What can we Learn from a Digital Transformation Consultant?

What can we Learn from a Digital Transformation Consultant?

Organisational Success Podcast

There are a lot of moving parts with a digital transformation. They are not a simple organisational change proposition with the latest technology thrown in. Transformation consultants get a unique view of a range of such projects across several different organisations. In this podcast Melanie Marshall talks about her experiences of transformation and change, and what takeaways organisations should be paying attention to. 

Podcast – the view from a digital transformation consultant


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List of podcasts in this mini series

  1. What is digital transformation? 
  2. The trust for transformation model 
  3. Success factors for digital transformation
  4. The experience of a transformation consultant working with digital transformations in organisations – This podcast
  5. Transformational Leadership, Uncertainty and Digital Transformation
  6. Design Thinking and Company Resilience Support Organisations During Transformations
  7. A Roadmap for Facilitating Successful Digital Transformation

Melanie Marshall

Melanie is a transformation and organisational change consultant and author of the book Trust: The foundation for Healthy Organisations and Teams. Melanie is based in Australia and spent 10 years in the Royal Australian Airforce and has a degree in Psychology from the University of Canberra. She co-hosts this mini series of seven podcasts with David.

Melanie Marshall
Melanie Marshall – Transformation Consultant


Digital Transformation 4 – Experience of a consultant

[00:00:00] David: Great. Welcome back. And this is part four of exploration of digital transformation and what it means for organisations. And I’ve joined again by Melanie Marshall, the author of trust, who you’ll be getting to know quite well by now, I would think. Today, we’re going to be having a look at the kind of real issues that consultants and organisations face when dealing with digital transformation. So we’re on the research side, Melanie’s more at the coalface side, working with organisations. Welcome back, Melanie. 

[00:00:27] Melanie: Thanks for having me. It’s good to be. You always stretch my brain. So, let’s see how we go. 

[00:00:31] David: This should be an interesting one. So what I’d like to do first is kind of look at, what are you finding, that are the concerns that organisations have about digital transformation when they first start looking for help? 

[00:00:45] Melanie: I think it’s finding who they can trust. And finding the right solutions that are going to solve their problems and make life easy for them. You know, it doesn’t get any more complicated than that. I think we make it more complicated. Ultimately, it’s just those [00:01:00] two things, is what they’re most concerned about. What do I need, and can I trust whoever I’m about to bring in the door that will be able to help me get that? 

[00:01:09] David: Yeah. What factors do you think they’re looking for in a consultant that kind of leads them through that decision, that actually, this is somebody I can trust. 

[00:01:16] Melanie: Yeah, certainly it’s a lot of experience. So have they been through this before also have they got some form of evidence or supportive work that they’ve done previously, that’s worked, best practice people always ask for, you know, what’s the best practice and that can be a bit of a double-edged sword, particularly with some organisations. There’s not really a sense of best practice based on their unique offering or their unique value. I mean, no organisation tends to work exactly the same, so, you know, I think best practice is one of those funny things that tend to come up all the time, but it’s not often very well-defined and best practice is certainly not what everybody else is.. 

[00:01:56] Melanie: So, yeah, I’d like to think that yeah, it’s [00:02:00] really having any detailed understanding of what people need. What’s going to make their life easier. How is what’s going to be done or provided, add more value to what they currently do and potentially expand their business or the way that they are even further. So yeah, that’s the one thing, some evidence around, who you are, what you do and whether or not we’re going to be great partners in this, because we also want people also want a sense that there’s, everybody’s got skin in the game that it’s a partnership approach, that the consultant or the provider has just as much care and interest and skin in the game that the client does themselves. 

[00:02:39] David: Yeah. And that makes a lot of sense. And, I suppose, or different organisations are dealing with different kind of issues to do with transformation, digital transformation, and some of those issues kind of stem from misunderstanding or a lack of experience with transformation or digital transformation, which I suspect is kind of the, one of the main reasons why they could have reached out for [00:03:00] a consultant or reach out for help. What are some of the main misunderstandings that you find that organisations have about digital transformation in particular and you know, what does it take to do one, I suppose?

