner to build a safe shared space of curiosity and learning – to make change happen. Which is pretty special, don’t you think?


If you’d like us to help you give your leaders and employees the space to think, or find the elephants in your hamster wheels, get in touch We’d love to work with you.

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