Digital Transformation Requires Gradual Cultural Adaptation – Forbes
Kamila Chytil, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, DentaQuest.
Digital transformation is not a new concept, yet it’s one that many organizations still struggle to define and implement. A transformation can be as simple as digitizing a specific activity, like implementing email and SMS communications with customers, or as complex as migrating an entire back-office operation to new cloud-based technology, or a combination of efforts across the business. And there is certainly no one-size-fits-all digital transformation strategy. In fact, successful digital transformation requires an approach tailored to the business and the culture of the organization.
When you think about adopting new technology and changing critical business processes, it can be an exciting prospect to some, but a disruptive idea to many—in particular at organizations that have been operating for decades.
For example, at my company, DentaQuest, we actively manage dental benefits for millions of Americans, contracting with contrasting health plans, government entities and health care providers. We’ve been doing this for more than 20 years. We could easily default to business as usual. Instead of fearing that which we don’t understand, we have approached digital transformation head on, doing it one step at a time and ensuring our culture keeps pace.
Business leaders should remember that in order to improve the business, and to improve customers’ experience in particular, it’s important to constantly adapt technology and processes, however ingrained they may be and however uncomfortable it may be to do so. Whether in the world of fin-tech or health care, I’ve found a few techniques to gain cultural acceptance for digital transformation particularly helpful.
Meet people where they are.
To adapt the culture, you have to understand the culture. Regardless of age, area of work or career level, some people are early adopters and others struggle to see how digital transformation fits into their work. Any staff communication that assumes technology will be universally welcomed or, on the flip side, that it is misunderstood, is not likely to produce positive outcomes. Meeting people where they are means leaving assumptions behind—assumptions about people’s comfort, aptitude, appetite and expectations.
To succeed, digital transformation must touch every part of the business, and it’s important to have early adopters as ambassadors across the company.
Make it accessible.
Transformation is a big word. Just hearing “digital transformation” can be overwhelming to team members who learn about coming changes, but it doesn’t need to be. “Transformation” can mean major actions or overhauls of systems, but in a successful digital transformation, the right strategy is often many—even hundreds—of small changes rather than a few major shifts. Explaining this can help ease anxieties and win new supporters.
In the health care space, providers, insurers and patients alike have been used to very paper-heavy processes—even in 2022. But just because that is how these different end-users have experienced the system doesn’t mean that is how they prefer it, and it certainly doesn’t mean the status quo is best for business. Relatively simple steps like digitizing written provider manuals that span hundreds of pages, member handbooks, explanations of benefits and many other traditionally hard copy processes not only improve the consumer experience, but also become tangible steps to show the benefits internally and demonstrate that successful transformation is gradual.
Digital transformation can’t be top down, but the top must be committed.
It is important that the senior leadership team sets the example for the organization and enthusiastically endorses and actively supports digital transformation efforts. One way to do this is to appoint a single digital transformation leader committed to transcending traditional workplace silos to deliver on a key business goal. This ensures the top-level decision-maker has a foot in both legacy and new business operations and at the same time reduces friction among departments. Effective leadership can remove speed bumps like turf wars, budget fights, reinventing the wheel and even maintaining two processes for the same thing.
At DentaQuest, our digital transformation efforts are just beginning, but we’ve already deployed large pilots that halved customer calls by providing our members with increased access to digital tools, like the ability to switch providers online, eliminating the need for a time-consuming phone call. We did this by concentrating on specific, impactful use cases and clear leadership to acknowledge and celebrate successful changes. We focused on data, not assumptions, and brought representation from all necessary stakeholders along to become part of the process.
Getting messy is how we learn.
As a mom, I have seen firsthand how allowing my boys to explore different foods, activities and sports makes them develop as individuals and learn where they thrive and when their tastebuds revolt or what their hand-eye coordination lacks. The same is true at work—identifying and adopting digital changes can mean many stalls, pivots, mistakes and unexpected outcomes. Along the way, teams and individuals strengthen a number of skills and can experience growth that is important for success.
An organizational culture that supports change understands it is never a straight, clean line. This type of enterprise-wide change is always messy, so let’s embrace the mess and encourage all of our peers to do the same. Remember, mess is how we learn—to be agile, to understand how pieces fit together and to ultimately craft something meaningful.
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