[00:03:10] Melanie: So one of the biggest misunderstandings is, people think that it’s going to be a lot easier than what it actually is. And there also tends to be a trend that, you know, if we buy this solution, it’ll automatically work for us, just like what the demo showed us. And because it was so amazing with what we saw or what’s been promised that things will be a lot easier than what they actually are in getting ready to adopt that new technology, because there’s a lot of groundwork that has to be done. And, there’s something along the lines of what people will say, oh, you know, it’s a Greenfield, it’s a Greenfield’s project, or it’s a Greenfield’s program, nobody’s done this before, so we’re doing this all brand new. That’s never really the case, because even if you’ve got a green field and I’m going to continue to use this analogy, you still have [00:04:00] to plow the field, prepare the soil, like there’s all of these things that you have to do. And what tends to happen is that once you start digging this Green field, you find that there are rocks under there, there are trees with big roots. There could be other nasty things hiding beneath the surface that you weren’t expecting that are then going to take time, energy, and resources that you hadn’t planned for, to invest in, even before you can start talking about now how are we going to prepare to adopt this solution. So, the level of planning and preparation is often misunderstood by way of planning, it’s not constantly planning to implement, it’s actually planning, how are you going to get that really good level of understanding around exactly what your current state is first, so that you can make a really good evidence-based decision? What solutions you actually need, whether or not those solutions are going to be fit in an integrated way across an end to end service, cause there’ll be potentially multiple technical solutions that will be required in one [00:05:00] particular journey for an employee or for a customer, and then how do you knit them all together?

[00:05:04] Melanie: So, you’ve got to understand what your current state is before you even start thinking like blue sky, green fields, we’re going to do all of this really cool stuff, because one of the first questions that a good consultant or a good provider will ask is, okay, so where are you now? Give us an understanding of where you are now. What the pin points are, what are the things that are really just not working for you that we could potentially automate, removing completely because there’s some duplication effort there, things that are risky to your business, that we need to remove some risks for, we also need to understand some dependencies that you have. So if we give you a cloud-based solution, that is amazing, what’s the infrastructure that, that solution is going to sit on. Is that infrastructure, you know, solid or is it something that’s going to have to be upgraded in it? Because if that infrastructure that the foundation sitting on has to be upgraded, well, you [00:06:00]kind of already lost the battle before you’ve even started. So those really detailed understanding of current state is important, not just at the technical lab, but at the process layer, and certainly at the experience layer and investing time in that first usually isn’t sort of something that people do particularly well. Hence why then you get, solutions that are sold as the silver bullet. They are agreed on without fully understanding the problems that need to be solved. There’s some misunderstanding around which solutions need to integrate with what products. I mean, I worked with a number of different agencies and I know one in particular, they were adopting an upgrade from, they were going from windows seven to windows 10. Now that’s a commercial off the shelf product, right, shouldn’t be too difficult cause you don’t customise like windows, but they had hundreds and hundreds, like way over 300 bespoke business applications that all needed to be [00:07:00] remediated in some way that they could fit and work with the windows software. On top of that, they also had aging hardware where the boxes themselves were starting to break down. So there was this thing of, you know, do we do the hardware refresh? And then do we do the software upgrade or do we do the software upgrade? And then the hardware refresh, do we them at the same time. What are we going to do with all these business applications? So this was all sort of conversation that was all happening when the organisational change manager came in. Where are we going? Okay, well, what’s the impact that’s going to happen if we switch these things on and turn those things off. And there was so much scrambling around people not knowing because they hadn’t had that detailed understanding of their existing business process. That it was really, it was Bedlam for quite some time, so it stalled the delivery date, it stalled the program, the project plan, it was quite challenging.

[00:07:54] Melanie: So what people assumed could be potentially like a one you turn around, you know, [00:08:00] asking around what other agencies had done with similar sorts of problems. It was taking them about three years to implement an upgrade to a windows product, that stuff’s kind of crazy. So when you get that and when people go through that experience for something that is relatively basic, particularly when your own experience at home of something like that is so simple, that’s where the sort of the distrust comes in because it’s like, well, when I’m at home, I can do this and get this, but you don’t have all of the other, you know, you don’t have all of the legacy systems. You don’t have all of the other bits, there’s many bits hanging off it. You don’t have as many people with multiple different needs and use cases, all using the same product in slightly different ways for slightly different purposes, so that is always underestimated, and it’s quite overwhelming when people realise that they have to do that type of work, to be able to then have a good evidence- based to say, well, when we ask for this approach, or when we asking for this [00:09:00] particular solution, we know that it’s fit for purpose because we’ve done the match. We’ve done the match to say that this product can solve this problem for us. 

