Cecile Demailly, a consultant in organisational change within large companies, built a survey to better understand how middle management cope with digital transformation. The latter is a phenomenon that is touching all the industries. Yes, it brings changes. That’s why disruption is also a keyword that you might have came across when looking at digital transformation. When developing her research, Demailly brings corporate knowledge, strategic consulting expertise, adaptation to new business models with the regular research practice. In order to get a complete analysis of middle management’s perception of digital transformation lived in their jobs, the questionnaire she designed covered 7 areas of questions. She made the questions as comprehensive as possible, for the managers to understand, and give accurate answers. The areas she touched on are the following: Technology adoption, mindset, status, relations, organisational environment, change and adaptability. The answers she collected and analysed are very interesting to look at. Let’s go through them briefly in this article. Feel free to dig deeper.
The digital divide
By definition, a digital divide is an economic and social inequality with regards to digital and technology. In other words, it’s the digital gap that exists between two parties. We can also talk about global digital divide. It’s simply the digital gap that exists between a developing and a developed country (or group of countries).
In the context of Cecile Demailly’s study, we are mainly talking about the digital divide that appeared with executive management.
Middle management has some positive feedback about the implementation of digital practices within their company. However, it came with some challenges and a lot of ambiguity in regards to their tasks. They were expected to stand up and take action. In other words, to be leaders. Usually, people are not unhappy with that. But, here, the problem is: the lack of recognition. Middle management “leaders” made efforts that were not really looked up to.
A shift towards leadership
Today, in a “digitally transformed” company, middle managers go through a shift in their identity and their job tasks. How? Well, by guiding, influencing and facilitating the organisation basically. Middle managers should be open minded, and work towards to development of their teams and the processes. They should not think of controlling processes and people, like in some sort of dictatorship.
By adding new ingredients, the digital transformation recipe is made more difficult. New tools and new processes add a layer of complexity and uncertainty. Middle managers should answer questions they have not come across in the past, and must step in a new area of activity. This brings us to the next part of our article: middle managers’ required skills.
The digital paradox
Obviously, when analysing the findings of a survey, we find different opinions and perceptions of the same concept (that’s the whole point of developing a survey). In Cecile’s study, she found very interesting, yet paradoxical results: 50% of the respondents think digitisation helps them grasp situations and think more creatively, versus 40% who think the exact opposite.
Those who think positively of digital transformation believe that it changes values for the better: middle managers can transfer know-how and be transparent between each other. This helps human skills and relations flourish.
On the contrary, those who are unhappy with the digitalisation of their activity see this phenomenon as a contribution to bureaucracy and complexity. For them, processes are made more difficult, because of that layer of complexity and uncertainty we mentioned above. They also believe that the openness this transformation brings is not really a good thing, because it has a negative impact on human interactions.
Whether people are happy with digital transformation or not, they have no choice: it is happening (and has already happened). There is no going back. Anyways, businesses and even industries who choose to ignore it, will sink. It’s that simple. So, middle, top and lower lever managers must learn how to cope with digital transformation, and make the best out of it.