About this podcast episode

🎙️ Indispensable guidance for leaders in the throws of digital transformation

Pia Wendelbo, CEO of Scandinavian Change Agents, provides insights to help you successfully navigate digital transformation in your organization. Pia will explain how you must take a holistic view beyond implementing new technology.

You will learn critical leadership traits like getting the big picture view, anticipating failure points, and understanding the neuroscience and habits required to change behaviors. Pia and Bill share stories and practical guidance to help you effectively deliver change.

Here is what you will learn:

✅ The importance of taking a holistic view of digital transformation

✅ The positive team impacts when you create a safe space for learning and growth

✅ The role of neuroscience and behavioral design thinking in understanding how people thrive in change

🎉 Critical leadership traits and strategies needed for a successful digital transformation effort

#AgileInAction #DigitalTransformation #ChangeManagement


[00:00:00] Introduction

[00:00:00] Speaker: Welcome to the Agile in Action Podcast with Bill Raymond. Bill will explore how business disruptors are adopting agile techniques to gain a competitive advantage in this fast-paced technology driven market.

[00:00:13] Introducing Pia Wendelbo

[00:00:13] Bill Raymond: Hi and welcome to the podcast today I’m joined by Pia Wendelbo.

She’s the CEO of Scandinavian change agents where she helps people and companies navigate change. Hi Pia. How are you today?

[00:00:25] Pia Wendelbo: Hey, Bill. I’m really good. Thanks for having me on here.

[00:00:29] Bill Raymond: Yeah, I’m excited to talk to you today. We’re going to talk about coping with digital transformation and human change. Before we get into it, can you share a little bit about yourself?

[00:00:40] Pia Wendelbo: Yeah, sure, Bill. Of course I can do with over 20 years of experience within strategy and innovation and change management I help organizations try to establish the right framework to help them grow in the face of digital disruption. And what I’m especially, actually, what I’m especially interested in and curious about is actually the human side of this change.

[00:01:04] Bill Raymond: You’re going to be bringing up neuroscience of all things when it comes to this. And I guess that makes sense since you’re focused on human change, but maybe what you can do is give us a little bit of an overview as to what you mean by digital transformation and neuroscience and how those two things interplay.

[00:01:22] Pia Wendelbo: Digital transformation is often thought of as a technological integrations of new technology, right? But actually it’s so much more than just that. So what I usually always advise companies to do in terms of digital transformation is actually to take a more holistic view on their transformation.

And that means actually reviewing their business strategy and also their ecosystems. Also going into processes and structures, which is usually also affected by this. And value propositions and value change, of course, and then the last part is actually the culture staff and customer, both engagement and experience, and that is often where I see people are lacking to put enough effort.

So this whole human aspect is often forgotten when you are trying to do a bigger digital transformation in your company. And that is actually why it’s so interesting to also look at this neuroscience and behavioral design thinking, because that actually helps. companies and business leaders to navigate around how people actually thrive in change and take change onto them.

And I believe that this is something that supports the growth of the company. And I think it’s a really important meta skill for companies for the future to actually Continue to grow.

[00:02:41] What is digital transformation

[00:02:41] Bill Raymond: When we talk about digital transformation, very often we immediately think systems. We think, oh, we’re going to have to implement this new technology or, now, of course, artificial intelligence is being talked about. But just before that, it was apps being on an app store.

And, just before that it was having a quality website or whatever the case may be. We always go into that digital transformation with that technology mindset. And sometimes we don’t think about. Are we staffed properly for that? Do we need to organize properly for that? Do we have the proper culture in place in order to bring these things to fruition?

And I think that’s what I’m hearing from you.

[00:03:20] Pia Wendelbo: Exactly. Exactly. So that’s actually going back to what I started saying around this holistic thinking. So it’s really important you as a company and you as a C manager or business leader that you actually go into the helicopter when you want to do a digital change. And then there’s a lot of interesting questions that you should ask yourself before you, you actually go along with the changes.

And a lot of this is. Exactly as you’re saying, also related to the human part of it and the process parts of it, which you should definitely cater for as well. It’s not just about implementing a piece of software or a system.

[00:03:53] Bill Raymond: Yeah, I love your comment there about getting into the helicopter and looking over and seeing what needs to be done as a leader. What are some of those things that you need to think through in order to implement change?

