Last week, I had the opportunity hear from a client the story of his personal journey in successfully driving digital transformation from within a very large company. I was struck by the counter-intuitive lesson that it was the emotive component of his approach that succeeded in finally overcoming his organization’s resistance to change.
arousing or able to arouse intense feeling.
While I can’t share the details of the person or the organization, I will share a bit of the story which I hope will illustrate this point.
The change agent of this story (we’ll call him Dan) started as the head of an internal research team responsible for looking at customer behavior and market trends. He and his team clearly saw that his company was under enormous threat — that new digital experiences and capabilities were completely transforming customer expectations and attitudes, a range of competitive offerings were beginning to emerge from unexpected players and his company was doing little to change the way they approached their market.
Dan wanted to push his company to do something different and he asked the executive team for the opportunity to present his idea — that the company needed a new innovation capability to explore digital offerings. He was grudgingly given only five minutes at an executive team meeting to present his point of view.
Dan knew that five minutes wasn’t enough to have a thoughtful discussion about something that threatened the existing status quo, so he came into the meeting with a two-slide presentation with the provocative question: “Based on research with our customers, which companies on this chart will be the top players in our industry over the next 10 years?”
His list of companies included his own of course, and companies the executives would recognize as close competitors. But he also included Google, Apple and other digital players. He quickly moved to slide two which simply said, “Our company didn’t even come out in the top 10.” and then said, “Ok, my five minutes are up and I have to leave now.”
Dan was willing to go in front of the most powerful people in his company and tell them in a way guaranteed to evoke an emotional response that they had a burning platform. His comment prompted such a heated argument, he ended up staying in the meeting for 45 minutes instead of five minutes and his idea was discussed. Ultimately, he also got an opportunity to pursue that idea of exploring new digital product offerings for his company.
But this was just the beginning. The next part of Dan’s journey also required that emotive ingredient. In his new role, Dan created a three-step process to explore the possibilities for his company in the new digital landscape.
- Discovery — an extension of his old research group that would map out the different “drivers of change” impacting his industry, including business, technology and cultural trends.
- Experimentation — a group capable of taking ideas from the discovery team and rapidly building and testing working prototypes in order to gain deeper insights about what was likely to work for their customers.
- Product creation — the capability to then bring the successful prototypes to market rapidly as real products.
Only at the third phase of the process would significant funding be needed, and by that time his research and experiments would have substantially increased the likelihood of the product’s success in the market.
In the discovery process, Dan’s team was able to map the emerging marketplace and show how his company had only been making investments in traditional product categories. They were able to show how a set of new companies were creating digital products that were better suited to the changing attitudes and behaviors of their customers.
This analysis resulted in the definition of new product categories for them to explore. They now have a rich set of opportunities identified, but the first step was focusing on a single category which they could then take into the prototyping step of the process.
Looking at competitors’ products and their own strengths, the team developed a hypothesis that they could repurpose an existing product into a new kind of digital platform. The team quickly built a series of inexpensive prototypes and set up live tests with their customers.
Importantly, they also filmed the experiences people had with these prototypes — and this is where the second example of the emotive ingredient plays a role in the story. Dan observed that no matter how much research data he had developed in the prototype testing phase, if that was all he had gone back to the executive team with, he would never have received approval to move forward with product development.
It was the actual videos of customer’s experiences with the prototypes that provided the “a-ha!” moment — the visceral reactions by real people — that opened the executive wallet to go forward.
The journey is far from over. Dan’s team now has a second product coming out of this ideation process and a continuous stream of new innovations in the works. His journey in driving change in his organization is far from over, as well. I am not sharing the company or details precisely because there are still reactions and turmoil in the company.
But Dan is on the road to succeeding where so many others have failed — and in my opinion it is because he recognized that logic alone will not overcome an organizational resistance to change — you also have to appeal to the heart.
About the Author:
Ted Shelton is a Senior Partner and Vice President with Cognizant Digital Works, a cross-disciplinary team of digital strategists, experience designers, and technology consultants. His team helps some of the largest companies in the world address their most difficult digital business challenges.