It was 1971 and we were told we had four years. That was the length of time the government gave us to get ready. But the truth was, the signs were all there for a long time. Change had to happen, with most of the signs pointing to the fact that the majority of the world had already moved in the direction our government wanted to head. And for people paying close attention, the upward trajectory of the intended change dated all the way back to the Age of Enlightenment in the early 1700s. After the four years were up, four years of the government preparing and changing the system, four years of reminding people, Canada implemented and adopted the metric system for temperature measurement on April 1, 1975.

Canada goes all in but change was scary to many

On that day, the whole country started using Celsius while simultaneously dropping the use of Fahrenheit. Predictably, it took a few years for people to completely get their heads around the change. The brain kept wanting to do arithmetical gymnastics to convert C degrees to F degrees. Along with positive and sincere effort by many people there was pushback and resistance, confusion and misinformation among others. Societies around the world have never evolved without friction and Canada experienced its share at that time, a time that coincided with other significant changes – including the move to make the country officially bilingual. For that one, the wording on our cereal boxes (just to name one type of packaging) morphed overnight into two languages, confounding most people older than 40, who still couldn’t understand why there even needed to be a new math let alone two languages, while delighting everyone under 20.

I didn’t get what all the complaining was about at the time. Neither did my well-over-50 father. I remember being within earshot and hearing his advice to my aunts and uncle, his siblings, as they moaned and moaned about the change. “Oh, come on. Join the 20th century. How hard is it to say water boils at 100 degrees instead of 212? How hard is it to say freezing is zero degrees instead of 32? How hard is it to use some common sense?”

Civilization can survive change

I feel like I’m reliving that experience sometimes when I look around and see resistance to the need for companies to transform their business practices into digital form. Is it because their people have a hard time letting go of old ways? They cling to processes they are familiar with, processes that they understand and are competent with? Maybe they’ve developed reputations for excellence managing processes and they are reacting to rumblings that those processes are proving less relevant and capable in the digital age? Undoubtedly, is the answer to all three but that’s where strong leadership must be vocal, logical, and educational.

Computers have used digital as the de facto basis of machine operations, the lingua franca, for at least the last fifty years. They have served as part of the critical core of most large businesses for much of that time. So it’s not unreasonable to expect that by now people should be very comfortable approaching the exercise of examining business processes with more of a critical eye towards their improvement through a digital first approach. After all, if you break a process into steps and if each of the steps can be measured in some way (time, distance, speed, $$ value, # of people involved, etc) in order to track value creation (because that’s what a business process should do) then it’s relatively easy to consider ways for improving the process. I mean, it’s just math.

Digital technology changed the world of marketing forever. Marketing automation allows marketers to do more with less, which helps smaller teams keep up with larger ones and stay competitive. And, don’t forget, everything is mobile. Everyone uses their phones for everything, so marketers need digital technologies to be there, too. Whether it’s emails, text messages, or mobile-friendly websites, you have to reach and connect with customers where their attention is focused. This means digital marketers (and everyone who works in CX and customer success) has to be relevant and stay sharp, since you have to deliver the right concise message at the right time and not waste even a second of your audience’s day. The right digital technology makes this possible.

But how does a company begin a digital transformation? I see four areas they need to concentrate on.

Focus areas for improvement

Communication – Consistent, regular, detailed, and transparent communications about the transformation to digital will significantly boost the prospects of a successful outcome. You have to be clear and consistent in your communications internally to get everyone on the same page before it’s possible to get everyone organized and coordinated so they can turn around and be on the same page when communicating and marketing to customers.

Skilling and Deskilling – There is a big discussion in the business world about helping employees improve their digital skills in order to contribute in the biggest ways for their employers and to also future-proof (as best they can) their careers. It’s vital this happens but almost of more importance is deskilling – the imperative to stop doing things the way they’ve been done before. This requires what is otherwise known as a mindset shift and customer-facing organizations like marketing and customer success need to be on the forefront of that.  Marketing automation caused a huge shift in how marketing and CX were once done, and there’s no going back, not with machine learning changing every industry and how we interact with customers. Customer Success leaders, in particular, should think hard about this. Allowing older, people-heavy engagement models to persist is disabling your future ability to scale and reach your customers in the nimble and predictive way they increasingly expect.

Courage – Leaders need to lead. They need to understand the purpose, the benefits, and the steps required for digitally transforming a business practice. And they need to be out in front evangelizing to their organizations for why it’s all critical for the business and why it’s critical for each employee to participate at a personal level in change.

Perseverance – Because the transformation of a business model requires a multitude of small transformations at the task, individual, team, and organizational levels, success comes to those who can see the horizon. Those people can be found in marketing, customer success, sales, IT, or any other part of an organization, all striving to conceptually put together the right strategy and message to connect with customers.

If all these dimensions of change still seem too much, if the distance to leap is still too great, just remember what the Canadian motorcyclist, Duke Kaboom, said in Toy Story 4.

“Yes, we Can(ada)!”

                                                                                   

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