Let’s talk about the digital transformation of work!

English version of German post: “Lassen Sie uns über die digitale Transformation der Arbeit diskutieren!

The discussion about the state of the digital transformation is globally en vogue – but recently some forethinkers in the US has brought up some critics about the process of the transformation. The “Open Letter on the Digital Economy” that was signed by some leading heads from Silicon Valley and the academic field emphasizes the “digital revolution” as a fundamental transformation of the economic system and criticized several points in the progress of the administration and the digital policy in this field that is not supporting or even hindering digital transformation sustainably. (Steve Denning has explained the letter, the concerns and its importance here in detail.)

The letter shows that there are still many issues to be solved for cementing this topic in the corporate reality. For Europe is has been even noted that the transformation initiatives are more strategic and mature. The discussions at CeBIT Social Business Arena earlier this year showed that the development are one step further than last year, but that there are still many open questions.

The pressure for change is noticeable – but as for sustainability of change the right conditions have now yet been provided

In our event blog at CeBIT Social Business Arena, I tried to resume the results of the discussions of this year – some more  and other (mainly German) perspectives are also found here, here and here. As a summary I have come to the following points (for detailed discussion in German see the article in the event blog):

  • The digital transformation comes with the external pressure.
  • With the distribution of the smartphone the pressure for change evolves to the whole company.
  • The digital transformation needs a “Digital Thinking” as part of the traditional management thinking.
  • The design of the framework of the future of work and work organization needs a dialogue on the value system in a digital society.
  • There is still no clear picture of the organizational model of the future.
  • The management model of the future must be characterized by an empathic values ​​system.

For further discussions can be derived from the following questions that need further clarification:

  • How can we drive change proactively – before it “unloads” disruptively and possibly  “destructive” for the company? How should this change action relate the existing business model? – This is about the issues that companies need to work on before addressing the transformation process. In relation to this Dion Hinchcliffe has recently published a post, in which he contrasts the digital market laws, which are based mainly on the network effects and the “The-Winner-Takes-It-All” paradigm, to the analog market laws, that are build on the idea of continuous and strategic development of singular competitive advantages. He results to the statement that for large corporate the digital development might be considered rather in isolation.
  • How can the “Digital Thinking” become a central part of the company thinking? How can the employee be “engaged” in a digital work organization? – The early assumption on social followed the idea that the agile and self-determined, digital work environment is a natural desire of employees. The example of “Zappos” also shows that the shift from a hierarchical structure to a dynamic control model for some employees is not always the desired work environment. In part because it also demands more engagement from the individuals.
  • What are the organizational models of the future, and which model is best for my business? Is it the dual organizational model with the hierarchy as the organizational structure and an additional network organization as change-meta-level, the dynamic network organization à la the “Podular organization” by Dave Gray, or a dynamic control organization in accordance with the “Holacracy” model? – There is still a widespread lack of clarity about the context in which the models are working and what are their limitations.
  • What are the key elements for future human resource development activities? What skills and capabilities must be developed for the employee at the digital workplace of the future? – Self-determined, digital work is still not taught in school, vocational schools or university, so we need an “empowerment” of the old and new employees as part of staff development. The recommendations on this point are still very varied and not really clear.
  • What are the frameworks and value systems for the employment and management in a digital work organization? – Here, too, there are many opinions. Digitalization brings the dissolution of work (cf. the German contributions of Alexander Klier) as well as a more flexible organization. Here too, authenticity, role modeling and the identification with a collaborative work ethic creates a trusting work environment. What legal and organizational guidelines need to be set up to provide a good environment for this.
  • What are the success factors for the project management of digital transformation? – While in the introduction of collaborative working environments (ie “Social Collaboration / Intranet” tools) the change management focussed mainly on the technology acceptance (“Social Adoption”), the project management of the digital transformation requires a greater approach. For this it is important to anchor the redefinition of the work organization in the context of the digital business model. It should be noted that the digital environment is in a constant state of change what makes an initiative in this field more a “programm” than a “project” as it has no definite ending.

The short list already shows quite a good number of open questions that are still needed to be clarified as part of the digital transformation discussion. Both the theoretical and practical knowledge and experience in this field is still at the very beginning.

With our activities, we are always claiming to make a small contribution to this discussion – therefore we have also re-started our series of Google Hangout Sessions on specific issues in this field. For the next session we have invited a nice group on the topic of “working out loud” as our contribution to next week’s “wolweek“.