As is the case every year, VivaTech, the big “Digital” Paris event, brings its share of extraordinary rankings on companies that have embraced digital transformation. There are proudly-branded partnerships with the unicorns of the moment, and companies bring armies of employees who leave starry-eyed and amazed.
And then life resumes. With its usual low levels of employees who are actually engaged at their workplace. Companies continue to speak openly about things like innovation and hackathons, but only to better forget that a large percentage of the employees—in the factories, in the logistics departments, in the stores—are not fully entitled to the benefits of “digital transformation.” I’m not talking about just equipping people with tablets, or giving them digital tools. I’m talking about embarking on an engaging adventure that actually makes sense to them. Just talk to them. Their past, their future, why they do it, how they find meaning in this changing world. But often, there’s no budget for that. And most the time, management doesn’t really know what to tell them about this topic, anyway.
Because deep down, that’s the problem: we change, but we don’t know in what way. We don’t know why. As Jean-Marie Le Gall recently pointed out in the “Disruptive Protest” podcast, the big difference between a transition and a transformation is that a transition involves a change of state: we move from point A to point B. As for transformation, it says nothing about the final state. Why, exactly, are you transforming? Nobody knows. It’s just mandatory, because everybody does it.
The problem is the absence of a long-term vision.
The fundamental issue with digital transformation is the lack of a long-term vision provided by the top management, and thus a lack of company-wide direction. Digital transformation is a firewall, it’s defensive, intended to reassure the markets. Markets that impose short-term, quarterly results that prevent the construction and implementation of a long-term vision.
So companies team up with unicorns. Or even decacorns. Those who do have a long-term vision. Those who are prepared for a transition. For the most part, members of a world where a monopoly reigns supreme. A hegemonic vision, driven by the markets, which grants them the benefit of the doubt, even though those same markets won’t allow many historically established companies a single quarter of poor performance.
But the false façade is cracking little by little. Companies transform without knowing why, without a clear sense of purpose, and in the end, people just become exhausted.
This year yet again, far from all the glitter and glory, managers are confronted with the difficult task of re-engaging employees—giving them meaning, a vision of a less gloomy future, often without a budget. These managers are the real heroes of “digital transformation.”