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Feeling Stuck in Your Digital Transformation? Start with Empathy and Dumplings

Business Colleagues Whispering On A Meeting In The Office.

As organizations continue daily adjustments in response to pandemic-related market shifts and customer expectations, existing internal alignment challenges compound. The compounded alignment challenges multiply when digital strategy transformation activities are layered on. This perfect storm results in clients asking how they can get their teams unstuck, aligned, and moving again. I’ve started answering the question by saying “Just remember, everybody’s got a dumpling.” Stay with me here…

Any strategic or transformation initiative must, at its foundation, be built upon the basics of change management. If it isn’t, it’s sure to fail in achieving its goals. But the pandemic and recent world events are taking its toll on everyone at a human, emotional level, and those factors can’t be ignored, even within, or especially within organizations aiming to accelerate their digital transformations.

When disagreements and differences arise between teams or individuals within teams, the standard organizational approach is to invite them to meet, talk about their differences, and try to come to some kind of compromise. This standard approach is rarely successful. First, compromise means that both parties leave the table feeling like they’ve lost something. Second, the focus of the meeting is on the differences and disagreements; each party trying to convince the other that their way is the right way. Unless one of the parties is extremely open-minded, really ready to listen and change their mind, the meeting won’t be successful. The end result of these kinds of interactions is, at best, grudging compromise without any real buy in or, at worst, a deeper rift causing bigger blocks in progress. Indeed, much has been published lately around diversity and inclusion programs and why they tend to fail. The root cause is the same – focusing on differences doesn’t bring teams together.

This is where the dumpling comes in.

Every culture has some kind of dough – sometimes stuffed with meats, or cheeses, or spices – that then gets boiled, steamed, or fried. Then eaten. A lot. It doesn’t matter what your cultural background is, we humans love our dumplings. Chances are you have a particular dumpling you really like (I love samosas). So do the people on your teams. It also might be true that two individuals so divided over how to make progress on their initiative both LOVE pot stickers. What if the conversation started with that shared love and went from there?

The point here is when we start conversations focused on differences we start from the wrong place. We block ourselves. We should be starting with what we have in common. What do we agree is working? What do we love about that? What struggles do we share? Take it to a human place and I’m not talking about cultural differences here (although that may be a part of it too). A lot of us have kids at home while we are trying to get work done. Or pets that are used to different routines who are really starting to freak out with humans around all day. Or some of us are isolated; only really interacting with people from work. There are ties that bind us, regardless of our differences. If we start the conversation there and build empathy and understanding, resolving differences suddenly becomes easier. And what tends to happen are some big breakthroughs. That shouting match over the right commerce platform becomes a reasonable conversation about how different teams might appreciate the different types of tools. Those “actually” emails transform into “let’s meet up again to talk more” messages. In short, progress.

Organizational and digital strategy transformation is now more critical than ever, but equally important is giving your teams the tools to transform successfully, especially right now when every day brings new and different professional and personal challenges. Those tools must include encouragement and the space to share hopes, dreams, and fears (and favorite dumpling type) because that will be the key to really nailing that tricky new business process map that makes everyone happy.

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Kim Williams-Czopek

Kim Williams-Czopek is a Director of Digital Strategy at Perficient. She’s been a senior leader in several digital agencies, digital product companies, and served as VP of Digital on the brand side. She specializes in customer experience, commerce, digital responsibility, and digital business strategies.

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