Chances are that your organization will have some kind of Digital Transformation initiative. Rightfully so, given the opportunities associated with using digital technology to redefine your business in pretty much every industry. But with any kind of change project, bringing people in your organization along for the right reasons is fundamental. No matter the opportunity or exciting new technology, if people are not truly bought into the DT journey, you won't make it to the finish line.
Speaking of finishing, completing a marathon is an often seen item of people's bucket list. Even though I have only ran a half-marathon myself on occasion, I can relate the feeling of accomplishment that people experience when they cross the finish line with jolts of pain shooting up their calves. The feeling of pride makes them forget the many months of preparation, as friends and family cheer and clap when they hold up their medal. It's a pretty big deal. But why do people run a marathon? What is their motivation and what does that have to do with Digital Transformation?
There were 188 marathon races organized in Germany in 2012. That's 43 more than in 2005 when there were 145 marathons, an increase of 30%. As there would be more first time runners in all these new races which may result in a drop in the percentage of runners that finish, you would expect a rise in the amount of finishers that is less than 30% but still significantly more than in 2005. It turns out, this was not the case, there was actually a decline of -23% of participants who finished the race. If you think about it, it may not be so strange after all. Running marathons is more popular than ever so more are being organized. And that means that more people will try to run a marathon but may not be as motivated as needed to finish. They join because their friends do. Or because they want to tick off that box and be part of the club of people who accomplished running 42 kilometers. But the appeal of belonging to that group may not be strong enough to make sure they did the right amount of training. The projection of themselves at a dinner party, telling the story of how they overcame the 30 kilometer dip and finished anyway may not be strong enough. So they quit.
The other data point is even more puzzling. In the Mexico City marathon of 2017 there were over 5000 participants who were disqualified for cheating. That is an incredibly big number. What happened? Was there a malfunction of the time registering chips the runners wore? Did a group that big really cheat? There have been many people looking into this case and the consensus is that yes, the majority of the people disqualified did cheat. Why? The short summary is that this particular marathon was the last one in a series of Mexico City marathons with every medal in that series being a letter in the word MEXICO. Longing for completion, even these experienced marathon runners did not run for the feeling of accomplishment itself. They ran for the medal. And as such, they were less motivated, did not put in the training and decided to cheat to get the medal.
These marathon tales have one thing in common - motivation. Why do you run a marathon and what do you hope to get out of it? The experience and achievement? Or a medal? Because that makes all the difference.
Back to Digital Transformation. I believe DT success relies on four elements:
1. Deep customer focus and understanding
2. Fluency in technology of today and tomorrow
3. Adjustment of business models
4. Organizational capability
The lesson from the marathon stories is about element #4. Every person in your organization needs to feel the necessity and desire to transform. They need to feel the motivation put in the hard work because they believe in it. Not so they can say they are doing DT and brag about it. Or shrug their shoulders. But because they see the potential. If not, they will just run along and quit when it becomes too hard. And it will. Or they will cut corners and waste time and resources. This is just as important as becoming fluent in Machine Learning for instance. Unfortunately, it is the part that most organizations spent the least amount of time and attention on. You would be smart not to make that mistake and you should fuel and foster your people's motivation. Tune in to it and act when you feel it is not at the right level or for the right reasons. Just like a great marathon runner's coach would do.