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Digital transformation isn’t about technological change, it’s about a cultural one

17 Dec 2019
Ellie Sugrue

Ellie Sugrue

Head of Future Operations, Vodafone Business

It has been 21 years since the Chief Digital Officer at Alpha Health Group, Géraldine Maouchi, first explored the concept of technology driven transformation, long before it became a fashionable term.

Yet, it was not until recently that she decided that the future meant moving away from traditional models to a hybrid of old and new, with people at the centre.

This shift towards a focus on culture, before technology, instantly rang true with the transformation we are undergoing in Vodafone Business.

That is why I was delighted to join Géraldine at the European Women in Technology summit to discuss how businesses can shift to a transformation mindset.

Ellie at the event

Building the business case

Most businesses recognise the importance of a mindset that’s fit for the future, but making this transition can be difficult.

To be successful, change must be the overarching focus of the company rather than just a side project. And to implement something at scale you need to a strong case for the business and an even stronger vision for the team.

This is something our team knows well. It has been four years now since Gary Adey, then Director of Operations at Vodafone Business, convinced the board of his ambitious plan to challenge everything we knew about people, processes and culture to start afresh.

There were certainly challenges along the way, but the key to momentum was a clear vision, a ‘North Star’ that pulled us through. The ‘North Star' was bigger than revenue performance or KPIs, it was about becoming fit for the digital world ahead of us.

This was a vision that people could believe in, commit to and take pride in.

Making the pivot to agile

The most important point Géraldine and I agreed on was that your people need to come with you on this journey.

In other words, you cannot implement process definitions from the top down and hope it will all be ok. It is imperative that you also invest in the right digital environment to enable the culture you want to create.

That is why, when deciding on what technology to implement, we looked first for what could best improve the user experience.

How could we reduce the number of screens required per person, and the number of clicks it takes to access the system to solve a problem? Importantly, we designed these solutions with the people who run those processes every day.

Decisions like this prove your intent. It proves that this is about real change, together: not just another action from head office that signals bad news.

During the event, attendees were eager to know just how easy the transition to agile is. The truth is, it usually isn’t.

In fact, in the beginning our stakeholders had, what I would call, an allergic reaction to agile.

But as we began to sift through the teething problems that arose, it became clear that the pace of agile actually gave us space to identify issues and course correct.

This flexibility also allowed us to present back to the business in quarterly cycles, maintaining confidence and demonstrating progress.

Every transformation starts with people

On the day, the audience were surprised to hear that our employee engagement scores actually increased year on year during those early stages of change. How was that possible?

We realised early in the planning process that happy people would mean happy customers, and we invested in that belief. This meant the first step was creating an internal brand to help outstanding people to stand out.

With the help of a creative agency the team rebranded as “The Red Line,” with distinctive imagery, social media hashtags and even giant banners across our offices. And at each milestone in the journey we celebrated success.

This was the most vital message we wanted to share during the conference - that no matter how much technology you implement, it always comes back to people.

People are behind any technology that changes the workplace, people are behind the ideas and people will be behind future transformations.

I really enjoyed the opportunity to share our experiences. But even more importantly it helped me reflect on how far we’ve come, and how far we can still go.

Building a new employee identity isn’t easy, but here are three lessons we learned from building a company culture that might help your journey.

Ellie and Geraldine

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