[00:04:05] Pia Wendelbo: Yeah, the first one is exactly this holistic thinking. And what you do there is that you go back and then you… You actually look at your strategy. So how do you see your digital strategy? That is a question you should definitely ask yourself and you should look at it from like the ideas and the desires that you actually have as a company and how does that then affect you from a more digital point of view, what you should also ask yourself in terms of the strategic part is that what should you actually be doing based on the markets and the customer trends and customer needs actually.

That I often see also that companies don’t necessarily deliver exactly what customers are needing, or there’s a lot of unmet needs with which they are actually not catering for. So there’s usually there’s a really interesting spot here where you can actually optimize your business for growth if you look at that in a different angle.

And then another interesting thing is definitely, as you were saying before, look at the capabilities and the resources. So if you’re going into this, do we actually have the right resources of right capabilities to actually pull this off? And that is often something I also see that companies are a bit overconfident that is something we can teach or learn ourselves.

But often it takes something else. They don’t really realize how much efforts should actually be put on that part. So that’s the strategic part.

[00:05:26] Focus on the slack

[00:05:26] Pia Wendelbo: But what I think is also very important into all of this is actually the slack. The slack in an organization is crucial when you want to drive a transformation or you want to implement something new, right?

Because most people in an organization, there’s they have lots of stuff on the table, they have lots to do. So now you’re coming with an extra element in on their plates, and then this doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the most important thing for them right now. Maybe they have other KPIs that they are following at the moment.

They have big projects that they’re. trying to implement. So now you’re coming in and bringing in this extra thing. So you have to help them navigate around what is then the most important thing to do here. Maybe you have to even take stuff off their plates as well. So talking about the slack is very important.

And then there’s two other elements that I would also like to mention here. And one is like putting yourself in the shoes of those people who are actually gonna work with this change because if you don’t do so then you don’t really realize what’s going on So I think it’s very It’s important that you actually try to turn things around and then look at the impact that this might have on those people who’s going to work with these changes.

So you should ask yourself, actually, the question of what will actually impact them and why would they not necessarily think that this is a brilliant idea to go in this direction. So you already in the front of things, try to navigate around these frictions that might be there.

Or your change. And then the last part is actually talking about potential fail. So I would always suggest business leaders to also dare to actually talk about what could go wrong in this process. So you put your mindset into that before you actually started off. So you put your no hat on and then really go through.

Okay, what can actually happen here? What could be the worst scenario? What would make people not want to take on this change that we’re trying to implement here

[00:07:16] Bill Raymond: Yeah that slack and the, what could fail, those are two ones that really resonate with me the most from what you just talked about, very often when we talk about slack, I think the easiest question is here is the team that I have in place considering that there are constraints around just hiring a whole bunch of more people or what have you.

These are the people that are going to be doing the work. What is their full time job? How are we going to free up their time so that they can improve what we’re trying to do? The digital transformation is all about improvement supposedly, right? So how do we provide for that? One of the things that I see very frequently is that we just say we don’t have enough capacity here to do all of these things.

And I want to get all these things done in X number of months. So we’ll just hire some consultants to come in and believe me, I’m one of the consultants that people will hire sometimes and I see it so often where the consultant comes in and says. Here is the new process and the people that need to be involved in the decision making feel like they’re not really there.

And part of it, they’re just the recipients of it. And I’ve seen that fail so many times. It’s yeah, sure. You could bring someone else in to help with process improvements and help with the transformation. But the people that are going to be impacted can’t just have something thrown at them and say, here’s your new job that you’re doing.

[00:08:40] Pia Wendelbo: Exactly. They definitely need to be involved and they also need to be the ones showing the path forward because they are also the ones sitting with all the details so they also know already what is good and what is bad and what doesn’t work or what could we actually do to improve whatever process in this case, as your example, that we are talking about here.

So it’s crucial that they’re part of it. And I think in terms of what you were just saying that the most effective way to actually work with this is actually to cohort with it. So you buddy up and then you teach along the way. So it’s about teaching and building competence in the existing team along the way so they can stand on their own afterwards.