[00:09:08] David: And something like a product or an operating system is just one part of a digital transformation. And as we talked about in the first thing, you know, the whole idea of a digital transformation fundamentally changes the identity of the organisation, as opposed to like IT enabled organisational transformation, which are two very different things. And one of the things that both comes through the research and listening to your talk is that, digital transformation is actually a complex adaptive process that is shifting as you kind of move along, and it’s not a kind of out of the box solution where you can just apply a series of things and you’ve done it. You’re operating both off an understanding of what works, but also getting feedback as you’re starting to move, as you’re starting to change things, understanding how people are viewing these things, how they’re thinking about it, how it’s many, many moving parts.

[00:09:58] Melanie: Oh, so [00:10:00] many moving parts. And I mean, in an earlier episode, we talked about, you know, lifting up a rock and then all of these cockroaches scrambling out and you’re madly like going, oh, which ones did we get ahold of first, that’s the moving face, that’s the adaptive side of it because, and it’s not through anybody like intentionally hiding stuff, it’s that notion of yeah, if I asked you to give me the requirements to make a good cup of tea, you would probably forget half of the things I’d have to do in order to provide you with a good cup of tea, you know, simple things that you take for granted in a very automated way, because that’s how you do things without really thinking anymore, because you’re so skilled at it that, you know, if I followed word for word, your instructions as part of the requirements to then build a solution, whether it be a robot, whether it be an AI price, whatever it was, unless I was observing you and writing down everything that you did and asking questions along the way, I would probably figure what [00:11:00] type of jug that you used or how you plugged it to turn it on, when it came to milk, it’d be like, well, do you need soy? No skim? Like, I’m just talking about a cup of tea, like you I’ve now overcomplicated it by adding in variations of milk, I haven’t even asked you what type of tea you want. Yeah. So that’s a type of tea. What we’re talking about is so much more complex. That’s the level of care that needs to go into this is that it’s for armed is for like forewarned is forearmed, and part of that is really understand your current state, invest the time to really understand what people do, what their experiences, what they use currently outside of what the policy says, because we always do work arounds, always, you know, every time there’s red tape, we do a little shortcut, now we all do, so we need to know what those shortcuts are, so that when we then go and, you know, design a new system, or if we’re not designing a new system from scratch and it is an off the shelf [00:12:00] product, those vendors can look at it and go, okay, well, we know that there are some extra things that you do. Some you don’t need, but some you do, their product won’t necessarily quite fit, but that supports customisation. So you’re now giving evidence to be able to say where customisations are worth it and where customisations are not required because they can be incredibly expensive. So if you gonna ask for a customisation of any kind of solution, you really want to make sure that you’ve got some solid evidence behind it, because it could be millions to billions of dollars of additional investment, because you know, the thing that you thought that you wanted to change and couldn’t actually could have been adapted. 

[00:12:40] David: Based on assumptions as opposed to having done the research. Yeah. 

[00:12:44] Melanie: Yeah, it doesn’t have to be crazy, but at the very least you should have a feel for once again, what’s the experience? What does this change mean to that? 

[00:12:53] David: Yeah. And across the whole organisation that the functions within the organisation, the people that will be staying, you [00:13:00] know, and obviously the end user, the customer and things without losing sight of where are we actually going with this? I’m also interested because obviously you get brought into organisations, like what kind of state do they tend to be in, in terms of digital transformation? By the time they get to asking for some. 

