More than half of the companies that were in the Fortune 500 at the turn of this century have either gone bankrupt, been acquired, ceased to exist, or have fallen from the ranks of the 500. All of this disruption was happening as the number of Internet users was tripling, but the challenges (and opportunities) for business were far greater than proliferating websites and e-commerce.
Increasingly, the key factor in a continually accelerating pace of change is the digitalization of business concepts, models, and operating platforms. The process is completely overturning the competitive landscape, even for early winners in the race to web-based business. In some markets, barriers to entry traditionally enjoyed by market leaders have virtually collapsed, and in others it has become more difficult than ever to survive, scale, and eventually dominate a market.
It’s clear: business success increasingly demands digital transformation. And digital proficiency is the gateway.
Stages of Digital Proficiency
When you consider the stages of digital proficiency, some interesting parallels with human development begin to emerge. From birth, socialization starts with our developing sense of the meeting place between self and other, which is really our first foray into teaming. This development happens in four distinct stages, and digital transformation – or at least, our experience of it – is comparable in the way that it unfolds. You might think of digital transformation as representing a new level of consciousness for business, collectively represented by the will of the team to drive the change needed to dominate its industry.
The first stage, pre-digital awareness, is analogous to the earliest stage of life, from birth through the first month, when – to the newborn – there is no mommy and no me. (This is called autism. At the beginning of life, it is the natural state, not a disability.) When the development of an organization is limited to this state, it is as if there is no awareness of anything outside itself. This leads to no identified cause and effect in customer acquisition, relationships, or retention, as well as little or no use of the digital environment. And, since everything is essentially self at this stage, outreach (teaming with others or collaborating with channels) is not consciously considered.
The second stage is digital competence, which maps to human symbiosis. This is the way we view the world until we are about nine months old. In essence, ‘mommy and me’ are one, in the infant’s mind. Consider the way some people react when first introduced to a marvelous new technology. It’s as if they are thinking, ‘Wow, this technology reads my mind and knows what I want.’ Without the ability to rapidly navigate and take control, their experience is analogous to an infant’s creeping and crawling. They learn bit by bit, without a coherent overview. This lack of independence supports the feeling that ‘we are one,’ and thus technology continues to seem magical. In an organization at this stage, even when technology is used, it does not necessarily map to outcomes. True collaboration is not required, only processes, so there is little conscious sense of teaming, either with other people or with the technology.
In the third stage of human relationship development, roughly corresponding to ages 10-18 months, the emphasis is on the child’s emerging understanding of cause and effect. Here the parallels with digital literacy have to do with a temporary illusion of power that comes from the first taste of independence. Indeed, it’s that same heady feeling you get when first able to navigate your environment on your own steam, whether that means getting from the living room to the kitchen, or generating a list of prospects from your new CRM. However, in both cases, the connections between action and outcome have only begun to be made. In organizations, this phase of development is often stalled by the emergence of silos. In a highly siloed organization, self-interest is elevated above the best interests of the team. Attempts at change can produce anger, resistance, or even sabotage.
And, just as parents must provide clear and consistent boundaries as they guide the development of young humans, clear requirements regarding the current and desired states of interaction and team dynamics are essential to all Digital Transformation initiatives. In this fourth stage, which occurs at the latter end of the second year of human life, there is a full realization that the individual is, essentially, alone, and that comfort, connection, and even survival are only possible through interaction with others. Appropriately, in human development this is known as rapprochement: it ushers in the growth phase often called ‘the terrible twos.’ (We prefer to think of it as the ‘terrific twos’ because – other than the fallout than happens due to shortages of parental understanding and/or patience – it’s very important to learn to say no and assert your independence!)
Organizations in a state of rapprochement have gained awareness that the digital world is much more complex than it seemed to be. In response, the organization begins to focus on relationships between people who are critical to the success of change and growth. Today, this includes attention to the idea state of digital disruption, and it marks the beginning of understanding that complex systems require sustainable, high-quality teaming. In fact, we would argue that sustainable teaming is a prerequisite for digital disruption.
