Image from XKCD: https://xkcd.com/1831/
This past year, I have been giving a lecture titled “How do you eat an elephant?” Within the narrative I frame the measure of success of digital transformation as hinging on the ability to address larger, persistent challenges facing the world of building design and construction. Chief among these problems are flat productivity, increasing construction waste, and a growing skills gap.
While I believe that digital capabilities play an important role, the solutions to these challenges go beyond the implementation of new tools and workflows. “Eating the elephant” refers to the challenge of transforming the work people do and the way they do it. Often this means taking on the hard work of addressing business culture, team dynamics, and industry relationships one bite at a time.
“Eating the elephant” in my recent lecture refers to the challenge of transforming the work people do and the way they do it.
Michael Gale, co-author of ‘The Digital Helix’, observes that 84% of digital transformations in businesses fail because “they are not ready to change behavior”. In a 2016 interview published in Forbes, Gale asserts that “they think they can have strategy and technology and it just doesn’t get them there fast enough or in a good enough way.”
To further support this assertion, a McKinsey&Company survey of 3,199 companies found that only 1 in 3 change management initiatives actually succeeds. The research points to the broader challenge of “influencing employee attitudes and management behavior”. To address this, McKinsey points to behavior-focused tactics – such as the employee communication, role modeling by company leaders, reinforcing policies, and skill development – as being foundational to the success of major organization change.
84% of digital transformations in businesses fail because “they are not ready to change behavior”.
In my experience, meaningful digital transformation is no different from any other significant change management effort. For anyone who has tried to change behavior in people knows that it is a much longer road to haul than simply procuring new technology.
Yes, an automation routine can supercharge production but its value is contingent on a team’s ability to recognize the usefulness and be equipped with the skills to leverage it. Yes, centralizing data is an important technical step to making resources available at a larger scale, but deriving insight means equipping leaders with the digital literacy needed to make better decisions with the data.
As digital designers in the world of construction, it often feels like Proving Ground occupies two different realities. In one reality we see the rapid pace of technological development and its exciting potential. There is something new to consume daily in the form of smarter workflows, new tools, and cutting-edge research. In the other reality, we operate in an industry that is historically slow to change and innovate. We observe designers continuing to rely on old production habits, professionals inhibited by deeply ingrained biases, and executives hesitant to make disruptive changes to their businesses.
Digital transformation means challenging ourselves to finding solutions that combine the near-term potential of new tools with the long-term cultural change…
Bridging between these two realities – connecting builders with transformative digital workflows – means challenging ourselves to finding solutions that combine the near-term potential of new tools with the long-term cultural change that will ultimately transform the DNA of businesses and an industry.