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Why Digital Transformation Requires a Cultural Transformation

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Jose Pires
Jose Pires


Companies looking for the next level of operational improvement often turn to technology. But technology alone will not produce a step change in performance. That’s because digital transformation has to be underpinned by changes to behaviors and organizational culture, says Jose Pires, Founder and CEO of advisory firm Global Excellence & Innovation.

“Sometimes we’re trying to operate the old way with new platforms,” he says. “We need to adapt our ways of working to these new platforms to get to the next level of engagement, collaboration, and productivity.”

In this interview, Pires discusses how we need to move beyond “connected workers” to “collaborative workers,” why cultural transformation underpins digital transformation success, and what it takes to move beyond mediocrity to the next level of performance.

(First published February 2022, Industrial Transformation Network.)

Diana Davis, Oil and Gas IQ: Why do you think there's so much interest in connected workers and digital transformation right now?

Jose Pires:  We were forcibly separated from each other in the pandemic. Technology helped us stay connected during a time of incredible change and disruption.

The pandemic sparked a tremendous acceleration and innovation of technology on culture, business, and digital transformation.

I think we realized that we could increase the level of connection that we have with the technological capabilities of today. Imagine what the impact of the pandemic would have been on personal and professional relationships if we didn’t have the means of communicating and connecting like we do today.

Diana Davis, Oil and Gas IQ: What kind of benefits can companies expect to see from a digital transformation strategy?

Jose Pires: I think before the pandemic, there was greater resistance to adopting these technologies because you had to modify the way you do things and people didn’t understand the capabilities that these technologies bring. When the pandemic hit, the immediate benefit was business continuity. You continued to have the ability to operate and do most of the things you were doing before.

But that immediate business need has led to a change in how companies see these technologies.

For example, at some of the organizations that I work with, senior leaders weren’t always comfortable in using digital technology for communication. The feeling was that they didn't know how to use it.

Now, they’re realizing that by leveraging these technologies they can connect not only to other leadership to continue their business and operations, but they can also be more inclusive and connect to workers beyond the corporate headquarters.

The advantage of this is that we can include people in the conversation that we couldn’t include before. This has leveled the playing field from an inclusion standpoint. That is quite positive.

We have more professionals who can access each other more often and more frequently because we’ve removed physical barriers. We also have greater acceptance - especially from senior leaders - of using new types of media to communicate.

Having said all this, I feel that sometimes we’re trying to operate the old way with new platforms.

We need to adapt our ways of working to these new platforms to get to the next level of engagement, collaboration, and productivity.

The next level up is not about technology. The next level is what I what I call the collaborative worker.

Technology does a good job in allowing us to connect. But we have a deficiency in general collaborative leadership skills. Now it’s up to us – not the technology – to better use these systems to collaborate.

This is an important point. We’ve worked with hundreds of organizations and have seen that there is a need for an evolution from connected worker to collaborative worker.

That means we need collaborative leadership. So, what is collaborative leadership?

Collaborative leadership requires that we surround ourselves with people from different perspectives who can disagree with us without fear of retaliation. It means we have established a clear and common purpose for our journey together.  

Diana Davis, Oil and Gas IQ: Could give an example of what you mean? What does collaborative leadership look like?

Jose Pires: You can see examples of what it isn’t at most organizations daily. One example is a meeting where it’s unclear what the goal is. What is my role in that meeting? What is the purpose? What are we trying to achieve?

This is a very small, but important example. I call them Groundhog Day meetings because, they repeat themselves over and over and over, and you feel stuck and ineffective.

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