Seeking guidance in digital transformation?

If your digital transformation is going swimmingly, this series is not for you.

By Konstantin Popov and George Schlitz

This is the first in a series about successful digital transformation. Part 1 explores some of the challenges facing digital and agile transformations everywhere and how the metaphor of Lady Justice might provide a guide for success. Subsequent parts weave together the aspects of Lady Justice that result in the capabilities we need to succeed. 

Digital transformation is everywhere, and though it is needed to survive today, it’s not so easy to achieve.  The sheer number of approaches available (multiple “agile” methods, lean approaches to innovation and improvement, new paradigms in leadership and culture change, and the like) might make one think that we should be tackling this transformation challenge successfully. Companies should be evolving, adapting, and outmaneuvering those disruptive threats fueled by digital technology. But are they? Our experience is that many are not – not as much as they should or could be.  Many of these wonderful new ways of working are beginning to look like fads, the same way that improvement fads of the past looked. Making matters worse, unexpected events like the COVID pandemic exposed the fragility of organizations.

Unfortunately the meaning, intent, and essence of agility has been diluted. Though there have been many successes, these are generally point successes or localized in pockets of large companies whether in one business unit or on one team. Examples of significant business impact and truly successful digital transformation are much rarer than we would expect given the effort that’s been put into them. For many companies, it is more of the same that they’ve experienced in past change efforts, perhaps with a different set of buzz words.

What’s missing is a way to simplify digital transformation that preserves principles of success (e.g. business agility and lean thinking), enables effective decision making, and fosters continuous learning in order to effect lasting change.  A force to bring focus and accountability by doing only the work required to build the specific capabilities needed to deliver the transformation outcomes.

To the Rescue

Where might we find a metaphor of a force capable of establishing a clear, shared understanding of digital transformation and how to stay true to such principles when there is so much complexity? We searched high and low and found one example of such a force. Lady Justice who has served as a symbol and lighthouse for the judicial system over centuries and to a countless number of situations is that example. As an exercise, we explored how Lady Justice might teach us about succeeding with digital transformation and business agility.

“Lady Justice is an allegoricalpersonification of the moral force in judicial systems. Her attributes are a blindfold, a beam balance, and a sword. She often appears as a pair with Prudentia, who holds a mirror and a snake.”

Source: Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Justice

How justice and digital capability are similar

Every day, businesses are faced with challenges of similar magnitude to what Lady Justice is faced with daily. She needs to fairly and effectively apply the law in order to make decisions in a manner that maximizes justice. Businesses need to effectively apply principles of agility and digital technology in order to make decisions in a manner that maximizes successful business outcomes.

Though there are differences between the two situations, there are many similarities. Both are incredibly complex with an unlimited number of different kinds of people, business environments and scenarios. Both are impacted by and must deal with the increasing amount of change occurring today. Both require application of principles in many different contexts, and both require decisions that optimize the right goals without sacrificing their principles and values.

Lady Justice is a metaphor that works in the achievement of justice. Let’s explore its applicability to digital transformation in a bit more detail.

Comparison – the six aspects of Lady Justice

There are six important, obvious aspects of Lady Justice: her blindfold, scales, book, snake, sword, and toga. These have important meanings individually, and in how they interact. While we will briefly introduce each here, we will dive into more details in subsequent articles.

Blindfold    

“The blindfold represents objectivity and impartiality, that justice should be meted out without fear or favor, regardless of money, wealth, or power.”

Just like Lady Justice is impartial in her judgment, leaders must make impartial business decisions that create value for customers (and shareholders), empower diverse employees, and deliver on customer commitments. To do so, they will have to put aside biases, self-serving goals, and anti decision-making tactics that are so common in our everyday lives.

When starting a transformation effort, we need to start with impartiality and objective consideration of ‘why’ we are transforming. Biases, misaligned goals, personal agendas, the highest paid person’s opinion, the desire for consensus, organizational silos, and even processes can create distractions from our purpose – at best causing delay, and at worst causing catastrophe. Impartiality and clarity of purpose help us overcome these distractions.

Scales and Sword

These two aspects represent a dichotomy of decisions and action.

Scales

“She holds scales to represent the weighing of evidence, evidence must be weighed on its own merit.”

