Which Comes First Technology or Transformation?

November 16, 2021 Staff Writer

Do your eyes glaze over every time you hear the words “digital transformation”? Are you sure what “digital transformation” is? Are you concerned that increasing your technology investments will explode your budget? Do you hope a small increase in technology will solve your problems?

These are all great questions, and they are important to the future of your association. But why is this important? Here’s a little about the necessity of digital transformation from our research:

 The recent McKinsey Global Survey on digital strategy shows that the pandemic has increased the rate at which companies (and associations) are adopting technology and that it has forced them to reconsider technology’s role in their overall business strategies. That’s the source of the pressure you’re feeling to buy new technology.

The study goes on to reveal that companies reporting better overall technology capabilities, talent, leadership, and resources are also reporting better economic outcomes. You might wonder what you should do if you don’t fit into this leading-edge group. How can you compete?

Finally, more than half of respondents said their companies are using technology to differentiate themselves from the competition. Another substantial percentage said they plan to increase revenues with innovation – selling products and services that don’t exist today. It’s becoming clear that leaders can no longer operate without a digital frame of reference.

That’s the essence of digital transformation – creating an association that is digitally savvy and makes decisions based on its ability to serve its customers (or members) with effective digital strategies.

 Does that mean you should double your IT staff and invest in all the tech you don’t already have? That would be a simple answer. We would argue that before you hire anyone or spend a dime on new technology, you need to address the “transformation” portion of this concept.

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Technology itself is the easy part. In reviewing the literature on digital transformation, we noticed general agreement around four main tech categories:

  •     Cloud
  •     Data Analytics
  •     Mobile
  •     Social

We’d like to add three more to that list:

  •     Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  •     Internet of Things (IoT)
  •     Web

 But, as we said earlier, technology shouldn’t be your first focus. Creating a customer-centric focus throughout your association should be, and that might necessitate changes to your culture. A recent article in MIT Sloan Management Review challenged: “Get away from silo thinking … Focusing on the technology can direct aspirations toward what technology can do, rather than what a transformed business should look like.”

To create a transformed business, we would assert that you don’t need a technology strategy; you need an organizational strategy that incorporates technology. Your strategy should focus on the capabilities offered by technology to make life easier for your staff, members, and other audiences.

You need to push yourself to understand what your audiences are really after – their needs, the personal and professional challenges they face every day, the goals they’re trying to achieve. Only then can you think intelligently about how technology might make those life events easier for them to accomplish.

Before you can think about your audiences, however, you need to understand your existing culture. We think the core unit of culture analysis is not values, beliefs, or even behaviors; it is your culture pattern. Your culture is made up of patterns that define what is valued inside the culture, which then drives behavior.

For example, most association cultures claim to embrace the concept of innovation, things like creativity and future-focus, without really valuing the practice of innovation, things like risk-taking and experimentation. That pattern (concepts over practices) is a key reason why innovation doesn’t happen, even when we claim to want it and value it, and why digital transformation initiatives fail.

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If you want to be successful in digital transformation, you must discover the culture patterns in your association and adjust those that aren’t helping. How?

We recommend three steps:

  1.     Define the current state. Be clear-eyed and acknowledge how your association really operates.
  1.     Understand the culture patterns that are slowing you down. What worked before is not working now, because the ecosystem in which your association operates has changed, yet the old patterns persist.
  1.     Write up what we call your “culture plays” in a culture playbook. Identify the specific processes, structures, and behaviors that need to change to solve the problems you identified and to generate better results.

This work is not only change management; it’s culture management. We think you must transform your association before you begin thinking about the technology that will assist your efforts to become truly customer centric.

You may be able to do this work within your team, but you may also need some background information about the process. We recommend “The No BS Guide to Digital Transformation” written by PROPEL’s Maddie Grant and Elizabeth Weaver Engel of Spark Consulting.

This guide can help you start thinking about how your association can use technology to better serve your members, customers, and other constituents. It’s packed with information but also has a sense of humor. We think you’ll find the case studies particularly helpful.

If you need more hands-on guidance, we’re here to help. You can reach us any time at PROPEL.

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