Developing a Strategy for Putting People First in Transformation Programs

If you are driving a transformation program, motivating and aligning people is a critical success factor

Most leaders now understand how important it is to put people before process and technology when it comes to instrumenting large scale organizational change. That being said, many in technology leadership roles are not versed in methodologies to instrument change and some are not devoting sufficient time and energy to it.

So, it was refreshing to see Chuck Blakeman, author of Why Employees Are Always a Bad Idea  speak at KintoneConnect spelling out the differences working with employees versus workers. His key message is that we need employees to think, question, and challenge the status quo and move our organizations forward compared to workers of the industrial age that were given jobs and processes to follow. This is a big difference in expectations since a lot of work today can be automated or offshored and an organization's employees should be playing active roles in evolving the businesses' products and services.

Then I saw Chris Laping speak at Evanta CIO/CISO Montreal about his book, People before Things on the importance in spelling out the “why” before the “what” when aligning teams on vision. We may all want to drive to Maine to vacation, but probably have different expectations on why we’re hitting the road that should factor into what path we take to get there.

What it Means to put People First

Putting people first is harder to do than it sounds. It means getting on planes and having long discussions around strategy. It requires gathering a group of diverse leaders to meet with different customers and have discussions on what they are seeing and hearing as business opportunities and threats. It forces leaders to work with a large, diverse group of employees at different levels in the organization to learn about what drives them and inspire them to take on more challenging roles that align with transformation.

As technologists, we’re often thinkers, analysts, problem solvers, and solution engineers before people leaders. We naturally prefer working with the best, brightest, and fastest before putting ourselves in the midst of working teams and mainstream users. We have a long history of providing substandard service when users request help through the service desk. We have difficulty marketing our strategies and solutions beyond the decision makers that control spending and investment. We find it easier to explain away our issues as “technical glitches” rather than speaking with honesty and simplicity on how we all struggle with providing great service around aging systems.

Aligning 2018 Objectives with People First Objectives

So in 2018, think about what you’re doing to put people first. Are you going to commit to getting on the road visiting customers and translating the experience to your colleagues and teams? Are you going to reach out to millennials in the organization and provide them responsibilities and digital foundations to participate in your transformation programs? Will you spend more time articulating the why versus the what in your programs and challenge your colleagues and staff to do the same?

In my book, Driving Digital, I provide some recipes on how to go about this tactically. When developing new products, I suggest performing market research based on a series of questions that can be used to listen and learn from customers. In agile programs, I recommend defining roles and responsibilities to help new participants better understand how to participate in the program. When trying to become a more data driven organization, I recommend rolling out citizen data science programs so that more people across the organization can get involved in a very hands-on way.

Here's my parting recommendations

This is the first article of a multi-part series on What I Learned about Digital Transformation from Speaking to Hundreds of Leaders. The next post on, We Are Doing Agile, but are not Agile will be published soon. Signup for the Driving Digital Newsletter to get more information on this series.

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About Isaac Sacolick

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld,, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites. You can find him sharing new insights @NYIke on Twitter, his Driving Digital Standup YouTube channel, or during the Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.