Martin Wassell

Group Managing Director

  • Future State Technology
  • Innovation
  • Covid-19
  • Crisis Optimisation

01 Jul, 2020

Transformation And Crisis

The COVID-19 crisis has taught us a great deal about how organisations metabolize disruption and evolving. What we are learning right now should change the way we think about digital transformation.

For decades, many organisations approached ‘Digital’, in the abstract, as a means of augmenting or refining existing business processes. In a lot of ways, this made sense – back when digital technology was less widely adopted and less mature, the effects that simply introducing this or that new platform or process ahead of your competitors was often profound. When it came to ‘Digital Transformation’, the operative word seemed to be ‘Digital’.

But even before the crisis forced us all into largely improvised digital workplaces, this dynamic was changing. The tools and platforms associated with digital have become ubiquitous and accessible. The technology sector itself has largely matured and consequently, technology-in-and-of-itself has ceased to be a sufficient point of differentiation or competitive advantage.

In a world where technology is ubiquitous, the relative importance of ‘Digital’ falls away. It becomes a given. Today the battlefield has shifted to less easily defined areas: culture, mindset and, above all, people.

With this transition towards people-centric transformation in mind, the COVID-19 crisis reveals a great deal about how different organizations have approached Digital Transformation. Organisations fall into one of three camps with respect to Digital Transformation and their capacity to deal with this crisis.

The Three Approaches to Digital Transformation

There are those that have long been hostile to the idea of digital transformation, new technologies and new ways of working. Generally speaking, these sorts of organisations were already in decline, losing out as their more progressive competitors began to see a return on their investments in technology and innovation. Amid the crisis, their lack of digital ways of working could still prove devastating.

Then there are those organisations who may have gone through a period, or even several periods, of Digital Transformation but failed to dissolve the transformation process itself into the culture. These organisations were perhaps too preoccupied with the ‘Digital’ within Digital Transformation – for them, the fundamental question has been “how do I use digital to do exactly what I do but better/faster/cheaper?”. So, in what had been a very buoyant business climate, these organizations may have performed well. Digital tools and platforms may already have been in use across the organization. And yet, for these organizations, the COVID-19 crisis reveals the limits of being progressive with respect to technology deployment while adopting a conservative approach to purpose, culture, and organizational design. In never having used technology to question the fundamental nature of the business, these organizations are still ill-suited to adapt to sudden and dramatic change – and less suited still to seeing the hidden opportunities that (always) accompany change.

The third and final group of organisations are the Transformation True Believers. These are organisations, who grasped the importance of allying technology solutions to a broader transformation agenda. They never had any intention of using technology to simply “do things better” – they saw that the prize was to “do things differently”. Because of this insight, these organisations forewent the comfort of a status quo and embraced cultures of constant change. By the time the COVID-19 crisis hit, employees of these organisations were likely already familiar with working in loosely networked, remote teams and to were poised not just to adapt but to use the crisis as a spur to innovate further. Where the second group of organisations sees transformation as a process, this group understands that it is a critical capability.

The Ghost of Business Future

The way we have been forced to work – remote, networked, autonomous – bears a close resemblance to the much-discussed Future of Work. It is the product of accelerated trends that we may have only just began to reckon with.

And so, for most organizations, the past four months have been a sort of nightmare in which they glimpse the future and realize, in no uncertain terms, that they are not prepared. It has been a visit from the Ghost of Business Future. Some have been validated. Most have been rightly terrified.

How do you respond? At Chaucer, we are helping organisations use this crisis to stimulate genuine, incidentally digital, business transformations. If we can understand how and why an organisation has changed through this crisis then we can generate uniquely powerful insights that will help establish radical, genuine, and lasting change. This is the work of Crisis Optimisation.

As the world slowly, tentatively, exits lockdown it is tempting to simply pick up where we left off – to convince ourselves it was all a bad dream and disregard any clues the crisis may have given us as to our organizations future.

Do not look away.

This crisis has taken us all out of our comfort zones – but if we retreat into the false certainty of a dead status quo we will be missing out on an incredible opportunity. Organisations need to learn how to get comfortable in the uncomfortable; to learn from this crisis and to take transformation to heart.

Find out more about how Crisis Optimisation can help your organisation here

Martin Wassell

Group Managing Director

Martin has been navigating business' through transformation and innovation for over 25 years and has been Managing Director of Chaucer for the past 8 years, driving the business and it's clients through their own transformations. He has seen first hand the impact digital transformation can have on clients, their employees and even wider society when it succeeds.

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