[00:13:18] Melanie: Yeah, if we’re lucky. And when I say we, I always act in partnership with clients because that’s the best way to work and I’m in it just as much as they are, you know, I go, I want to deliver the best that I can. So, yeah, best case scenario, it’s at the beginning where they go, look, we know that something has to shift. Can you help us understand where we’re at right now? Can you provide, you know, some support or coaching around how we can provide, you know, a single source of truth type view around water particular experiences so that we can then, when we have to go and talk to other disciplines, whether they be cyber security team, whether they be tech providers, whether they be subject matter experts, whoever it [00:14:00] is, that’s going to be involved in any particular journey. Can we at least get ready so that when those people really have to be engaged, we’re all on the same page, and we’ve got really good alignment around not only where we are right now and what our maturity is, but also where we want to go. So ultimately, the ideal would be way up the front, what tends to happen and what has happened for many, many years, and why I now focus more on employee experience as opposed to organisational change management, OCM component, if the CX and UX stuff has not been done is a nightmare. Yeah, you can do it, and I’ve done it many times, but it’s not fun, a lot more painful, it’s a lot more taxing. You’re madly sort of trying to pull pieces of the puzzle together, with change impact assessments, they’re also a bit trickier to do cause it depends on who you ask, depends on what they think the change is and what the impact is. So, yeah, ideally it’s at the front, generally people kind of bring me in at the middle, towards the end, but now with more [00:15:00] education, people are becoming more familiar with the lessons learned from previous other digital transformations or other transformation efforts in general that have failed. They know now that they have to start investing upfront, so those conversations tend getting a lot easier. One of the biggest sort of challenges with respect to this is generally where their maturity level is. Quite often the maturity level of the organisation to adopt the technology is not as high as what it needs to be, and that kind of goes back to the model that we talked about in our last session or the session before, around that transformation, a trust triangle in the sense of, if that leadership business intelligence and your systems and your performance and your processes all are integrated and aligned, and you don’t know that, and you don’t have a really clear picture of it, it means that your level of mature is a little bit low. So until those things are in sync, it’s going to be really hard for you to make a judgment call around how soon you’re going to be able to adopt, and [00:16:00] successfully sustain the improvements that you’re selling or that you’re trying to implement. So yeah, quick assessments on that are good and yeah, being very real and open about where the maturity level is of an organisation, and that comes back to what the research said around, you know, having an honest evaluation of current state and sharing that, not as a way to embarrass people, but as a way to keep it, you know, let’s keep it real. Like if we were running a marathon and these transformation efforts are marathons, if you’re sitting on the couch, eating 20 buckets of chicken, you don’t own a pair of runners, chances are you’re not going to be finishing the finish line of this marathon in, you know, 12 weeks time or even a years time, this is something that we’ll have to work on from where you’re at now, we meet you where you’re at, and then we gradually build the foundation and the confidence as we go, where we don’t bite off too much, too soon, and we start with one thing, we start with the thing that is going [00:17:00] to add the most impact at the beginning of the journey so that when we can get that working really, there will be the flow on benefits then that will naturally then sink into the other stages of the journey, along with the people, the process, the technology, and the integration across the whole picture. So, yeah, have I even answered the question. 

[00:17:19] David: Well, I’ve got another question for you on that actually, is so you’re talking about maturity of an organisation. What do you actually mean by? 

[00:17:25] Melanie: Yeah. So there’s levels of maturity that organisations have. And now you’re testing me, but there is, I don’t know who came up with it, it’s a capability maturity model where organisations can do an assessment around a level zero of maturity is basically, they don’t know what they don’t know, they don’t tend to have any real performance measures, they pretty much just kind of running a bit blind and they’re focused on whatever it is they’re hearing and now doing. And then obviously it progresses through to sort of level one level two, and then all the way to, I think it’s six or a seven and I’m no expert in that, but [00:18:00] understanding that those different levels of maturity, the high you go, obviously the more rigor there is around the leadership at all levels, the governance and reporting that you have, the level of business intelligence and the quality of that and how that’s used to make decisions is better, and then that systemised performance where you’ve got the mechanisms to really be able to have that automation seamless, integrated processes and experiences, as well as getting real time feedback for continuous improvement, because that’s the other thing too. You can say, I was talking to another consultant today and we were talking about business intelligence and he said, oh, I always have to ask clients what they mean by that, what their definition of business Intel is because you’ll talk to some organisations and they’ll say that they’ll bring out their Excel spreadsheet that’s macro enabled, and that will be their reporting tool. Yes, I’ve seen those and then you’ll get other organisations who would be highly mature and they have real time intelligence and instant feedback [00:19:00] where if a client goes, boom, I’ve checked out because I’m no longer going to be playing with your organisation, they’re really aware of it and then they can look at what the trends are in that moment, on the fly adjustments based on the immediate until they’re getting it any point in time. So that’s like you’re two ends of the spectrum, one might be not even having an Excel spreadsheet to look at any information, and the other could be having real time responsive data that everybody has some level of access to because they know, and they see the whole picture and they know where they fit in it. 

