Written by Graham Darracott | UK
on June 01, 2021

I need to reach out to you here. I’m looking for you to circle back on the net-new. Our digital transformation process needs to be industrial strength. It’s the only way I’m going to move the needle today. You’re responsible for that empowerment. And please, do it with passion.

Or in other words – go and get me a triple espresso. I’ve got a stinking hangover and need a serious caffeine fix if I’m going to get anything done today.

Don’t you just love jargon? 😊 I’m exaggerating to make a point of course: digital transformation is absolutely critical to the future success of most companies. As long as they can figure out what the term actually means!

What does digital transformation mean?

Let me give you an example. As part of my preparation for this article, I first interviewed a global strategy chief for one of the UK’s biggest public companies and asked them what ‘digital transformation’ meant. From her perspective, it was a technical term that only applied to large scale companies. She saw it as a root and branch review of global business processes with the objective of automating everything through AI.

I then chatted to a chap who runs a smaller, specialist online retailer and asked him the same question. For him digital transformation was back-office technology that would help him close his high street stores and go online only.

So, two fairly different ideas about what digital transformation means, even if they did have a common theme of integrating new technology.

But that was just the highlight reel. When I asked them about other terms they used that related to digital transformation, everything started to quickly unravel and turn into a confusing mess – a little like what happens after a mischievous puppy sees a fresh toilet roll.

Here are a few examples where my interviewees either diverged wildly on definitions or couldn’t supply a convincing answer:

  • The difference between CX and UX
  • AI vs. machine learning vs. big data
  • Omnichannel vs. multichannel
  • Customer-centric vs. customer-driven
  • IT Transformation vs. digital transformation
  • Collaboration vs. co-creation
  • Analytics vs. insights
  • Enterprise level vs. future-proof
  • And my favourite … outcomes vs. objectives

However, they both used most of those terms to try and explain what digital transformation meant.

So what, you might say. Who cares about the odd word salad getting tossed around? You have to be good at jargon to get along in the modern business world, right? It is what it is.

The problem, and it’s a big one, is that unclear terms can lead to confusion and paralysis. And that’s the last thing you need when it comes to digital transformation.

Image designed and created by Rita Prota, Account Manager, UP THERE, EVERYWHERE.


Defining exactly what you mean

Nothing is more important to get right. Nothing is changing the business landscape more quickly. Nothing is going to make more of a difference to success or failure in the post-pandemic world.

You have to be clear and concise about what digital transformation means to you and how it needs to be delivered.

If you think I’m over-egging that particular pudding, I can assure you I’m not. In 1944, the CIA released a document called ‘The Simple Sabotage Field Manual’. It was designed to help the resistance in occupied territories of Europe slow the Nazis down — not by taking pot shots at them with grandad’s blunderbuss from behind a bombed-out church, but by holding long meetings instead. The CIA’s advice was that if you want to ruin an efficient machine, talk as often as possible at great length, and use confusing language.

To bring it a little more up to date, the UK Government has put a lot of time and effort into defining how to communicate simply and clearly.

Their research shows that 80% of people preferred clear, simple English: especially experts in complex fields.

Now all they have to do, is somehow communicate that recommendation to the world’s politicians!

Recent research by MIT and Harvard Business Review draws a similar conclusion, but from a different angle – one I think is hugely important to company culture and productivity.

Their main finding was that people feel trapped and confused by unclear terminology. It really knocks their sense of self-worth and confidence.

Too much jargon makes people feel they don’t know what the plan is. They start to feel their job is meaningless.

In his book, Business B*llshit, management scholar Andre Spicer lays down the essential challenge facing companies: unless you define what you’re trying to achieve, and how you are going to deliver it, you risk limiting innovation and clouding progress.

Often, he argues, it’s deliberate. Not to put too fine a point on it, throwing out terms that can be misinterpreted with an air of authority is a great way of avoiding being the person responsible for making it happen.

On the face of it, sending out directives to the team without proper explanation is quite simply bad management. But, on the other side of the digital coin, you can argue that not being able to define your terms is a natural, human reaction to a tricky situation. After all, when a company is wrestling with complicated issues such as how to deal with the accelerated shift to online that the pandemic has thrown at them, why should they instantly know what to do?

Most companies have spent a long while becoming brilliant at certain ways of doing things. When change comes racing down the track as ridiculously speedily as it has done over the last year, it’s exceptionally difficult to see the detailed solution immediately.

Here at UP, we are in the business of helping companies navigate these new challenges.

  1. The first thing we do is workshop what the opportunity is. We work with you to define what success looks like for your digital transformation program.
  2. Then we move on to creating a vision of what the future looks like. This helps everyone understand where we’re going. We’ll show each and every person affected by the changes that isn’t a threat, it’s an opportunity they can help shape.

Change always involves a challenge. I think that’s healthy and fun. We bring the tools and the technology to make sure it happens.

It’s our job at UP to make sure everyone understands the road ahead for your digital transformation program. We make sure everyone involved is excited and believes wholeheartedly that they personally are critical to making it a success.  

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