As managing partner at Baker Tilly, I’ve spent over two decades helping organizations modernize legacy business models. It’s my job to lead my team through constant change, to bring new technological innovation to our clients, and to hopefully always be three steps ahead of a prospective problem our clients might have.
Working in the consulting space for twenty-four years has also made it abundantly clear that what we provide as consultants and technologists can be a very scary proposition for our clients. We are usually met with equal parts fear and excitement.
When we talk about technological innovation like artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, organizations that haven’t focused on creating a culture of innovation and leadership-level transparency can be at risk of creating unnecessary obstacles with long-term consequences. No one wants to be replaced by a machine, and if someone within an organization is already framing a technological transformation this way, the plot has already been lost.
I don’t think we always credit our mid-management and frontline team members with being able to understand, interpret, and articulate the “why” behind digitization and how it connects to a better future for everyone. Individuals who are most responsible for cascading and creating acceptance around purposeful change are often the people who are most removed from the kind of ownership that is necessary to make it happen.
In my experience, organizations can often be too concerned that employees can’t handle change before even giving them the opportunity to participate, buy in, and help be part of the solution. Creating successful change starts with creating a culture of not being afraid to be clear about where a mission is headed. Leadership must be more thoughtful and transparent about how to approach that “why” to construct a culture of curiosity, one that is not simply unafraid but rather motivated by change.
In approaching AI and automation, like any significant revolution, there’s an essential reframe that needs to take place. How do we, as leaders, help our people think about their role in helping to be change agents, catalysts for the process, and embracing of the process?
In my experience, if you ask people what dissatisfies them about their job, it’s very likely you’re going to hear about predictability and mundanity. Our people aren’t getting the chance to learn new skills, and they’re simply not engaged. Introducing technological change is attacking those things that people inherently don’t like to do anyway. Why fear getting rid of the parts of the job that we dislike?
The Great Reframe
This shift helps our people create relevance and ownership in their roles and elevates the way they create context and purpose for what they do. To evolve expectations, we must start with the confines that person has had placed on them within their role. How can we help create multiple skill sets within our people that make them adaptable for whatever the future may bring? But I think this can go further.
Shifting expectations can be more profound here. How do we help people understand that their job is just part of their role? I don’t mean this in a way that lumps more work upon them. It’s how they view their role in their organizations. Every person should be able to see themselves as project managers within the work they are doing, whatever their role.
Both leadership and consultants can be too quick to jump to the task at hand when it comes to transformation. We jump to the shiny new business analytic capability or new goal setting system before we take a step back and understand the expectations that guide the process. You cannot implement any significant change without understanding the culture in which you’re operating.
These are large, squishy issues that require more than a new database or enterprise resource planning tool. The implementation may be a technological one, but, like most things, lasting change comes down to people.
Look for more from me on culture building, digitization, organizational optimization, project management, and other business transformation insights from my nearly a quarter century in consulting. Change shouldn’t be terrifying. And it doesn’t have to be.
Ann Blakely is the managing partner of the Baker Tilly Digital practice, a management consulting group focused on modernizing legacy business models with intelligent digital solutions. Her superpower is demystifying the digital journey for her clients and empowering them to deliver game-changing efficiencies and better customer experiences that produce positive results for years to come.