Digital transformation: the impossible quest for meaning

by bold-lichterman

As every year, VivaTech brings its share of formidable announcements, extraordinary rankings on companies that have taken the digital transformation head-on. We proudly brandish partnerships with the unicorns of the moment. Armies of astonished collaborators are taken there who leave with stars in their eyes.

And then life resumes its course. With its usually low level of employees really committed to the company. We continue to talk about open innovation, hackatons, to better forget that a large part of employees, in factories, in the logistics machine, in stores, are not entitled to “digital transformation”. I am not talking about equipping populations with tablets, giving them digital tools. I’m talking about taking them on an engaging adventure that makes sense. Just talk to them. Of their history, of their future, of why what they do has meaning in this changing world. But no budget for it. Anyway, we don’t really know what to tell them on this topic.

Because basically, this is the problem: we change, but we do not know what. As Jean-Marie Le Gall recently underlined in the podcast “Protestant Disruption”, the big difference between a transition and a transformation is that a transition implies a change of state: we go from point A to point B. The transformation does not say anything about the final state. What are you doing ? We transform. We are well advanced.

The tragedy is the lack of a long-term vision

The drama of digital transformation is the lack of a long-term vision given by the top
management and cascading scope in organizations. Digital transformation is a defensive firewall intended to reassure the markets. Markets which impose short-term, quarterly results, and which prevent the construction and implementation of a long-term vision.

So we make a deal with the unicorns. Or the decacorns. Who they have a long-term vision. Who they are preparing for a transition. For the most part, that of a world where monopoly reigns supreme. A hegemonic vision, carried by the markets, which grant them the benefit of the future even though they refuse a single quarter to historical players.

You can fool a thousand people once, but you can’t fool a person a thousand times, Dummies would say. The trompe-l’oeil facade is gradually cracking. By dint of transforming without really knowing why, we exhaust ourselves, and it ends up being visible. The numbers speak up.

Once again this year, far from the glitter, managers are faced with the difficult task of re-engaging employees, of giving them meaning, a vision of a less bleak future, often without a budget. How? ‘Or’ What? By simply listening to them and talking to them. They are the heroes of the “transformation”.


Digital transformation the impossible quest for meaning

Jean-Louis Bénard is co-founder and CEO of Sociabble, a platform used in more than 80 countries, which allows companies to properly inform and engage employees, so that they become ambassadors. He is also Chairman of Brainsonic, an agency he founded in 2003. Author or co-author of several books, including “Extreme Programming” (Eyrolles), he is also an investor in several French start-ups.