[00:19:33] David: Yeah. Okay. So yeah, there are a number of different models of maturity. One of them looks at, kind of work well anywhere between five and 10 levels, you tend to find with the maturity models and they tend to go something like the lowest level of maturity for an organisation is where they’re just coming together and they tried to coordinate things, controlling things. It’s kind of an initial level of organisational maturity. The next level tends to be kind of [00:20:00] developing processes and controls within the organisation to create some form of stability and repeatable processes. Then we’re at some form of the next level up is some form of, quantitative measurement of those processes, so we know what’s actually going on within the organisation, followed by a stage of optimisation and then usually most of the maturity models kind of peak at somewhere around about adaptability, high performance, and the exploitation of a competitive advantage that we’ve got an identity, we’ve got a place within the market. And we’re engaged in that kind of competitive.

[00:20:35] Melanie: Yeah, exactly. And that’s why that type of conversation is so important. And one of the biggest challenges around that is, having access to the right people and the right information that can even make that in a way that really is open and transparent so that you can meet people where they’re at. You’re not giving them a plan that’s totally irrelevant. You’re not giving them something, which is just, you know, so [00:21:00] pie in the sky that they can’t connect with you, and because it’s all good to have a vision, but if that vision is so far into the stratosphere and people are like right down on planet, you know, they’re at ant level, like, yeah, you’re not gonna have much luck when you walk into a room and try and have a conversation because they’re going to be talking one language and you’re going to be talking another. So I think one of the biggest challenges certainly I’ve had in the past and I’m getting better at it because I won’t say I’m awesome at it cause I don’t think I’ll ever be awesome at anything, that’s a constant, that’s a constant striving goal is yeah, like being able to ask great questions and have access to the right people to make a good assessment together, jointly, in partnership, to say right, now that we know that you’re here, what’s reasonable and achievable with the current resourcing that you’ve got and how can we do that, so that we can get some [00:22:00] meaningful progress so that we can now start getting a gradual culture of trust that is going to come through this organisation, this program, this initiative, so that we can over time start chewing off big elephants or all the other bits and pieces, that one is very much, that challenge is real, and I think it’s never going to go away. That’s the art of being human. 

[00:22:23] David: Yeah. And as we were saying, just before, it was kind of a complex adaptive system, any digital transformation, complex adaptive process, any digital transformation. So it’s going to be shifting and, as the organisations going through that process, the technology is changing, society is changing, you get things like COVID suddenly happening, we’ve now got supply chain issues, the cost of living issues, there’s a whole series plethora of events and situations that keep changing whilst the transformation’s going on. And it’s important that the organisation and the consultants are aware [00:23:00] of that and in touch with what’s going on and getting feedback from those situations. 

[00:23:04] Melanie: Yeah. You’ve really got to almost have a crystal ball for the client. I remember working, I’ve worked with a couple of consulting, one client in particular, she’s like, wow, you know, I don’t get how you give me things right at the time that I need them. It’s like you’re reading my mind or preempting what we need so that you’re developing it before we even ask for it, cause you know that it’s coming, and I think that’s when you’re operating off an evidence base or an experienced base, you’ve got the power to be able to do that because you know, okay, what the client is asking for right now is this, they’re actually needing this and I’m going to give them what they need because, if they can’t get that locked down first, they’re not going to be able to get the thing that they want next, so that ability to be able to preempt really can only come from having an evidence-based, an experience-based background. And even if you don’t have the experience, and I would [00:24:00]argue that for the most part, nobody’s going to be more experienced than your client around some of their pain and what they’re looking to achieve, if you can’t partner with them as an expert in their domain and work together, like really hand in glove, it’s never going to work. So that notion of being very realistic around what needs to happen, but also being realistic with the subject matter experts that you are needing to work with, because there’s no point in you charging so far ahead, that you’ve left everybody behind or you’re charging so far ahead that you haven’t co-developed or co-designed in some way, the next thing that they’re going to have to use, because yeah, there’s a really fine line, and there is an art and a science to preempting enough, but not so much that you’re going to bamboozle people or, you know, give them stuff that’s going to detract from what they need to focus. 

[00:24:55] David: Yeah. And I think that whole idea of kind of co-creating solutions, [00:25:00] but also drawing on different sources of information, the ability to analyse what’s going on in the organisation, what people are actually asking for, within the context and quite often people are asking for one thing without quite realising what the consequences of that, and the ability to be able to kind of play that back and say, right, okay, if we go down this line, these are likely to be the consequences, if we go down, these are kind of scenario planning.