So you’re not just coming in with something and then going out again. No, you’re actually building an organization that will be able to stand on their own legs and then they can evolve further because now they have built the base grounds and the capabilities to continue with this transformation.

So that is something I also see very often exactly the examples you just gave. and I think many organizations also see transformations or innovations, just as projects, but to me, I think it’s way more interesting to see it as a flowing thing that you as a company learn how to evolve generally all the time, how to be innovative, how to have tools to constantly transform, innovate and that kind of thing.

And that’s what I think is really interesting that you built those competences inside your company. With all the people in it.

[00:10:05] Bill Raymond: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve always said that the best consultant works themselves out of a job.

[00:10:10] Pia Wendelbo: Exactly.

[00:10:11] Do not ignore potential failure

[00:10:11] Bill Raymond: The other piece to that was the failure that really resonated with me. And I was thinking about that because, very often when we sit down to work on an effort, we all try to remain super optimistic, right?

Yes, this is the thing that we’re going to do. And so when people talk about what some of the failures could be, sometimes we actually. Push people off a little bit and say, you’re being negative when actually that’s actually super important, right? We need to know about what those things are, but then for some reason it always ends up in some sort of a presentation deck as a risk register.

That gets displayed sometime in the middle of a presentation to the executive team or whoever that’s going to sign off on this and it just falls by the wayside. And maybe every now and again people check in on it and say here’s an update on that, but we’re not constantly asking ourselves, are we doing the right things and is this going to fail, especially if we start to see signs of it.

that Even though we have the eye on the prize to get this thing done, we forget that one little failure along the way can actually put a huge blockage on the entire effort.

[00:11:19] Pia Wendelbo: Exactly. Yeah. And as you said, it’s not necessarily that comfortable or interesting to look at those failures, but it’s actually very important. And I would say that also managers or team leaders, for instance, in a product management team, it’s very important that they live this out. So it have to be a safe space for the team to always be honest, and you have to make sure that you cater.

For the fact that people feel that they can be honest, so you’d rather, much rather have them honestly coming and saying, hey, you know what, I’ve just seen now that what we are trying to develop here doesn’t really work. I can see that we need extra time or this particular thing doesn’t really work the one, the way we expected.

So we need to do something else or whatever. So If you have that culture in the team and it’s allowed to say these out loud on the go, then there’s a lot of failures that you actually can take away off the table because you solve them along the way, right? Instead of They, they grow to big elephants in the room.

So I think that’s a lot to do with the culture and how you actually work together in the team. And that has a lot to do with how you manage it as well. So if you as a, for instance, a C level leader comes to the team, you should be really genuine conscious about what’s going on. You should ask questions.

You should let people know that you want the truth. You don’t necessarily want a pretty picture of what is going on, but you actually really want them to tell you, is this good or bad, or how are we doing guys? And that I often see missing.

[00:12:44] Leadership traits in digital transformation efforts

[00:12:44] Bill Raymond: Yeah. All right. That’s actually a good transition because what you just talked about are some of the key leadership traits that we need to see in a digital transformation effort. Digging into how a digital transformation impacts teams. Now, I want to be clear. Sometimes when we use the word teams, we suggest that here are the that teams only exist at one level. If you are a leader, and you’re thinking about the leadership traits as a digital transformation, effort. Actually, you have a team that you’re working with too.

It’s another group of leaders that you will more than likely impact or who could be impacted, and you need to get alignment there. That’s a team. But in this case, I am going to ask you specifically about how digital transformation impacts the team members, the people that are doing the work, the executives, the leadership team agreed to something, and now we have to do this.

How does that digital transformation impact them?

[00:13:43] Pia Wendelbo: It can impact them in many different ways of course, but exactly as you are saying they need tools to actually navigate around this. And usually as people, as persons it’s actually hard to do things differently, right? No matter what level we are at in the organization. If you want to teach something, you want to do something new, if you want to change a habit, right?

It’s something that takes time. It’s not something you just do right away. So you need to make sure that you as a team have the slack. So exactly going back a bit to what we discussed before, it’s so important that you have the slack in the team that you can take the time out to, to learn.

How to navigate around this new thing if it’s a software if it’s a new way of treating the customer If it’s a culture whatever it is that you’re trying to change. A first very important thing is to make sure that the whole team actually have checked slack to take this in. So you have to discuss that in the team and make sure That you take things off the table and that those things you take off the table is okay to take off so people kind of agree.

