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Digital Transformation: We Need Missionaries, Not Mercenaries

By September 15, 2017May 11th, 2021No Comments

When it comes to transformation programmes, employee experience and engagement can often seem like something of an afterthought.
If digital transformation is 10% technology and 90% people (despite many thinking of it as the other way round) we need to pay far more attention to bringing people on the journey with us, and how we are changing the organisational culture in which change and agility can thrive, and the way in which we work. As this Paul Taylor piece adeptly puts it:

‘Digital transformation isn’t really anything to do with digital tools…It’s about redefining the concept of work itself.’

But we should also pay attention to the people that can actually champion change and make it happen. Irrespective of the level of seniority, this is the difference between leadership and management. There was a relevant metaphor that I particularly liked, used by the former Director of Product at Airbnb Jonathan Golden in his post on how they scaled Airbnb in the early days: Missionaries, not Mercenaries. He talks about how, when they were scaling and hiring rapidly in response to a new competitive threat, Brian Chesky (founder) was passionate about hiring people who really cared about what they were doing, and understood the need to build community around the burgeoning service.
In our book, we talk about but how bruising it can be to be the one/s that are asking the big questions, forging a new path and challenging the norms. More than anything you need determination and you need resilience to be the one at the forefront of change within a culture that does not want change to happen. Digital Transformation is as much a personal challenge and journey as it is a corporate one. That’s why you need missionaries. People who can see the change that’s needed and have the passion and enthusiasm to advocate it and bring it to life. People who believe in a compelling vision of what the company will be in the future and have the will and the energy to actualise it. People who are not afraid to challenge entrenched ways of thinking and doing and have the persistence to go against the flow.
Missionaries, not mercenaries.
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