Avoiding bias and having clear purpose are important but being able to make good decisions in a timely manner goes far beyond that. There are many things that can tip the scale and complicate decision making. Will this initiative or product deliver shareholder value? Are your customers delighted? Are your employees engaged and motivated? What does the community in which you operate say about you? Are there other measures in place that make the right decision more difficult to make?

Today more than ever, we have to make decisions with “good enough” data. In transformation, it is easy to fall victim to analysis paralysis, so we need to find a place to start that is less than ideal and less than certain and leave room to pivot as we learn from experience.

Finally, to enable better decision making, we can interpret real results, information and data by (1) applying purpose, principles, values and shared goals, (2) considering potential results and consequences, and (3) avoiding biases, orthodoxies, and groupthink.

Sword

“The sword represents punishment, signifying that justice can be swift and final. She holds the sword below the scales to show that evidence weighted on its merit in a court of law comes before punishment.”

In transformation, the sword may represent commitment to action and outcomes. Decisions must be prompt and translated to action quickly. Today, the only way to determine if our decisions are good ones is to take action and learn from the results.

Real Action versus Going Through the Motions

When there isn’t ‘real’ action, fragile implementation of the new ways occurs – sometimes referred to as ‘lipstick on a pig’ – as we have only implemented the appearance of new ways of working, not really changed how we work. 

Courageous, Informed Action

In order to survive, we must develop the confidence and courage to act with ‘good enough’ information at hand. While this may not be easy, by clarifying our goals and staying true to principles, it will get easier.

Purposeful Action

It is easy to decide to change just because others are doing so, because it is in vogue or just because the process description said so. By ensuring our actions tie to our purpose, we introduce only changes that will deliver valuable outcomes.

Snake and Book

“The snake under her foot represents evil, and lies, and the book is the law, the constitution from which justice is administered.” 

Snake

Digital transformation is fraught with challenges, risks, and danger. Resistance comes in many forms, such as misaligned goals and personal agendas which complicate planning and strengthen siloes. Unqualified and/or diverse sources of guidance confuses people and teams trying to adopt new ways of working. Conflicting culture and biases make it nearly impossible to behave in new ways. Finally, what’s made us successful in the past can be comforting and provide us with an ’easy way out’ while sweeping big problems under the carpet that need to be addressed.

Book

The book represents learning and is thecollection of knowledge and generally accepted truths. The book also represents procedure, process, and proven practice. It is used with the scales to determine how to weigh the pros and cons of decisions. 

Remember that things change all the time, so we must continuously expand upon and improve our practice, process and knowledge. Interpretation may change over time as new precedents are established in the legal system. This is a continuous feedback/learning cycle resulting in additions and changes – the continuous codification of learning at any time.

Toga – Wrapping it all up

Toga The Greco-Roman garment symbolizes the status of the philosophical attitude that embodies justice

The toga may represent the personal imperative to change our ways. It is the mindsets we have to adopt and the transformation we have gone through ourselves in order to behave in new ways.  Leaders (and in this case, a leader can be just about anyone) in the digital age must wear very new clothing and act in different ways. We must all “opt in” to being different.

Like new clothing – the new mindsets, behaviors, and skills may be uncomfortable in the beginning.  They may not fit perfectly or they may not feel as comfortable as our old clothes. By sticking with them, they will loosen up and we will get used to them, and become as comfortable as we were before in time and hopefully far more effective. 

The toga is particularly important for leaders to demonstrate to your people that your behaviors have changed is one of the surest ways to effect lasting change.

Close for the moment

Lady Justice provides an interesting metaphor by which to examine digital transformation, agility, and leadership. In times of constant and rapid change, when there are conflicting sources of guidance and an endless flood of new technology, having a single source of clarity can be invaluable. 

 Just as Lady Justice operates across many courtrooms every day, objectively and effectively applying the law and making decisions, we need to find a transformation model that combines similar aspects to enable us to continuously drive change and adapt a new way of working across all levels of the organization.

Whether you are initiating a new digital transformation or in the middle of one, learning about agility or an experienced practitioner, in a small company or a massive enterprise, remember Lady Justice in times of confusion. She just might offer the kind of advice and clarity you need. Join us in Part 2 when we will deepen the metaphor to expose how Lady Justice combines for massive transformational effect.