The biggest challenge of digitization is not the adaptation of technologies, but the further development of working methods and organizational structures. While the industrial world was characterized by efficiency driven to the maximum with sophisticated processes, we now have to adapt to a world in which human abilities such as creativity, communication and empathy are released.
Time and again, digital transformation (digitization vs. digital transformation) is described as the “greatest change process of all time”. The change we are currently undergoing is certainly many things, but one thing is certainly not: a process!
Why? We come from the era of industrialization, in which organizations function like a machine: In this world, processes ensure that every employee functions like a wheel in the gearbox. The perfect adaptation to the requirements of this era: complicated tasks (such as manufacturing a car) are divided into many small work steps, each of which must be completed by employees with defined objectives. The management assigns tasks and monitors compliance with the specifications. Processes are the corset that is supposed to prevent errors and control the interaction of the individual tasks.
This organization of work fits perfectly into a predictable, predictable world that we are now leaving and entering an age where different rules apply: Complexity vs. complexity Planning vs. unpredictability, handcuffs vs. flexibility, specifications vs personal responsibility. Let’s take a closer look at this.
Complexity vs. complexity
Digitalization means thinking in systems. Everything can be associated with everything thanks to the Internet of Things. Let’s take mobility as an example: To get from A to B, we no longer necessarily have to choose a single mode of transport: i.e. train or our own car. Instead, we can use the e-scooter to get to the suburban train, then use public transport, and finally perhaps even take a rental car to our final destination. Everything can be booked in advance with a single payment transaction. The integration of the data makes it possible. How fast the C02 emissions from cars are reduced, therefore, no longer depends only on the end of the combustion engine, but on numerous other factors. Cause and effect are no longer linear – we have to think in systems. We are immersed in a complex world that can no longer be controlled by processes.
Plannability vs. unpredictability
Complexity also means that we have less reliable planning options. Let’s stay with mobility and look at it through the eyes of an automobile manufacturer: In addition to the digital networking of the various means of transport, there is also autonomous driving. In a few years’ time, when I can order the vehicle I need at the touch of a finger using an app on my doorstep, I may not even want to own a car anymore. If that is the case, will the car brand still have the same meaning as it does today? After 100 years of virtually unchanged business models, the industry is facing a complex change.
Whether car, light bulb, refrigerator or printing press – the principles are always the same: the moment I connect a product to the Internet and enrich it with data, an infinite number of links to the rest of the world are created. Companies must therefore prepare themselves for a world in which they do not yet know exactly what they will be making money with in a few years. It is important to develop the working world accordingly and to look at processes through different glasses:
Handcuffs vs. flexibility
How do we adjust to such a world? Certainly not through more processes, but through flexible structures. More than ever before, the complex and multifaceted world described above needs creative people who are able to seize the countless opportunities – taking risks, trying things out, networking with new stakeholders. The more the work of each individual is constrained by processes, the less imagination will arise to recognize exactly these many possibilities. Digital change can only develop in free space: Enabling employees to network across departmental boundaries, sharing knowledge through modern collaboration tools that make people and their skills visible.
Requirements vs. personal responsibility
More and more work is being done by machines. This leaves almost no workplace out. X-ray images are already being evaluated faster and more precisely by machines than by doctors. Years ago, an 18-year-old London student developed an app that could give you quick legal information if you ever got a ticket for parking the wrong way, for example. Academics will also be freed from all work that has something to do with pattern recognition and standardization. What will then remain for us humans? Space will be created for exactly the free space we need to bring our human abilities such as creativity, empathy and communication skills much more into our daily work. The doctor has more time for a conversation with the patient, the lawyer can take care of the exceptional cases, the engineer can become a tinkerer again. Our talents may be given more space.
So when command and obedience become less and we get more space, it means we have to take more personal responsibility. To ask ourselves, what are my strengths? Having the courage to share our own ideas with others, to move forward and to take risks. The much-described cultural change is no coincidence, it is an absolute necessity for companies to swim like a fish in water in the complexity of the digital world. This cultural change takes time – and if one proven means of industrialization does not work, then it is processes.
Conclusion – Digitization and Change
The industrial working world was characterized by efficiency, in which each individual in the company had to complete predetermined tasks in a defined time. Processes provided the tight framework, management meant constant control of the targets. In such an environment, fundamental changes were not intended.
Dealing with change means outsourcing all standard work on machines and giving people more freedom for innovation. A great task that touches us in our innermost being. Companies that question all processes will be successful. If they take away employees’ freedom, restrict communication, have to be redefined or deleted.
The challenge is great, so are the opportunities.