It was Abraham Lincoln who said “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.
By Peter Lunio, Director
I have been doing some research for a social housing client which has meant reading a lot of corporate strategies and value for money statements from housing associations. The word that crops up time and time again is “transformation”, and it many cases preceded by the word “digital”.
It made me think as to whether all these transformations were reality or fantasy just like the rise of so called “fake news”. I am conscious that lots of things you read online especially in your social media feeds may appear to be true but often they might not always be as they first appear. For the most part they are intended to influence you to the writer’s noble position (just like this blog) but they can also cause confusion like being outside in the fog on a cold winter’s night!
How do you test whether an initiative is transformative? Here is my attempt to explain what it is, what it’s not, and how to spot the difference. I have leant heavily on the work of Emma Stace [Chief Digital Officer at the Department for Education], particularly her article titled “Transformation is not a programme” *
Many social housing organisations claim to be undertaking or are about to embark on some form of transformation.
In my experience, there are several misconceptions often surround business transformation in the social housing sector. These relate to the role of technology and the role of process in achieving meaningful change. Both are required to deliver better customer experience. But neither address everything that is necessary to provide real value to customers.
The first major misconception is that transformation is about technology. There is no doubt that many transformations include the use of new technologies. This is because isolated technology initiatives are not enough to deliver better customer experience alone. We leverage technology in conjunction with other strategies and shifts in thinking to satisfy customer needs.
The second major misconception is that transformation is about getting lean or going agile. While changing underlying processes is a necessary aspect of transformation, it should not be viewed as the primary reason for transforming. Investing in new technologies and improving process efficiency are important aspects of change, but they are not an end in themselves. How often do you hear that an association has gone digital by giving its housing management staff a tablet or a smartphone and then claim to be agile as well? At a high level, it takes changing a mindset, people, processes, technology, and measurement.
Five Tests of Transformation
So, if those misconceptions tell you what digital transformation is not, how can you tell what it is. Here’s my reality checklist for you:
- Is a positive view of the future – will it be engaging to your staff and welcomed by your customers? Or will they just see it as wolf in sheep’s clothing, some form of cost cutting exercise. If it is, then why not say so?
- Is it irreversible – to use a housing analogy, is this a repainting and repairing exercise or is it a complete overhaul through remodelling? If when your Grand Design is finished could you return to your old home? Probably not!
- Is it inconvenient – if you’ve watched Grand Designs then you know that for the next two years, you’ll have no heating, no carpets and dust everywhere? So, if it’s not messy or uncomfortable and everything appears straightforward then it’s probably not transformational.
- Is it cultural – it’s not just the infrastructure that changes? It’s mainly about your people and their skills and behaviours, from the executive team to the customer service advisor.
- Is it personal – “what am I going to do differently?’.
If read this article because your organisation is going through some change or transformation initiative, I wonder how many of the five tests did you tick or whether you still feel your organisational initiative is transformational.
When I was looking at some of transformation initiatives on your website, I figured that quite a few, linked to say channel shift and agile working could probably be rebranded as improvement or efficiency initiatives. I think very few would pass all five of my reality tests. Does it matter? Please let me know what you think! Please also get in touch if you would like some advice on establishing transformation programmes.