Most organizations lack of a deep understanding of what “digital transformation” actually means, and how to go about it successfully, says Khalil Bawar, speaker at the upcoming Intrapreneurship Conference Vienna.

Why is that, and what’s a better way?


Khalil Bawar, Navigationlab

“From what I’ve observed these last years in Germany and Switzerland, a lot of companies are sending top management to Silicon Valley ,Tel Aviv, Berlin – all the top startup hotspots around the world, to get a feel for the culture and atmosphere where-in digital transformation really happens.

The expectation of the company is that they spend money on an incubator and invest time to work with these startups to learn how creative they are, from which they benefit.

But it might not surprise you that this doesn’t work. For any real change to occur, you have to engage fully- immerse yourself in the new. Allowing your employees to wear t-shirts t work misses the entire point if your goal is cultural transformation of the company itself.

Many big companies here in Germany have their headquarters in Western Germany, often in smaller cities that are simply out of touch with the innovative hotspots. The problem with this is that they won’t learn how to be innovative personally, first hand. The daily travel alone would be too much of an obstacle.

So, most employees in these companies don’t actually experience the different culture and the opportunities. To the contrary: all they “get” are the top-down revisions, such as cost cutting, layoffs, and so on, all perceived as the inevitable negative consequences of digital transformation.

When trying to make their organizations fit for the future, management often falls back on traditional methods and tools that are learned, for instance, from an MBA or other higher business education- techniques that are frankly out-of-date and retro-negative.

I’m not saying there isn’t a great deal to be gained from high education, but when companies try to turn toward fostering creativity and innovation, many of the old models fall short.

Digital transformation is not only about new tools, great service, competition, and so on – it’s about fundamental changes in mindset and culture.

And it has to start at the top: executives need make the first step and lead the way for any company to truly reflect on their current models and approaches. When the board doesn’t support these changes, the efforts are generally useless.

At the same time, you can’t look to your management and wait for them. Especially if you’re working in innovation and other forward-looking roles, you always need to first look to the person in the mirror, look inside, and find out what you need to change yourself.”

 

We all know and and agree culture is crucial. But how to make culture change tangible and real, so that you can consciously change it?

“I recently worked with a gas company and initially, they had no idea what was wrong in the organization. They had a few numbers for me, which was what they thought I’d need to address their issues.

Rather, I began my observations of the company routines.

What quickly became apparent was that a lot of people spent their time in meetings, at least 4 hours a day, and even breaks were about business.

A few good meetings did happen, where everyone was on the same page, but most were totally useless. Just wasting time. Most people tend to use these meetings to just check their phones.

So I suggested: how about you take these meetings off the table and take an hour instead to work on creative projects – how to make business better, what inhibits productivity, examining underlying (and often unquestioned) rules & policy and what they actually contribute to the company.

Another observation: everyone came and left at exactly the same time every single day. So I asked them to change that up and see what happened. The common objection was incredulity, that ‘it’s just not done!’ They couldn’t conceive of it. If they are late, the perception is that they must not want to work here and they certainly won’t get a promotion.

This blew my mind because they didn’t see how subtly but completely entrenched this idea was, as though it actually mattered. This was a totally unexamined concept that determined powerful value judgements in the company. The bottom-line is that employees are all too often required to waste their time.

In this example, management had an insistent feeling that they had an issue but couldn’t really define and pin down what it was – there simply weren’t enough numbers to really quantify the problem for them.

And that’s where the culture issue comes in. It’s about how employees talk to each other, how management talks to employees, the relationship between the worker’s council and board and so on – all issues of separation and hierarchy.

All these things describe a corporate culture yet often they are very hard to quantify. And so nothing is done and things get worse.”

 

What’s the role of intrapreneurs in all of this?

“In my experience, so many people are just waiting for their chance. Waiting for their companies to catch up with these changes – the new paradigms, and evolving business models. They’re waiting for the day they can come to work and realize the value of their ideas and creativity.

People inside and out of any given company realize a change is happening. When a tipping point is reached, the whole organization, and others in touch with it, develop new campaigns and concepts toward innovation.

In my view, only intrapreneurs can create this moment – and that is why opportunities to learn how to do that and network with each other, like the Intrapreneurship Conference, are so important.”

 

How does NavigationLab help companies with innovation and digital transformation?

“We combine spaces, both human and company, to create a unique environment for each company to allow them and the internal entrepreneurs already there to really flourish. We give them the space to develop, and sometimes fail!

A very important fact is that innovation doesn’t happen at all without learning and growing through mistakes and failures. For example, we often work with employees that have been with a company for ten to twenty years.

One of the most common things we hear is: ‘Wow, that’s the first time I’ve been able to do what I’ve always wanted to, but we’ve never been allowed – thank you so much.’

Without doubt, that is one of the most rewarding aspects of my career with NavigationLab. They also have a strong personal touch as well. I’m one of the relatively new people but even so I had a deal set up with my supervisors: that I get to fulfill one of my lifelong dreams – being a part of a U.S. Presidential campaign. So I took my holidays and sabbath time and worked three months in Cleveland, Ohio for the Hillary Clinton Campaign. It was an incredible time and I met so many amazing people. I am incredibly thankful that my company supports me so much.”