This is number one And this is what we’re focusing on now, and we are not doing two and three and four and five. We’re doing exactly this one, and that can be sometimes difficult, but a very important thing in the team to constantly go back and check with each other. Okay, I’ll be on the right track here.

What are we actually doing? And then another thing that I see, which is really important in terms of these transformational changes is that people can feel quite uncomfortable, right? Because can I actually do this? Do I have the capabilities, the right competences to actually take this change in?

So a lot about this is also creating a safe space for learning and growth in the team. So again going back to a little bit what we talked about before that it should be Safe, you know raise your hand and saying hey, I don’t necessarily know exactly how to do this can anybody help me or how do we do this as a team?

So you don’t feel that you are like flying out there alone, but you actually have people to ping pong with. And so you grow together as a team, learn together as a team. And then what I also see here is that many people don’t really understand how our brains actually work and how we as people actually take decisions.

[00:15:49] The important of training

[00:15:49] Bill Raymond: It’s interesting I just before this call, I was reading a survey that came out from a company called GitLab. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them. If you’ve heard of GitHub from Microsoft of course, they’re thinking about developers and digital transformation and things like that.

And one of the problems that I’ve seen with a lot of these digital transformation efforts and the impact on teams is that the teams may not have the skill set, for example, in this particular study, it says that 34 percent of the respondents and there’s a good number of respondents. I’ll actually provide a link to the survey

if people want to actually read it 34 percent that they do not have the skill set to deploy AI. And that’s just one topic, right? So maybe you’re going to go through digital transformation where all the things that you did in your organization were paperwork, and now you’re going to put some automation in front of it.

You don’t know that software. A lot of these things have to do with a lot of unknowns and that can be scary to people. And I feel like that’s another kind of impact that we can see on these teams is that not only just giving people the slack to do things and talking about what failure might mean, but it’s also making sure that our teams feel empowered to learn this technology and to learn what exactly it is that they’re implementing rather than just learning as you do. So I find that sending people to training, for example, is a really good start to get people familiar and less, if you will, nervous about the change effort.

[00:17:25] Pia Wendelbo: Definitely agree with you on that one. And I see exactly the same. I see that this is usually quite underestimated or there’s an overconfidence in the organizations that people just, you know, we can just throw this in the head of the people and then they’ll just do it. But exactly as you’re saying, it really takes a lot of new capabilities to actually pull this off on high enough level for you to get to create the success you want, right?

So instead of us just doing the teaching, as you’re saying, what I also often suggest to companies is actually that you do these buddy team up thing. So you have a specialist either external, if you don’t have any specialist in your company that knows enough about this particular thing, for instance, the AI, as you were mentioning then you have to hire in somebody who is really on a high level on this, and then you team up. So people learn along the way, because it’s quite effectful to have that body on the side of you because then it’s easier for you to learn what is going on here and you can build your capabilities on top of it instead of just having a consultant, for instance, going in and then as we were talking about before, then you are stuck again when that person then leaves your organization.

So it’s all about keeping the growth inside the organization and at the same time, this will also cater for the other example you gave like people are a bit maybe nervous or feel uncomfortable in how you’re doing should I actually take this on. So if you have a person who really knows how this goes, then it’s more comfortable for you also to throw yourself into this new thing because you know that there’s a person in your back that actually knows what this is all about, right?

[00:19:02] The neuroscience of digital transformation

[00:19:02] Bill Raymond: And this is all leading up to one of the interesting topics that we started at the beginning of the podcast, which is neuroscience. And before we had this podcast recording, you and I were talking about the systems of the brain, this dual process theory. Can you talk about that and how that is integrated into this concept of transformation, digital transformation?

[00:19:24] Pia Wendelbo: Basically what happens when we do these Digital transformations in a company and many times we don’t really realize how hard an effort It actually is for a person to take on new stuff. Learn something new so if you for instance want to take up a new habit you want to start running you have never run before for instance Then it’s not something you just do because maybe you do that the first week because it’s really exciting.