[00:25:22] Melanie: Yeah. What does this mean? So if we do this, what does this mean? Because you know, it comes back to that it might be best practice over here to do this, but if we were to implement that here, what would that mean to your business? Oh, you know, that would mean that that’s not going to work because our value proposition is this, and this is our foundational bit that cannot be changed. Right. Okay. So that definitely is a variation that we’ll have to do, but yeah, understanding the meaning can only come from those internal experts. And even if it is an off the shelf solution that you really do not want to be customising, you want to be [00:26:00] limiting customisation, that’s why they’ve probably won all of the awards as to why you were attracted to buy them in the first place. Don’t Frankenstein their solution, please, because the solution is not officially the problem it’s making sure that you’re able to fit with it in a way that’s going to make the solution work for you. And if you can’t do that, well, then it’s either not the right solution or it could be that plus another solution that you require and yeah, it’s classic constraints, it’s classic dependencies impacts and understanding those benefits and how you need to be able to mitigate risks and issues together with the people involved, that’s going to determine your level of success, and you can only do that when you value, like really value the internal people that you’ve got there, and quite often there’s not enough of them, and that’s, probably one of the most consistent, biggest challenges I know I’ve faced, I know a lot of colleagues and other [00:27:00] consultants, whether they be part of big companies or be independence, it’s a common complaint of, we can’t get the right people in the right room who are the decision-makers on this? you know, we’ve got one person here who is so tapped out, delivering what they have to do, that they only have one hour a day to dedicate to this, I mean, I met a gentleman a couple of weeks back, and he was the only person who is the digital transformation lead for a large department of couple of thousand people in this department and he was the digital transformation leader, I said, great this is going to be a massive change for you because this is your whole enterprise resource planning systems, so payroll, procurement, corporate services, all of the transactional stuff that actually keeps things ticking over, including all of their finance systems, you know, have you got a team that no, he said I’m it, I said, right, so are you on this full time? He’s like, oh no, I’m on this full time and I’ve got a couple of other things that I have to do, like, it sounds really [00:28:00] bunkers, like he would be the only person in that boat, but the week before I was talking to another woman and she said to me, yeah, I’ve got five projects that are all transformation projects of some nature ,of some degree, and I just cannot work across all of them and she said and the other thing is, is that there’s no appetite to invest in growing the team further. I said, well, why start any of the projects? Just shut them down, just shut them down now, because transformation is not, you cannot outsource transforming. If there is only one message that comes from all of these all about, all about our efforts here today, it’s a, transformation is internal. So if you are not valuing, and working with the internal capability and yeah, making sure that you don’t burn them out, they’re not going to be able to give you what you need to be able to develop a great solutions, and certainly the externals like me, the providers out there who want to deliver a great [00:29:00] product, we can’t do that with, you know, we can’t do that in isolation, without the people who are going to be using and informing the products or services to be delivered.

[00:29:08] David: It’s funny, isn’t it? It’s like we want the transformation to, it’s like, we want to jump to the end of this without realising that this is going to take time and effort of the people involved, therefore they need some space to engage in this and they can’t keep working at the same pace and level that they’re working at right now and do this, it’s not going to happen in the background but it’s an essential changes and essential part of all of this, requires that level of engagement. 

[00:29:35] Melanie: And all of the research, all of the research that we come across, David, says that you cannot be spread too thin on this. You can’t split your brain or just jump backwards and forwards on these sorts of things, like you’ve really got to be in it, and if I use a simple analogy, it’s almost like you’re hiring the most expensive personal trainer on the planet but yet you’re not [00:30:00] prepared to change what you eat, you’re not prepared to rock up to the gym or do any of the program that the trainer has assigned to you because this trainer is like, they’re amazing, right? They’re worth millions to billions of dollars a year and that’s why you’ve hired them, but you’re expecting the rock star body without any of the work and this is something that I have seen so many times, and it’s not just me, I mean, the research is saying all of these things around how we need to do things differently for a reason. The people that I work with, both clients, consultants and arms, it’s the same thing, it’s like why are you spending millions to billions of dollars on this when you haven’t even invested in the team? Who are going to be informing what needs to be delivered as well as determining how it’s going to be delivered in order to make the change, because the consultant can give you a roadmap and go boom, you know, we have a five step roadway to transformation and these are the [00:31:00] stage gates, it’s like, yeah, okay, great but without that internal meaning and understanding and logic behind it, right. How long is the stage? Well, it depends. 

