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How to lead a digital transformation – ethics – TechCrunch


The fact that COVID-19 has accelerated the need for digital transformation in virtually every industry is old news. What companies are doing to propel success in these circumstances has been in the spotlight. however, How? ‘Or’ What they do so has managed to find a place in the shadows.

Simply put, the explosive increase in innovation and adoption of digital solutions should not come at the expense of ethical considerations.

It is a question of morals – but it is also a question of result. Stakeholders, both internal and external, are increasingly intolerant of companies that blur (or ignore) ethical lines. These realities add to the need for leaders to embrace a whole new learning curve: how to embark on a digital transformation that includes ethics by design.

Simply put, the explosive increase in innovation and adoption of digital solutions should not come at the expense of ethical considerations.

Ethics after the fact poses problems

It’s easy to speak out against the evils of the executive lifestyle or golden skydiving, but more often than not, a pattern of ethical violations stems from corporate culture, not just leadership. Ideally, employees act ethically because it aligns with their personal values. However, at a minimum, they must understand the risk that an ethical violation poses to the organization.

In my experience, these conversations do not take place. Call it poor communication or a lack of vision, but most companies rarely model potential ethical risks – at least not overtly. While these discussions do take place, they usually take place among senior management, behind closed doors.

Why are ethical concerns not dealt with more at the “town hall”? The answer may boil down to a reluctance to abandon traditional thinking about business hierarchies. It could also be related to the strong (and ironically toxic) cultural message that positivity reigns. Case in point: I have listened to executives say they want to create a culture of disruptive thinking – only to quickly tell a speaking employee that they “lack the growth mindset.”

What’s the answer, then? There are three solutions that I have found to be effective:

  1. Make ethics a fundamental value of the organization.
  2. Embrace transparency.
  3. Proactively develop strategies to deal with ethical challenges and violations.

These simple solutions are a great starting point for solving ethical issues around digital transformation and beyond. They get leaders to look at the heart of the business and make decisions that will impact the organization for years to come.

Interpersonal dynamics are a concern in the arena of digital transformation

Making digital shifts is by nature a technical operation. This requires a staff with advanced and varied expertise in areas such as AI and data operations. Leaders in the field of digital transformation are expected to have enough cross-functional skills to tackle difficult problems.

That’s a big demand – bringing together a crowd of tech-savvy people can easily lead to a culture of expert arrogance that leaves people unfamiliar with the lingo intimidated and reluctant to ask questions.

Digital transformation is not just about infrastructure or tools. At its heart is change management and a multi-functional approach is needed to ensure a healthy transition. The biggest mistake businesses can make is assuming that only technical experts should be at the table. The resulting silos inevitably turn into echo chambers – the last place you want to have an ethics conversation.

In the rush to go digital, however technical the problem may be, the solution will remain fundamentally human-centered.

Ethical digital transformation needs a starting point

Not all of the ethical imperatives of digital transformation are as questionable as the suggestion that it should be people’s first priority; some are much more black and white, like the fact that you have to start somewhere to get anywhere.

Fortunately, “somewhere” doesn’t have to be from scratch. Government, Risk, and Compliance (GRC) standards can be used to create a highly structured framework that is generally closed to interpretation and provides a solid foundation for the development and adoption of digital solutions.

The utility of GRC models also applies to multinational start-ups and offers more than just a playbook; Thoughtful application of GRC standards can also aid in leadership assessment, progress reports and risk analysis. Think of it like using bowling bumpers – they won’t guarantee you to throw a strike, but they will definitely keep the ball out of the gutter.

Of course, a given company may not know how to create a GRC-based framework (just as most of us would be confused if they were tasked with building a set of bowling bumpers). This is why many are turning to vendors like IBM OpenPages, COBIT, and ITIL for prefabricated foundations. These “starter kits” all share one goal: to identify policies and controls that are relevant to your industry or organization and draw lines between them and critical compliance points.

While getting started with the GRC process is typically cloud-based and at least partially automated, it requires organization-wide input and transparency. It cannot be managed effectively by specific departments or in a strictly top-down fashion. In fact, the most important thing to understand about implementing GRC standards is that it almost certainly fail unless the leadership of an organization and its culture at large fully support the direction in which it is pointing.

An ethical mindset protects employees and the bottom line

Today’s leaders – executives, entrepreneurs, influencers and more – can’t be concerned only with “winning” the digital race. Arguably, transformation is more of a marathon than a sprint, but technique matters anyway. In the pursuit of the end goal of competitive advantage, the how and why are as important as the what.

This is true for all branches of an organization. Internal stakeholders such as owners and employees risk their careers and reputations by tolerating a peripheral approach to ethics. External stakeholders such as customers, investors and suppliers have just as much to lose. Their mutual understanding of this fact is what lies behind the collective and cross-sectoral pressure for transparency.

We have all seen the massive backlash against individuals and brands in the public eye who allow ethical breaches of their watches. It is impossible to completely eliminate the risk of experiencing something similar, but it is a risk that can be managed. The danger is letting the “technological blinders” of digital transformation interfere with your overall vision.

Businesses that want to mitigate this risk and address the challenges of the digital age in a truly ethical way should start by simply discussing what ethics, transparency and inclusiveness mean – both in and around the world. ‘organization. They should follow up on these conversations with action when necessary and with an open mind at all levels.

It makes sense to worry about lagging behind in innovation at a time when the business is changing and evolving faster than ever before, but it’s time to take all the appropriate ethical considerations. Failure to do so will only derail you right down the line.



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