You have this goal for yourself that I really want to run right, but then it starts to get hard and then it’s not so easy for you to keep that new change and that’s exactly the same that happens in an organization So if there’s certain way new ways of working a new process, you have to take in new stuff It might be very interesting in the beginning and you have the motivation to actually go in and change this and work differently or have shorter meetings or whatever it can be.

But then after a while you fall back because it’s just easier to do things the way you used to because you don’t have any support systems around you that kind of keeps you on track. And the reason why this happens is because you as a person, we actually have these system one and system two, as you were saying, this dual process theory that we actually use when we take decisions, and that means we as persons, we are quite lazy. So we don’t want to use more energy than we are supposed to.

We want it as easy as possible. So everything that has to do with habits, for instance lies in your system one. So system one is really, really fast, it’s intuitive, it’s uh, unconscious and it’s something you do automatically. So that is exactly where all your habits lies. When you brush your teeth or your bike or your drive to work, it’s just something you do.

You don’t really use a lot of brain energy on it, right?

Whereas system two, that is actually where you are like much more slow, you are reflective you’re actually rational, you’re thinking about the future, and you’re quite controlled. And when you want to change stuff, when you want to do something differently than what you did yesterday, then you

have to use extra energy on actually making that happen, right? And that is exactly what is Organizations miss because a lot of these digital transformation strategies stuff you want to implement in companies, they are made with your system, too So people have sat down spend a lot of energy on figuring out what it is that we want to do here, right?

But then when people in the organization then have to take on this new strategy then they are receiving it with their system one. And now we will start to see the conflict here, right? So that is why it’s so important, actually, that we have this slack. Because it will take us time to actually change the way that we used to do things.

Instead of what we did before. And another thing here also is that as the brains are lazy, even though we have the motivation for it, it still feels easier for us to maybe do what we just did. It’s really easy to fall back, right? So another thing that organizations need to think about in these transformations is actually that you help each person build the framework around themselves to actually go into these new stuff and parts of this is using the team, right?

So you as a team work with this together. You put it in focus. You all work with this new thing So it’s not just you who’s doing it But you have a whole team that can help each other up on doing things differently And you can also work with external triggers for instance and an easy example here: If you want to change the way that you do meetings you want to have shorter meetings, then in Outlook, when you’re booking a meeting, it’s always one hour, right?

That’s the default. But you have to then change the system maybe to a default says 30 minutes because then it’s easy for you to hold a 30 minutes meeting. You don’t have to think about booking it because it’s just, yeah, right? So that’s an example of an external trigger. And that is something you really need carefully to look at as a company when you’re trying to do these changes because there’s so many things that people can fall back on.

So really upfront looking at these frictions and figuring out where could this go wrong. As we were talking about before, right? It’s quite important.

[00:23:32] Bill Raymond: Yeah, I completely hear you there. I, I was just thinking about a company that I was working with and they were going through a digital transformation to move all of their IT systems in the cloud. Even if they just had to move the application from their current server hardware, their computer hardware onto other computer hardware hosted by some other company like AWS, Amazon web services, or Azure, or what have you.

And I just remembered. These projects were coming up where companies needed some software and they weren’t necessarily cloud enabled, but the I. T. Department was still saying we’re going to have to purchase more hardware to put into our server rooms, and we don’t have the capacity for that. And there was this constant, but wait, you don’t need to worry about that.

We’ll put the software on the cloud. You don’t need to worry about increasing the capacity of your server room. And because they were in that system one, they were in that unconscious, I’m still living in this world. And really they needed to be in the system two, reflecting about that future and thinking about how we’ll know we’ll just work with that vendor to do the same thing we always do.

But we’re just not going to purchase hardware and install it in a rack in a room with air conditioning anymore. That’s just going to be there for us when we press a button and fire it up over on that other cloud provider system.

[00:24:52] Pia Wendelbo: Exactly. And that was also partially because they didn’t necessarily have the capabilities needed to actually understand what that change actually impacted. So they didn’t understand that it would be so easy for them, right? So they were nervous that this would just be more of the same. That they already have, right?

[00:25:08] Takeaways

[00:25:08] Bill Raymond: Absolutely. As we’re wrapping up on this, I’d love to know, if an organization is just getting going right now on a big digital transformation, or maybe they’re even midway through it, I don’t know I’ll leave that to you, how you want to answer it, but if they’re working on a digital transformation effort, what are some key takeaways in order to make sure it’s successful?