[00:31:09] David: When’s the work going to get done and how are they going to get time to do that work in order to have that transformation? 

[00:31:14] Melanie: Exactly, exactly. Not setting up your internal teams and building your internal capability before you start throwing millions of dollars at solutions and giving that away to providers and consultants, you’ve already set your staff up to fail. And no amount of blaming the consultant or the contractors or the providers for not delivering is going to save you because you’ve still spent millions to billions of dollars on something you’re not going to get a really great result for, and even if you managed to do, you know, on time and on budget, winning the quality is probably not going to be there, people won’t adopt the solution and then you’ll have pretty much same workarounds that you had before but they’re now baked into the [00:32:00] system, so that’s really important. One of the biggest pressures, that tends to occur is that, and this comes a little bit back to that level of maturity with organisations where if you’ve got an organisation that is more proactive, adaptive, that they’ve got a continuous improvement, high performance type culture, they know you don’t invest in a technology solution or in a transformation one or two years out of the four year systems are about to go burst, because you would have maintained them over time or you would be preempting what you’re going to need and when, so that you’re not at the tail end guy and well, hang on, we have to Ram through this solution within the next two years, because we all run out of warranty or why not? You know, this product, no longer supported by the company, so it’s now going to cost a smaller sample. When you signed the original contract, you knew what the shelf life was going to be on this thing, did you not? It’s like, you’ve put the milk in the fridge, you’ve left it, and it’s like, one [00:33:00] day past its use by date, and you’re saying that well now we’ve got to invest in going and getting new stuff, no, it doesn’t work like that, but yet it seems to work like that a lot. I think that there are some successes out there that people do better they’re usually the companies who’ve invested in getting their levels of maturity, organisational maturity, on a whole of culture level across their ecosystem, even before they’ve considered a digital transformation.

[00:33:25] David: Fascinating, really interesting. So I, this kind of a personal thing from the Oxford Review, I suppose, I’m really interested to know how concerned clients are typically in organisations, they’re about the source of advice that they get about digital transformation, for example, the kind of research and evidence-based for their decisions, like, are they bothered about that? 

[00:33:44] Melanie: To be honest, I don’t think so, as much as what they should be. I think they’re bothered when they know, I think it’s one of those things where yes, we want that, we know that it’s really important, we desperately need it, but if we’re not a mature organisation that are [00:34:00]constantly looking out for these things and following trends because we’re interested in real time feedback, real time data, that’s just how we roll for organisations that don’t have a level of maturity. They’re too busy, putting out spot fires, having to deal with catastrophic fail to be thinking about how do we reflect on the research? How do we reflect on the evidence that we’ve got, so that when we then plan for what’s next, we can be in front because they’re too busy being caught in the pain of being in crisis. And when you’re in crisis, you just don’t have that capacity to be able to think, blue sky, you don’t have the capacity to think as clearly to make as good decisions as what you would if you were, it was part of just who you were. So, I think it depends on the type of organisation that you’re working with, their level of maturity. I think there is always a desire to be evidence-based, there is always a desire to be ahead of the game and to not be reactive. People always want something that [00:35:00] is better than what they have today, cause we all want to deliver more value. It’s a case of, do they have capacity based on their current experience to be able to really leverage those sorts of insights.

[00:35:14] David: Yeah. And I also say, I kind of suspect, you know, that when organisations come to the point of engaging with some form of consultancy or consultant around something like digital transformation that they make the assumption that the more they’re paying, the more up to date that service will be in, and certainly there’s quite a lot of research into this showing that that’s not only not the case, but I’ve seen quite a lot of very large consultancy organisations using like really out of date models and things, and you cannot be serious that you’re using that, you know, there’s really good evidence that that’s not the case. 

