CIO Straight Talk - Issue 9 - 50
working to provide a similar ease of use to our
customers, ensuring that they don't have to
worry about the nuts and bolts of our business,
which get in the way of a great customer
experience. Amazon talks about "customer
obsession," and that is a great attitude to adopt
in the digital world.
Another aspect of the way digital natives work,
one that we're incorporating in our team, is
the practice of inspiring employees to spend a
certain part of their time creating side projects
outside of their core responsibility. The aim of
these "fail-fast-fail-cheap" initiatives, which are
often cross-functional in nature, is to both excite
those involved and create value for the company.
OPEN MINDS TO "NOT
Digital disruption is a frightening game, and
digital transformation is not an easy journey.
People are often stunned when someone in their
office tells them to dismantle their decadesold ways of working. They are often terrified
when asked to adjust to ideas sprung by new
team members in a far-flung office of a different
company in a different country. And when the
transformation is digital, it can spark the vision of
robots taking over your job and "no need for
What do you do when people reject innovative
ideas that can improve efficiency and meet most
of their needs?
Our corporate DNA and our way of
working are different from companies
like Google, Facebook, and Amazon.
But that doesn't stop us from dreaming
about the art of the possible.
For example, one group of employees got
together and created an ideation platform that,
using gamification techniques, encourages both
skilled and non-skilled workers from across the
entire organization to generate and contribute
new ideas for the business.
We also recently set up a Digital Catalyst
program designed to incubate digital ideas
designed to change the way we operate. The
program should help us
* Improve the customer experience at every touch
point, partly by making customers aware of the
services we offer
* Attract and retain top-notch digital talent,
by creating an environment of experimentation
* Exponentially increase business productivity.
For us, digital transformation is a question of
when, not if. With programs like these, we want
to speed up the timetable for us to become
For starters, you need sponsorship from the
very top management to kick off these types of
transformation. While this is true for many types
of transformations, the lack of knowledge
around digital transformation requires much
You can also improve your odds of success by
getting everyone involved early in the process
and getting them to participate in the shaping of
change initiatives. Making people feel included
can give them a sense of owning a new initiative,
even if it was invented elsewhere and initially
seems like a threat.
You need to educate your own people about the
nature of the change and help them develop skills
that will enable them to adapt to it. The new way
of working won't involve controlling the different
systems and processes in an organization. Rather,
it is about figuring out how to create something of
value from all of these different areas.
You also need to educate your users on the
business side about emerging digital trends
and opportunities to create value from them,
while offering them advice and guidance on
In short, because a digital transformation is more
cultural than technology, it requires everyone's
participation and support.
The new way of working won't involve
controlling the different systems
and processes in an organization,
but about figuring out how to create
something of value from all of these
AND WIN HEARTS
One effective way to gain this support is to tell
the stories of other companies that have been
through the process. There is no single path to a
successful digital transition. But you can look to
the experience of other organizations for insights
on what works and what doesn't. And stories of
those who have navigated the digital path lying
before you can help win the hearts and minds of
the people you are asking to accompany you on
In my experience, storytelling has always
been the best way to get people to think
differently and join the transformation process.
Giving people impressive statistics and
numbers can be effective. But stories of other
successful companies that have gone through
transformation have worked best for me.
At Sasol, we often talk about companies that
have re-imagined their operations and gone
digital, looking not only at their successes but
their stumbles along the way. Looking at areas
where others have failed, can give one key
insights on what not to do.
It's also important to realize that the
transformation doesn't have an endpoint. We
don't sit back after making a few changes.
We keep iterating to improve what we have.
Transformation is a constant state of evolution.
As well-known futurist Alvin Toffler wrote, "The
illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who
cannot read and write, but those who cannot
learn, unlearn, and relearn."
* Working at the pace of digital natives
requires a change in mind-set. That
means encouraging innovation at the
* Leading a digital transformation
requires instilling a sense of ownership
amongst everyone in the organization.
Encouraging people to participate early
on in the process helps them embrace
* Learning from other companies can be
an effective way to implement change.
For this, CIOs need to be able to
communicate with employees through
It's important to remember that you are
not alone. It's been helpful for us to realize
and remind ourselves that numerous other
companies like ours - with thousands of
employees, assets worth billions, and established
business models - are seeking the cultural
and mind-set shift needed to drive digital