One thing that all digital change brings is SPEED. To find and keep customers, profitably, organisations strive for quicker response times, shorter turnaround times and faster resolution. An example is a residential building company that decreased its number of days to build a house from 120 to 42.1 That change is transformative.

While competition and innovation have always fueled speed, technology has turbo-boosted the speed at which things get done. There are pros and cons to speed.  While a vast reduction in number of days to build a house contributes to the top line, it places huge stress on quality, safety  and sustainability. The same is true of increased speed due to technology. Is the same true for digital transformation?

Evidence seems to suggest that speed is good but this doesn’t mean that more speed is better. The question becomes, what is the right pace for this programme, at this point in time, in this situation?

Drives for efficiency are not new. Buckminster Fuller during the last century2  named “Ephemeralization” (meaning “do more with less”) as a generalized success principle (i.e. true in all cases) to avoid becoming obsolete. But even digital transformation has both pros and cons. On the plus side, ‘digitization’ allows people and organisations to:

  • Contact each other quickly and accurately (with a trail)
  • Reach new markets
  • Monitor performance to show where to take corrective action in real time
  • Read the minds of consumers to design effective marketing strategies
  • Contribute ease and convenience to society
  • Advance our quality of life
  • Address and even eliminate health and other issues
  • Excite and delight………..the list goes on

On the downside, technology is not necessarily (although it can be) brain-friendly – ‘human’.

“Not surprisingly, managing change is among the top priorities for most chief executive officers (CEOs). With greater technological advancements, the critical issues ahead of us won’t be technological challenges, but people issues.”3

We know from decades of research (that has rapidly advanced due to technologies such as functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Steady State Topography) that human responses are more chemical than electrical. Clarity about the chemistry of human response is a work in progress but few would dispute that it is people (not machines) that make enterprises (and any transformation process) succeed or falter. Human ingenuity, drive, loyalty, vision and commitment create great organisations, products and brand loyalty, securing repeat business. Business success is all very human, and while the brain has been humorously referred to as the ‘portable neck top computer’, we know it is more ‘goo’ than hard drive.

Just Do It

Research with three quarters of a million people in 150 organisations, in 50 industries and 25 countries, undergoing 250 change programmes over a 15-year period (including acquisitions, mergers, restructures, technology implementations, cost reductions, turnarounds, downsizings, culture changes, growth initiatives and new business models) showed that change is best done quickly – like ripping off a bandage.

Using data analytics, Parry and his team mapped the change terrain to highlight the event and response patterns. Among the key success factors was speed. The research showed that the “optimal pace of change is slightly faster than what the participants consider ‘okay’ (on a scale of too slow, okay, and too fast), and in most organizations there is no evidence to suggest that the pace should be slowed down. In fact the organizations that have the most change taking place at a fast pace are the ones that achieve the most benefits from change – and improve their performance the most across times of change.”3

The other side of this is the hidden cost of alienating people both inside and outside organisations, because not enough time is taken to ask questions and listen. Perception is everything and reputation is fragile. Once people doubt they are in good hands (employees, customers and shareholders) they instinctively withdraw, hold back and resist. Trust and reputation are fragile. In the case of employees, this resistance is known as “Presenteeism”, in customers, a loss of market share and in shareholders, it may drive the share price down. The saying ‘More haste, less speed” comes to mind.

Just Right

The approach that has worked best in my experience is to take time early on so that you can speed up later. They say you can either go fast or go far. Your timetable also depends on your metrics of success. If it is important to you to maintain the health, vigor and change-readiness of the organization, proceed with caution.

Jim Collins in Good To Great4 described the danger of not realizing gains before the next change programme hits. People become fatigued and cynical – not the collective state you need to face ever-increasing market challenges and competitive pressures.

Ultimately, the speed at which you can successfully move depends on your starting ‘state’ – how change-ready you are. While there are linear (hard) elements in transformation, the non-linear (soft) elements are harder.  These have a steady-state ‘rate’ and this indicates situational readiness and speed tolerance.

This reminds change leaders that you can’t control others – you can at best influence the speed of transformation; ultimately, speed of progress and success of transformation is an autonomous choice:

“Your brain is your own.  Your boss doesn’t own it; nor can any government own it.  You alone are the director of this critical means of production.”  -Jonas Ridderstrale and Kjell Nordstrom5


1 Nixon, Rob. “Accounting Practices Don’t Add Up.” APDAU. PANALITIX, n.d. Web. 04 Sept. 2016.
2 Fuller, R. Buckminster. Critical Path. St Martin’s Press. United States. 1981
3 Parry, Waren. “Big Change, Best Path by Warren Parry – Accenture.” Big Change, Best Path. Accenture Strategy, n.d. Web. 04 Sept. 2016.Page. 2015
4 Collins, Jim. Good to Great. Harper Business. 2011
5 Nordstrom, Kjell and Jonas Ridderstrale. Funky Business. Prentice Hall. 2000

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