A new report titled Killing Time at Work ’22 from Qatalog and GitLab says, “The dramatic workplace shifts of the pandemic gave us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how we work forever. We could have restructured work to be asynchronous, allowing us to build work around our lives, but we failed.”

While the report is specifically about organizations falling back into old attitudes and thinking about worker productivity, it also gives us a view into how transformations fail. Put simply: transformations fail when organizations don’t transform. That sounds redundant, doesn’t it? Let me explain.

What many organizations are calling “transformation” is really a software upgrade

In a previous article for the Journal, I listed some of the definitions for Digital Transformation I’ve heard, and they are “Technology First” definitions: Mobile tech, e-commerce, AI, automation, and digital collaboration tools. We do need these tools to move forward as rapidly as the twenty-first century demands, but while purchasing new hardware and software systems brings change, it does not constitute transformation.

Transformation happens—and only happens—when organizations rethink the way work is done and measured. Doing the same thing using new tools may increase speed (think nail guns versus hammers), but it does not change the way work is done or the ways we measure that work.

Metrics need context

Metrics constitute a fabric; if you pull on one thread, the fabric may begin to unravel. The connections among various measurements cannot be ignored. It doesn’t do your sales department any good to measure the number of phone calls your salespeople make unless you are also measuring the percentage of calls that result in closed deals, for example. Tracking only one of these yields a very limited view of how the sales organization is doing.  If the number goes up but the percentage goes down, you may not be gaining ground.

You get what you measure

In addition, metrics drive behavior. If you are telegraphing to your salespeople that the number of calls is what matters, they are far more likely to jump off a call and make another one rather than spend time overcoming the objections of a potential customer. If, on the other hand, you measure only the percentage of calls resulting in closed deals you run the risk of ending a week, month, or quarter with only a handful of deals closed because you aren’t seeing the decrease in the number of calls placed.

The same thing applies to measures some organizations are applying to productivity. Tools like keystroke loggers and other types of trackers are being used to ensure that workers are logged in and at their computers doing things. Whether or not the things they are doing have an impact on the quality of work they are doing or on the organization’s top or bottom lines, these simple measures cannot tell you.

You need to create metrics that show relationships between actions and meaningful outcomes. Drawing those relationships becomes more difficult when you are tinkering with all the things associated with a transformation. If you change the type of work, the ways of work, and the tools for work, you need to be rethinking your metrics as well.

There are deeper questions

When you track metrics, you begin to see trends over time. You might, for example, see the number of closed sales deals decreasing. (Obviously a bad sign.) Of course you want to know why. Internally, you can look at metrics from your customer service records. Are people having trouble with your product? Do they have negative feedback on some aspect of your company? What are review sites saying about you? In these days of Yelp and Glassdoor, your reputation out in the world is quite apparent and should be a source of learning.

Now, armed with good metrics and external information from the marketplace, you can begin to think about the direction your transformation should take. What if Kodak had benefited from the kinds of insights we can get today and realized that people were ready to move on from film developing? They had (and ignored) the digital camera, and they paid the price of bankruptcy because they failed to transform from a film processing company to a digital camera company.

Let’s revisit an analogy from earlier in this article: Nail guns versus hammers. Roofers have certainly benefited from the increased speed and relative ease of the nail gun, but the work is essentially the same. What happens when someone transforms the roofing business using 3D printing?

Summing up

Transformation entails far more than buying new technology or updating legacy systems. In order to see a new destination, it is imperative to understand where we are and in which direction we are headed. Metrics, properly gathered and analyzed against a contextual background, are the guides to your organization’s current state; external data such as market trends are the guides to future direction. What you do with all this information is up to your strategic decision-makers, but all of us can illuminate the pathways and prevent the organization from chasing the illusion of transformation.

Tag/s:Business Transformation, Digital Enterprise, Future of Work, Organizational Change, Readiness,