The fifth and final stage – Digital disruption – aligns with social maturity in humans. It features a constant awareness of self-in-the-team. The organization has developed a transformational business vision that integrates present disruptive technologies, and is prepared to integrate future disruptive technologies as they arise in the marketplace (and/or, as they are developed in-house.) This requires a sustainable, coherent culture and teaming capabilities that are resilient enough to address and process future unexpected and unknowable business disruptions and resulting opportunities.
The Seven Rules for Digital Business and Digital Transformation
Ray Wang** has given us The Seven Rules For Digital Business and Digital Transformation. Each of Ray’s Rules presents a specific challenge to organizational Coherence and team dynamics, and for each one, we see a linkage to organizational needs for more resilient, productive, and meaningful teamwork. These needs are precisely what Teamability®, a completely new technology of teaming, was engineered to fill. The technology not only identifies and organizes person-to-person teaming behaviors, but also the different ways that people seek to serve the team itself, as a living entity. As such, it can provide strong planning, development, and decision support in any transformational situation.
Rule 1: Digital disruption is more than just a technology shift. It’s about transforming business models and how organizations engage.
First movers need visionary leaders who can create transformational business models, and who can lead effectively through challenging situations. Teamability can absolutely identify the correct teaming behavior and the ability to withstand the ordinary and extraordinary stresses and ambiguities of change.
Rule 2: We move from selling products and services to keeping brand promises.
Keeping a brand promise isn’t just a directive or a script. A cultural example needs to be built and maintained. There is a certain kind of leader, called a Vision Former, who embodies the conscience, the ethos, of an organization. He or she need not be the CEO, but one or more will be essential on C-level teams. Sadly, that is not always the case – but in the course of Digital Disruption, the absence will be a serious liability.
Rule 3: We serve five generations of customers and workers, by digital proficiency, not by age.
The divides between millennials, Gen-X, Gen-Y, baby boomers and others are certainly relevant in some ways. But the urge to team with others is fundamental to human nature. How well a team interacts with a given technology is related to the way a person seeks to serve team needs (which we call Role, with a capital R) and Coherence (which is the orientation to teaming for a common purpose, no matter the level of stress). How well we share what we know is related to the integrity of the human infrastructure and the Coherence Ratio of the organization.
Digital disruption doesn’t happen around the campfire. It happens across time and space. The teams that make it happen need to be able to work that way.
Rule 4: Data is the foundation of digital business. Every touch point, every click, every digital exhaust is relevant insight.
The clarity and relevance of the data at the foundations of digital transformation, plus the analytics derived from data systems, will only be as reliable and useful as the development of a human infrastructure allows.
Information drives insight, but the use of insight depends on team awareness (the team being the organization, which includes the elements of teaming it needs to serve its mission, meet customer needs, create brand ambassadors, etc.) The Vision Movers and Vision Formers in organizations focus on applying information that is big picture and long term, while Action Movers and Action Formers focus on applying tactical information. And, incidentally, both will apply what they learn more effectively and productively when the Coherence ratio within their teams (and the entire organization) is strong.
Rule 5: If 20% of your revenue is not an insight stream by 2020, you won’t have a digital biz model.
Transforming an insight stream from information source to revenue will require organizations to develop a solid Vision Mover/Vision Former culture that can anticipate and answer the questions of differentiated customer experiences, data brokerage, and other insight-oriented business opportunities.
Rule 6: You need more than a Chief Digital Officer to infuse digital into your organization. You need a broad bench of Digital CXO’s.
The Chief Digital Officer may be leading the charge, but without a broader bench of Digital CXO’s, any digital initiative is in danger of having to fight for resources. It takes more than a General to battle digital stagnation!
At minimum, the C-level team needs to include both Vision Movers and Vision Formers. Vision Movers connect with the vision and drive it forward forcefully, but without a strong Vision Former somewhere on the team, the charge may go in the wrong direction. Someone needs to be the high level arranger /refiner of disruptive strategies, so that they can be rolled out in elegant and efficient digital initiatives.
