By Marne Martin, President of IFS Service Management
Service companies of all kinds understand that business-as-usual is no longer possible. Companies are therefore embracing technology at an ever-increasing rate to enable their business growth and a new way of engaging with customers, employees, and the burgeoning digital ecosystem. These technologies can be as simple as moving from pen and paper to Excel, or as complex as using one platform to do everything from digital marketing to managing technicians in the field, to billing. People and experiences are what we have always had—automation and efficiency are what most businesses want in this next phase of the service evolution.
Every company or business has a strategy, whether clearly articulated or not. Unfortunately, often the functions that are essential to achieving a transformation goal—IT, HR, finance, management—aren’t part of developing the strategy or testing whether it is clearly understood. The lack of a clear and unified strategy or a deficient strategy is an obvious mistake companies often make. Companies also often confuse goals with strategy. For instance, a drive to lower costs or improve customer experience is not in and of itself a strategy; it is a metric or a goal. Setting that strategy correctly is a necessary step from which you can focus on these three A’s: Adaptation, Adoption, and Agility.
To create an effective and functional strategy, it must be tied into the basics of how your company or business “wins” in its sector with your customers, and then what individuals are key to delivering on that strategy. For example, word-of-mouth recommendations and online reviews are a major source of these wins for small businesses. How best to deliver on the strategy then ties into your cash availability, organizational capabilities, competitive benchmarking, and innovation capacity within your business, your industry, and your customer base.
So let’s assume you have a strategy and are looking at how best to drive execution. I’ve found the most helpful way to think of this is in terms of adaptability. What we are really asking of our teams and our employees when we speak to change is something that most humans are very good at—adapting. We learn or refine new skills all the time, so adaptation—versus wholesale change—is more comfortable for us. When new technology or business possibilities present themselves, some more disruptive than others, it helps to frame the conversation around what we already know how to do, which is to adapt.
For SMBs, every employee’s seconds and minutes are critical, and many wear multiple hats. While change may be daunting, digital transformation is essential to not only getting through day-to-day, but also staying competitive in a crowded, service-oriented industry.
We are in an era where technology can improve core activities in a person’s life or their business. But we see adoption often lag or plateau because change is forced rather than built upon the current state, and then coaching your employees together through an adaption phase to the “new normal.” For SMBs, every employee’s seconds and minutes are critical, and many wear multiple hats. While change may be daunting, digital transformation is essential to not only getting through day-to-day but also staying competitive in a crowded, service-oriented industry.
Driving adaptation is much like writing a book. You have a throughline, and the book evolves chapter by chapter. In my opinion, it is better to divide up stages (or chapters) with measured success and key learnings rather than pretending that adaptation isn’t a lifelong initiative for each of us or our businesses. Ultimately, businesses may remake themselves several times along this path of adaptation, but it is a journey of a thousand steps.
Taking an approach of adaptation also sets the mindset for companies to not only set targets for the chapter they are in, but also recognize that their story will evolve page by page — and therefore they have the flexibility to learn from data points along the way with regard to talent, culture, customers, organizational design, and technology. There is a willingness to learn from what is working and what isn’t when the mantra is adaptation.
The Value of an Adaptive Approach
By employing an approach of adaptation, you lessen the fear of failure with more digestible goals and strategies for each division of your business. This ties in with the need to map the explicit goals (and track the implicit ones) in each stage or chapter of the journey.
Remember that the adoption ecosystem not only includes your employees, but also your customers and any partners. Training the trainer might be efficient, but end user adoption is the holy grail of whether your transformation journey will achieve its desired results or not.
With an adaptation approach to demystify and simplify the transformation journey, the focus moves to driving adoption through partnering, training, acting on feedback, and defining metrics to monitor progress (or lack of it). Adoption is the number one determinant of success, yet often companies don’t put appropriate measures in place so that they can track it. Companies have great intentions, but often action ends up more limited. It is all too easy to get absorbed in the day-to-day reality of running a business and forget that adoption is the only way a project can be successful — so it is ultimately the MOST critical metric for success. Remember that the adoption ecosystem not only includes your employees but also your customers and any partners. Training the trainer might be efficient, but end-user adoption is the holy grail of whether your transformation journey will achieve its desired results or not.
For successful adoption to occur, training can’t be something that is done for a week or two once every three years, or just for new hires. Adoption typically has plateaued to it, so it is the job of everyone driving strategy execution to continue monitoring this and make adoption a measure of success in your daily focus. There are tools that can be really helpful to see how new software is being embraced and used. Inspect what you expect and make everyone a partner in how you can get value out of your technology and the expertise within your company. Lastly, be sure to reward adoption, not just hope to get it.
While your overall strategy should be clearly defined, we all know that most roads to a result are not straight lines. Companies with digital transformation initiatives that succeed do so because the people and leaders involved respond to feedback and inflection points along the journey rather than ignore those data points in an effort to stay focused only on the “end game.”
Finally, with a solid strategy in place, an adaptive approach, and a good handle on adoption, consider agility. In today’s competitive landscape, agility is imperative because none of us have a crystal ball. Be focused on the result but allow the flexibility to be agile in ways that people understand and recognize that agility requires problem-solving skills and at least some creativity in your organization.
While your overall strategy should be clearly defined, we all know that most roads to a result are not straight lines. Companies with digital transformation initiatives that succeed do so because the people and leaders involved respond to feedback and inflection points along the journey rather than ignore those data points in an effort to stay focused only on the “end game.” Agility means that you course correct and stay flexible while keeping your eye on the prize of why you are adapting and working with your teams to adopt new technology in the first place.
Successful digital transformation doesn’t need to be elusive; thinking of it in terms of these three As — Adaptation, Adoption, and Agility — can be quite helpful in achieving results for your service organization.