Before a Digital Transformation, Ask Why, Not How
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Before undertaking a complicated IT overhaul, uncover the root cause of the business problem: It might be a technology issue or a business process issue.
In Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland, the Cheshire Cat shares with Alice in response to her desire for direction, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there!” We live in a hurry up and get it done society where everyone feels like they’re playing catch up and have to hit the ground running.
Those who know me know that I am a Type A New Yorker and not the most patient person in the world! However whenever I either start a new project or begin a new coaching engagement I always start by asking three basic questions:
What are you hoping to accomplish?
What will success look like?
What will be different because of this engagement?
Most people who engage with me either as a CIO or an executive coach do so because they either see an opportunity to get to a better place or because they feel at risk because something currently is not working to their satisfaction. It amazes me how many people want to immediately start a conversation or an effort focusing on “the how.” How do I get to the next career level? How can we better engage our customers and prospects? Very few of the people I engage start by taking a step back and thinking through “the why.” Why is the current situation not satisfactory? Why do we feel we need to take a different approach? Why am I not succeeding with the way I’m currently addressing things?
There are two levels of “the why” question that are critical for someone to crystalize before we go off to the races trying to fix things. The first is why the current state is not acceptable to them and being able to articulate a vision of a future state that would be different and better. Many clients will tell a CIO that they need a new solution. In their minds if we build a new system or app their problems will be solved. But what is truly the root cause of the business problem they are experiencing? It might be a technology issue. It might also be a business process issue. How many times have we seen a flawed business process automated? This creates a more automated, better looking and better flowing flawed business process! This is akin to the proverbial “putting lipstick on a pig!” Before we start writing code, we need to understand the business outcome we are hoping to accomplish and what about the current state needs to be addressed and changed to accomplish the desired outcome. Throwing technology at a broken business process is like putting a Canali suit on a corpse! It may look a whole lot better but it hasn’t changed the reality of the situation.
The other side of the why question is to determine why this situation is so important to the individual. Only when there is a burning desire to change because the outcome is worth the discomfort of changing will you be able to impact the situation. Also, since change is a marathon and not a 100 yard dash, you’ll also need to remind people as to the visceral reasons why they were willing to experience this discomfort in the first place to get the refocused and rededicated to the effort at hand.
In most situations people spend 90% of their time and effort trying to figure out how to change things. They would be better served investing more time on the front end figuring out why to change things and having a clear vision of what success will look and feel like.