[00:25:31] Pia Wendelbo: Yeah, I think we actually talked a lot about a lot of them, so maybe it’s just summarizing a lot what we just talked about. So for me the slack is really important and even though it sounds really basic. It’s something that I see is not happening out there. So so I can only say out loud one more time that Prioritizing this is really important because it is hard also for leaders It doesn’t feel good, right?

To take things off the plate. So it’s actually quite hard to really focus on just doing this one thing and making that slack happen. So that is definitely one of the things I would recommend. And the other thing that I would say is also really walking in the shoes of your organization. So taking the time to, to step back and then look at the friction that this might cause in your organization is usually very effective as well. So you really put yourself in the shoes of those people who are going to take in the transformation. Often this is also something that you don’t really spend that much time on. And then there’s also this potential failure hunting. I think it’s really interesting to go in that position when you kick things off.

So I would always recommend, for instance, to do a point of departure, where you look at your successes, of course, but definitely also look at how would this look like if we actually failed. So it’s a lot about spending time on these preps which is often overlooked a bit.

[00:26:52] Bill Raymond: One of the things that we do with agile very frequently is we always say to people gone are the days of the three month planning cycle, and then you have a mission statement and then four months later, you kick the effort off, but, we can do a lot of these things as a preamble. Because we don’t have the budget yet, or we are still thinking about it. We can do all of these things as a preamble and we can treat it like it is an agile effort as well. We don’t have to go into this blind and say, okay, day one, we’re starting. We don’t have time to do all of these team work and planning things now we have to just get right to doing the work. I don’t think that’s what we’re trying to propose when we talk about agile.

[00:27:36] Pia Wendelbo: Exactly. So it’s a, it’s about the iteration parts of starting a project as well. So exactly, that is the way to do it. So when we work with this, when I work with teams around it, I exactly put in time in the beginning of it before we go into that to exactly do a lot of these things, and then another thing you can do also is that you can put it into your already rhythm.

So part of your retrospective, take this in as part of what you’re discussing there. Take it as a part of the standups that kind of thing. And then also inviting maybe the C level managers, those who are then following the project alongside invite them into the room, let them listen into what is really going on.

So they start to feel and understand what’s actually happening here. So they don’t have a picture of things are just like really high level or a pretty picture of this is just how beautiful things are right now, but they really understand that there’s also struggle in this project.

So it gets easier for them. And many times if they are there and they actually are able to cater for the team in the right way, where people actually feel comfortable in speaking out, there’s a lot of stuff you can take along the way. Instead of building it up and then just realizing before you launch it, for instance, or things are getting pushed or stuff like that.

And even though we also have to remember that’s actually also part of the neuroscience part that we as persons, we are overconfident in what we are actually capable of doing. And that also goes for the C leaders. So then when they are putting out a deadline or we want this out here.

They also over confident in what what the team will actually be able to pull off. So having these honest dialogues along the way is so important.

[00:29:08] Wrap up and how to contact Pia Wendelbo

[00:29:08] Bill Raymond: I think that’s a great way to wrap up the podcast, actually. Pia Wendelbo, I really appreciate your time today. Before we wrap up, is there some way people might be able to reach you to converse on this topic?

[00:29:21] Pia Wendelbo: Yeah, for sure. So they can either reach me on my website. So it’s https://scandinavianchangeagents.com or they can also go to my LinkedIn page, just search under my name, Pia Wendelbo.

[00:29:32] Bill Raymond: Absolutely. And I will make sure that those links are on the https://agileinaction.com website. And if you’re in a podcast app right now, just go into the show notes, the description, and you’ll see those links there as well. Pia Wendelbo, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.

[00:29:47] Pia Wendelbo: Likewise, it was a pleasure to talk to you about this very important topic.

[00:29:52] Speaker: Thank you for listening to the Agile in Action Podcast with Bill Raymond. Subscribe now to stay current on the latest trends in team, organization, and agile techniques. Please take a moment to rate and comment to help us grow our community. This podcast is produced in affiliation with Cambermast LLC, and our executive producer is Reama Dagasan.

If there is a topic you would like Bill to cover, contact him directly at Bill.Raymond@agileinaction.com.