But wait, there’s more… because planning a fabulous digital strategy doesn’t get you there without the help of the right people, the ‘digital artisans.’
Rule 7: We must invest in digital artisans.
Once the strategic plan is completed, and funded, the digital artisans take over. They not only manage the development cycle and provide the content, but it’s also their job to sell everyone on using the value created. This, of course, requires a team, because digital artisans, like their pre-digital forebears, are specialists. And, this is the challenge that organizations will continue to face: the attraction, development, engagement, integration, and retention of these digital artisans. Their value has not previously been fully recognized, but as more organizations vie for them, the market will respond. There will be scarcity, and especially there will be scarcity of the best in their digital crafts.
To a significant degree, digital artisans who are convinced that organizations do not understand or appreciate their value will exacerbate the shortage. Many of these will have had experiences in larger organizations where they felt, like Dilbert, that they were working for a Pointy Haired Boss. (Understanding someone’s Role gives you management insights, especially on how to respect, appreciate, and communicate with them, so they don’t experience you as a PHB.)
Key among these digital artisans will be the Explorers, who bring new technologies, methods, and ideas into the organization. Expect a serious shortage of Explorers in your organization – unless you can figure out how to keep them. (Explorers search for treasures and bring them back to benefit their team.) Expressing a sense of wonder and gratitude when they present you with treasure is the appropriate way to show thanks and respect to an Explorer. Failing to do so is tantamount to inviting an Explorer to find a new giftee!
Communicators, those lovable people who feel that their mission is to build communities, online and off, may be easier to retain. However, you will need to identify the right ones – not just for where your organization is now, but also for where you’re expecting it to go.
And so on and so forth, because digital artisans are not of a single stripe.
Assembling teams in which the Roles are a particularly good match to the mission of the team will automatically improve team coherence, and is essential when team members are virtual. Having great Role-fit and Team-fit supports retention efforts too, (demonstrated by the total elimination of a 30% rate of new-hire turnover at Preferred Sands, recognized by a 2011 Supernova Award.)
Balanced teams, with a coherence level appropriate to the amount of stress and challenge and contextually useful Teaming Characteristics, will recognize and support each team member while integrating their value into the whole. The results: positive engagement, productive collaboration, resilience, quality, and exceptional productivity.
The Many Roles of Digital / Social Technologies
As an aside, good digital/social technology can fill or support a specific Role – just like people do – on a team. Truly great digital/social technology can fill and support more than one Role. Here are some examples, and the Role-support they provide:
- Waze, as Explorer and Curator, and it can also function as Communicator;
- Evernote, in support of everyone, but especially the Vision Roles, acts as Action Former and/or Curator, depending on how you primarily use it;
- Twitter can function as your Conductor, with its quick give and take, which connects you to crowdsourced quick fixes;
- LoseIt is a Watchdog that minds best interest of your health, as do similar Internet of Things technologies;
- Just about any to-do list app is the Action Mover’s best friend, almost as good as a real live Action Former; and
- Any community-building app, such as LinkedIn, ultimately functions as a Communicator.
Using Teamability to Build a Culture of Digital Artisans
Prior to the emergence of Teamability, you could measure what occurs inside people – what they think they’re thinking, what they think they value, what they think they’re like, and how they think they will behave. But, you often needed a licensed psychologist to sign off on it.
Teamability is disruptive technology in the form of a deceptively simple serious game. It doesn’t ask you what you think you know or what you think you feel or value. It puts you in a situation – a simulation of teaming – and as you interact with other characters in the scenario, the boundaries between your world and the digital world begin dissolve. This makes it possible to directly access and measure teaming behavior.
The end product will be a coherent human infrastructure, achieved through the Teamability experience and proprietary team analysis and management methods. It will guide the selection, development, and nurturance of digital artisans, engaging them in work that aligns with their deepest desire to make a meaningful team contribution, and virtually ‘gluing’ them in place.
** Ray Wang is the Chairman and Founder of Constellation Research, and author of Disrupting Digital Business: Create an Authentic Experience in the Peer-to-Peer Economy, HBR Press, 2015.