[00:35:47] Melanie: Actually, I’m relieved to hear that, because it validates my experience and thinking, so that’s cool. Cause it’s just not the vibe, but at the same time, it makes me cry because it’s just the waste, I hate [00:36:00] waste. I hate the notion of that there is certainly an element of brand, the bigger the brand, the better something must be when we know that that’s not always the case. We talked a little bit, you know, in previous episodes around agility and the benefit of being small sometimes means that you can be more adaptive and flexible by design. You can be more bespoke, you can say, wow, okay, you know what? I don’t have to be bound by the rules of my consulting company because those processes don’t fit for you. What I can do is design something totally out of the box that is based on evidence, based on research, based on your context and what you’ve just told me, and we could build something cool together that we know will work, and even if we can’t build the technical solution, you can bet your bottom dollar, that we’re going to be having you so prepped that by the time you’re ready to look for what you need to be able to digitise, or what product do you require, you’re going to be able to give it to a provider [00:37:00] to say, can your product do this for us? Can your product make this experience better for us? Because if it can’t, we’ll keep shopping around, thanks, because we’re not here to be sold fitting with that because we’re so convinced based on the work that we’ve done and our understanding that this is how we need to work. What we really are looking for now is the digital solution to enable it, and yeah, so I think big is not always better and there is a real challenge when you are big that it’s harder to turn. 

[00:37:30] David: They tend to have baked in, what I’ve certainly seen with quite a lot of consultancies is the kind of baked in processes, and quite often they’re not always evidence-based, you know, it’s a bit like trying to turn a tanker, it takes miles and I do think that there’s a responsibility, you know, just for their own safety, I suppose, on organisations to check how up to date and evidence-based any consultants are.

[00:37:54] Melanie: Yeah. The notion of making up stuff, because it kind of fits with what they’ve done [00:38:00] previously, or what’s worked there, or somebody has got a great idea that this model seems to work. Like even if they had, you know, one, yeah, a couple of really great consultants in a big company, if unless those consultants that know that sort of information at the coalface and can kind of see that whole 360 way of thinking to go, this is how we could do things better for ourselves as well as for the client, unless they’re at the very top, it’s so hard, so hard to get your message, it’s so hard to get the model because you’re batting up against already hardwired other proven models that were really effective at the time that they were established. Nobody’s kind of gone and checked back to say, well, is that model that we created that won awards and was super successful, you know, even five years ago, is it still relevant based on everything that we’re seeing now? Because it might not be. 

[00:38:53] David: Yeah, we did a research briefing in one of those special reports around organisational health. I don’t really remember it, and we looked at, [00:39:00] so there’s roughly about 12 published each models of organisational health. So we’ve talked about from an organisational perspective, as opposed to an individual health perspective, like what makes an effective organisation? 

[00:39:10] Melanie: I do remember that special report, cause I remember referencing it.

[00:39:13] David: And what were, I was shocked actually. So we went into each of the 12 that are out there, each of the 12 models of organisational health, and there was one of them that had actually had any form of validation and the rest of them, some of them just looked like they’re being kind of somebody’s idea as they got out of the shower in the morning and they’re being like advertised and sold by very large consultancy organisations and some very famous places, and I was like really shocked at the complete lack of evidence that sits behind them. And in quite a few cases, this counter evidence to what they’re saying are the important elements of organisational change, so, but anyhow. 

[00:39:50] Melanie: I think that’s the benefit though of, and now I’m going to plug your service. That’s the benefit of Oxford Review because you make research accessible and [00:40:00] when you make something accessible, it’s powerful because you know, knowledge doesn’t mean anything unless it’s shared, and it’s not until it’s shared and apply that you can become wise because of it, I think there’s plenty of business out there, there’s plenty of good in the world that people can do, and there’s certainly plenty of money being thrown around for everybody to be well fed. So I don’t think there’s a need to be hiding what could be really great approaches to things and if there’s evidence and research out there that suggests that certain approaches can be pulled together and simplify so that they can be easily understood in models that people can kind of make their own but with some confidence that, you know, yeah, this is how it can kind of be applied here. You’re already way ahead of the game, because you’re not trying to pull something apart, and so, yeah, trying to try to keep it simple enough for people to be able to see themselves in it and add their own little sprinkle of meaning, I think that’s it. 

[00:40:57] David: Yeah, and it doesn’t actually take that [00:41:00] much as you will know to actually stay up to date with what the research is saying. This has been fascinating. Thank you very much, Melanie. And in the next session of this small series of sessions about digital transformation, we’re going to be having a look at some of the other research around this topic and we’ll see you then. 

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David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page