Val Kugathasan, Director of Digital Transformation and Payment Operations at ADP, has spent years evangelizing digital transformation at startups and large companies. He’s led strategies that have reimagined digital channels, the client experience, and business operations and seen these efforts through from start to finish.
As companies look to keep up with rapidly changing consumer behavior and expectations, they’re investing more in digitally transforming their business. However, digital transformation is a huge undertaking and creates change that typically isn’t welcomed. To help business and customer service leaders succeed with this, Kugathasan joined us to share his tips on how to bring innovation and digital transformation to your business.
Tie your innovation initiatives to company goals
In order to get your innovation initiatives off the ground, you need your senior leadership and team on board. You need buy-in from senior leadership so you can get the resources you need. To do this, Kugathasan says you need to tell a good story and align yourself with the broader mandate of the organization. “How can you tie your story of innovation or what you want to do as a project or a series of projects into that type of story, rather than just saying we want to innovate. I think that’s where people get things wrong in the first place.”
Get team adoption by taking people on the digital transformation journey with you
Once you’ve got senior leadership on board, now you need to get the team behind you too. Kugathasan sees similar principles between getting senior leadership and team buy-in, but what’s different between the two is their underlying motivation.
To motivate team members, some companies have taken the carrot and stick approach. Team members have to carry out the initiative. Otherwise, there will be consequences. But Kugathasan has a different perspective:
People want to do something interesting in their day-to-day. Bringing them along that journey as you’re improving that client experience gives people in the team level a lot of different things.
Innovation presents opportunities for people to build new skills, work on new projects and tasks, and flex their muscles. “Finding those right motivators in that team level is important or equally as important as executing on that project,” adds Kugathasan.
Overcome risk-averse and skeptical stakeholders by figuring out their underlying assumptions
When facing people who are resistant to change, Kugathasan sees negativity and skepticism as the result of underlying assumptions. Getting to the root of those assumptions and finding ways to prove them out in smaller increments is the key to working with risk-averse or negative stakeholders. And whether their assumptions are true or not, “we still owe it to ourselves to test.” In these situations, Kugathasan often asks himself:
Is it better that we’re doing things exactly the same or do we owe it to ourselves to test something different or try something different?
When you start this dialogue with those teammates or stakeholders, you’ll find they’re often open to giving you their perspective. In Kugathasan’s experience, there’s very few people who are negative just for the sake of being negative. But if you do run into someone like that, Kugathasan recommends corralling everyone around that person to bring them on board. People are willing to follow a plan their peers accept, even if they don’t accept it themselves.
So the next time you encounter a negative or risk-averse stakeholder, understand whether their negativity stems from a valid reason and see if you can find a solution. Otherwise, look at the ecosystem and the people around them. If everyone else is on board, ask them why they aren’t too. However, Kugathasan offers the reminder that there’s a number of different ways to approach this and the best method will depend on each person’s role within an organization.
Mapping out and understanding your business processes is a prerequisite to rapidly modernizing your business
Fast tracking the modernization or transformation of your business relies on two things, according to Kugathasan.
The first is how well you understand all the moving parts of the business — the core functions and the underlying technology and infrastructure. To do this, Kugathasan recommends mapping out your business processes at a high level. If you were asked to put together a simple one-pager on each business function and the processes and technology that tie them all together, would you be able to do so? If you can’t, you need to start with this exercise. Then, plan on refreshing it annually.
The second is how “you envision and start to construct a path to either build on top of it or to replace each of those pieces with better and faster parts or much more efficient parts.” Kugathasan compares an organization to a car. You can change the engine, frame, wheels, and other parts to make a car go faster. This achieves your goal for speed without having to buy a new car. The different parts of a car are like the technologies, interfaces, and channels used in your processes. The key to fast tracking modernization is understanding how all of these different parts connect and then identifying opportunities to improve upon them.
Innovation thrives or dies based on company culture
When asked what the biggest obstacle to innovation is, culture immediately came to mind for Kugathasan. “Innovation in any organization comes from a central mandate, and that mandate needs to come from the top-down. Building that culture of self-improvement is really a value that’s nurtured by senior leadership. Without that, you’re not going to be able to sustain any sort of innovation.”
You can’t just say you’re going to be an innovative company and try something new once in a while. Companies need to put substantial effort into innovation, including allocating funding and resources to it. Also, “You need to foster this culture of innovation to make sure it’s not just a one-time event.” Innovation goes beyond doing a single project or working for a few months to solve a problem. “Innovation, I think, is a continuous journey. And the foundation of that is culture,” says Kugathasan.
Hear more from Kugathasan in this on-demand discussion about championing innovation and disrupting customer experience.
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