Imagine you are implementing a transformation program in your organization. You have it all spelt out with the fashionable jargon of our times. A new vision for a new business model which came from heaps of Out-of-the-Box design thinking. With entirely customer-centric systems using state-of-the-art digital technology (and of course chatbots, actionable analytics, big data, internet of things). A lean and agile operation with plenty of scrum will implement this model which will empower everybody to think smarter and act faster. You might even celebrate a few failures. Oh and (how could I forget?) the truckloads of artificial intelligence you poured in to make it happen.
Then humans move in to spoil it all. Bastards! Really now? If you really thought the innovation roadmap you showcased on paper (or on powerpoint slides) would move everyone to action, then your own intelligence must be artificial.
Cranky old fogies, arrogant pricks, short-sighted accountants, unimaginative bureaucrats, scheming silo sheikhs and comfortable chieftains are the usual suspects. But the most dangerous foes are in fact the most unlikely foes, good people.
They are probably good in managing yesterday’s technology and have good knowledge and tight control over today’s systems in operation. They are always ready to service new demands, if only users would express their wishes more clearly. But they hate the new generation of geeks and nerds.
I experienced reticence and even hostility to change from heads of technology a number of times in my career. In the late eighties/early nineties the IT manager of the multinational company I was then working for, could not see why everyone needed to have access to the systems with personal computers. Desktops were anathema to him. “But we can do all this with the systems we already have, just put in a request”, he fumed!
And only last year the technology manager of an important public organization once declared during a strategy session “Why should I want change, I’m retiring in ten years”! Still, he was not fired.
Exceptionally Creative Thinkers.
Organizations need them more than ever to create transformation plans and solve problems in new, imaginative ways. But beware, they have egos too, and big ones at that. If it’s not their creative solution you opt for they might be miffed. If they feel you are stifling their creativity their blood will boil. And they can find very creative ways to thwart your change plans too.
They are valuable employees. To date they have been brilliant in their work, delivering what is expected and more. They sure know how to do things well. But now they are asked to do different things and they are less sure. Perhaps they will be working for different bosses. They will have to prove themselves again. These things make them feel mighty uneasy.
They, too, are precious for company life and progress. They have empathy and high emotional intelligence. They are skillful in detecting feelings and moods. They socialize a lot and know the personal circumstances of their colleagues. The innovation roadmap however will, like it or not, have different types of impact on different people. And if their co-workers feel threatened, ignored or slighted, compassionate souls will militate against the injustice of the new transformation plan.
Culture is a known deadly enemy of innovation. At times though it’s a scapegoat for people who don’t want to change – “our culture is not open to change, other things are more important … ”. When it embarks on a serious innovation journey, leadership can and must change cultures too, above all by their own behavior and actions. The transformation roadmap must be implemented with panache and finesse as well as vitesse.
Good leaders will stretch each person’s capacity to change. They should be aware that the adversaries of change are not always the most obvious ones.