The best digital transformation starts with a human conversation

The Consumer Electronic Show, the world’s largest technology event has just closed for another year in Las Vegas. In the last 5 years, CES has become a key opportunity for companies to unveil their latest consumer innovations and bets for the future. Many companies, seeking to accelerate their digital change, hit a barrier in leaders’ scepticism about new technologies. A scepticism that can tip from healthy to inertia.

One way to tackle this is by sparking new conversations and partnerships within the organisation. Here’s how to do it.

As anyone who has worked with the Brand Learning team on a digital change project will attest, the pursuit of the latest ‘shiny new thing’ devoid of a strategic need is something we frequently rail against. Equally, the one thing destined to get me reaching for my iPhone-connected blood pressure monitor is the dismissal of technology and digital innovation because it’s seen as “weird” or there’s no clear market.

My challenge back to people who dismiss innovation so quickly is twofold:

First, we’re set up to think about technology and progress in a linear way rather than the exponential reality that technology inhabits. What might feel weird now, will in all likelihood become how we connect with a brand in the very near future. Self-tracking felt strange a few years back, but sales of Fitbits showed the mainstream acceptance of this technology into our lives.

Second, technology-savvy companies inhabit a world of permanent beta, iterating and optimising to refine the product. The journey they’re on and the lessons learnt are setting them up for future success. I doubt the Kérastase Hair Coach connected brush will be finding its way into too many homes. However, when it scales with the next iteration, L’Oreal may be streets ahead with the data, capabilities and learnings, ready to reap the benefits of an exponentially growing technology.

So how do you change the mindset when faced with disruption?

It’s hard enough to change your own instinctive reaction, let alone change the attitudes of colleagues around you.

At Brand Learning, we’ve just completed two projects with senior leadership teams in global FMCGs that have focussed on exactly that challenge. Our ambition, that these teams when faced with disruptive ideas and key digital decisions embrace the opportunity rather than resist the change.

The solution in both projects was based on reverse mentoring. We used the scale of the organisation to its advantage to find digitally fluent colleagues and partner them with leaders. The result? A cost effective, empowering and sustainable capability solution that forms the first step in driving digital acceleration.

From our recent experience, here are the steps we recommend to get the most out of a reverse mentoring programme:

  1. Prepare the Way
    As with all change management, people need to believe in the importance and need for the change. An impactful launch – even a short film - overviewing the reality of digital disruption and the opportunity for the business builds a foundation for the reverse mentoring relationship

  2. Develop the journey, let the mentor be the guide
    In almost every industry there are examples of companies doing a great job, harnessing digital to drive growth. There are also examples of where digital is being done for digital’s sake. Supporting the mentee with great stimulus enables them to better guide the conversation and focus the available time on explanation and discussion

  3. Planned Partnerships
    We benefited by working with clients who deeply knew and understood the participants in the programme and could structure powerful partnerships. Where this knowledge doesn’t exist simple diagnostic exercises upfront can help with the partnering decision

  4. Capture the Conversation
    Great things can happen when you join up the organisation and break down hierarchies. Facilitating frequent check-ins with mentors can enable the organisation to learn from and bank the outcomes of the conversation, helping to drive change

  5. Scale the Solution
    A key business benefit is the self-sustaining nature of the solution. The original mentors and mentees can decide to keep the conversation going, the programme can be relaunched to whole new audiences at minimal cost. Ultimately the solution, just like technology, scales and moves forward

While being a technology fanboy or fangirl can be as bad as being too sceptical, the worst is to be dismissive and to fixate on the weirdness factor. The secret lies in understanding the broader context and reverse mentoring is a great start. It’s also refreshing that in a world of Chatbots, AI and Machine Learning, acceleration of digital change can start with a powerful conversation between two colleagues - let’s hope that never gets described as weird!

BRAND LEARNING: Inspiring people. Lifting capabilities. Growing organisations.