Digital transformation: are you living and breathing next practice or best practice?

There is an increasing recognition that many of the well-known best practice management techniques do not address the complexities brought about by digital and connectivity.

Acting more “startup than corporate” is an increasing mantra adopted by digital pioneering companies who were not founded as digital native startups.

However, the mantra can be easier to speak than to live and breathe by. The complication is, established management practices – and the culture, measurement and control systems, and decision-making they promote – were never designed to embrace highly dynamic, emergent, digitally interconnected and complex systems of value. Some of the techniques can even make situations much worse.

>See also: Digital leadership: Do CIOs have it in them?

These techniques may be best for walled organisations and for markets and societies not connected to the Internet – but they do not serve the corporate or government too well in the real world.

These best practices represent the pre-connectivity accepted ways of working. New professional practices – ‘next practices’ – are needed for the post-connected world.

This emerging shift in leadership techniques, from best to next practice, from pre-connectivity to post-connectivity, is shown here.


Best practices





Next practices



Business Processes




Value Systems

‘Known’ data


Weak signals, probe, sense and respond

Primary perspective on the parts


Primary perspective on the whole

Theory X management


Theory Y management

The organisational model


Network analysis and social capital

Enterprise Architecture


Behaviour Based Systems

Stability & predictability


Agility, adaptability & innovation

Change Management


Adoption Engineering

As-Is and To-Be grand designs


Next state, evolving, “adaptive change”

Discipline specialisation


Cross-discipline collaboration

IT systems


Information and socio-technical systems

Business/IT divide mgt & translation


Multi-discipline common language

Business & technology specification


Agile product development

Users of technology


Participants in information systems

Bespoke and corporate technology


Service and consumerised technology




Internally focused first


Externally focused first

Web model as a bolt-on to the existing


Living on the Web



The practices of ‘best’ on the left hand side are the very practices that have fostered industrialisation and led to global connectivity.

The irony is that these practices do not naturally foster external and connected views, which are essential to work in the connected world that the best practices have helped create.

>See also: What does it really mean to be a ‘digital business’?

Of more immediate concern, however, is that the practices of best on the left-hand side often create an artificially simplified view of the world, whereas the practices of next on the right are designed to help us understand and tackle real-world complexity.

The best practices, which are used day-in day-out to formalise business and IT models, as well as change initiatives, tend to err on the side of systems where cause and effect are knowable – that is, if A, B, C and D happens, we know we will get E.

The operating model, the plan for change or the contract may look great, but the real-world outcome rarely matches it.

Such management approaches work well for simple, or even complicated, highly predictable situations such as an automated factory, but less well for real-world complex situations involving people and many connected parties, such as an organisation, market or society in general.

Best practices also promote more and more precise views of the things that can be controlled; and the next practices, founded in systems thinking, promote more holistic views of the external world and the interactions across the system, of which the organisation is a part.

Consider a business process map. Where are motivations or trust relationships defined? Or an as-is and to-be business plan where the to-be plan is most certainly not going to happen – yet many still persist in its use.

What of organisational chart versus the social network of an organisation – which describes the most important relationships to deliver organisational goals?

Or how about change management? Somehow, employees never seem to do quite what was expected from the centre but find ways to get the job done that they believe to be most effective. One thing the new norm is teaching is that it’s better to be broadly right than precisely wrong.

This emergence of new norm management techniques from ‘best to next’ does not mean throwing away best practice, but, rather, placing these techniques in the new real-world context.

Specifically, businesses must leverage the best of the best practices, but challenge the rest where they clearly no longer help formulate and execute winning strategies in the real, complex and globally connected world.

>See also: Leadership in the age of digital transformation

Acting more startup than corporate is becoming part of mainstream management speak. To realise the digital value this can unleash, however, requires that the KPIs, tools and day-to-day management culture and techniques corporate talent is required to live by are more next than best.

Otherwise, fulfilling real digital potential may still be a long way off, and the disruptors may be getting even closer to changing the game.


Sourced from Carl Bate, managing partner, digital strategy and transformation, Atos

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...