Requests & Promises: The Forgotten Art Of Mobilising Teams In Digital Transformation (Part 1 of 2)

At WWC, the company I co-founded 15 years ago, we've gone through an enormous change recently. Under my leadership, WWC (previously known as World Wide Creative) has shifted from a digital marketing agency to a people-focused digital transformation advisory. 

The journey has been tough, especially for the staff. Our digital agency was around 60 people and our advisory needed less than 10. That shift alone is hard on people, but I must say I am so proud of each and every one of our team, in how they conducted themselves whilst going through that change. Whether they are still with us, or now on a new journey, every single one has been humble, understanding and gracious throughout the process.

I have learned many lessons during our pivot, but I want to share two particularly important ones with you. Two very simple things that are critical to enabling your team and getting buy-in during your digital transformation journey. 

These two things are the art of making requests, and the power of keeping your promises.

In this article, I'm going to focus on why making requests properly are mission critical for team mobilisation and how you should do it.

Mike Perk is the CEO of WWC, a Digital Transformation Agency

Mike Perk is the CEO of WWC, a Digital Transformation Agency

To help explain the problem, let me tell you a story.

My wife Nicola has this thing that annoys the living hell out of me. I find myself doing all sorts of breathing exercises to keep calm when she does it.

It's a simple statement that she sometimes makes when I get home from work.

As Nicola opens the bin to put trash in it, she says:

"The bin is full again"

It's a simple statement, but oh my goodness, there is a whole bunch of stuff going on when she says it.

So let me try and break it down for you:

Nicola has had a hard day. Firstly, Nic holds down a challenging job as a Chartered Accountant. Then, she has to deal with the kids when they get home from school. Then, she makes dinner, helps to tidy up and generally keeps the family running smoothly.

To be honest, my two boys and I would not be able to function without her.

She never complains about her pivotal role in our family. I have no idea how she remains calm and keeps a smile on her face.

Then, when we are both home from work, all she wants me to do is to help in a small way and empty the bin. I'm also tired, that's a yucky task and she's just looking for a little help from me.

So she says: 

"The bin is full again"

What she is actually saying is: 

"I've had a tough day and I could really do with some help now that you are home. The bin is full and needs emptying now. Please, can you help me by putting the rubbish out, as I really don't like to do it myself?"

However, that's not what I hear (or want to hear), so I either don't move as she's made a statement rather than a request, or I read the sub-context and empty the bin reluctantly, purely because of the way she asked me (or didn't ask me).

So what happens after this type of request?

Well, Nicola feels let down and when I don't do it (or make a fuss about doing it), it breaks some of the trust between us.

On the flip side, I feel confused and frustrated.

Then because neither of us have observed the mood of each other, she feels misunderstood and unheard and I'm unaware of the true need and feel slightly disrespected.

So why I am telling you this story?

This issue is one of the main reasons why transformation strategies go horribly wrong and impact the culture of your organisation in a truly negative way. It has nothing to do with the right technical decisions or strategic roadmap.

Your ability to shift your organisation effectively requires the mobilisation of your team.

This can only happen when they are 100% clear on what is being requested of them, either in terms of behavioural change or process changes.

Your ability as a leader to make your digital transformation strategy happen will ultimately depend on your ability and capacity to ask for help. An inability to ask for help is what holds up many organisations from shifting quick enough with everyone on board. It is critical that you reduce misunderstandings between people, and with it, you will start to create partnerships with your team members. This in turn will drive the team mobility that is so critically needed in digital transformation.

So how do you go about ensuring your requests are heard, understood and embraced by those in your team?

Here is a great tick list (courtesy of the University of Cape Town's GSB Centre of Coaching), for framing an effective request:

1) Be clear on exactly what you are asking for

- What are you asking for and why?
- Who is the right person to ask and why?

2) Consider the mood

- When and where is it best to ask them?
- How can I be sure both of us are in the best frame of mind for this request?

3) Level of Competence

- What capabilities and resources do they need in order to satisfy my request?

Then, the next three elements of requesting need discussion: 

4) Shared Understanding

- Make the request fully and clearly
- Clarify that what I am asking is fully understood.

5) What will satisfy me?

- Define the standards they need to meet in order to satisfy you.

6) By when?

- Agree on timing
- Agree on when and where to follow up

So you need to stop blaming your teams when they don't engage in your digital transformation strategy. You actually need to get better at requesting from them what you really want. Don't assume they understand and have bought into the request.

This was a valuable lesson I learned during WWC's pivot into a digital transformation advisory and is critical for mobilising your teams when you undertake a digital transformation journey in your own organisation.

In Part 2 of this article series for Heavy Chef, I'm going to look at the second and equally important aspect needed for mobilising your teams during digital transformation, namely, "making a promise". Keep your eyes peeled on HC's newsletter for the next update (click here to subscribe if you've not done so already). 

Until then, happy communicating! 

Mike Perk is the CEO of WWC, a digital transformation agency based in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Email Mike directly here or connect with him on LinkedIn here