I first had the pleasure of meeting Professor Terri Griffith around eight years ago when we stumbled across each other in that biggest of global melting-pots, Twitter. Terri is a professor of management at Santa Clara University – a role, and a location, that raise some interesting conundrums. For my part, I was busy opining about technology, but from the perspective of someone who lives about as far from Silicon Valley (both geographically and attitudinally) as is possible. Terri hunted me down after seeing a post I wrote about the disconnect between technological tools and the culture within the organizations that are attempting to deploy those tools.

The thing that really interested me about Terri (apart from, of course, the fact that I’m impressed by academic titles!) is that in her I saw someone who was focusing deeply on the human aspects of management while doing so from within the very heart of Silicon Valley. It raised, in my view, some interesting tensions. Silicon Valley is, after all, the place where technology is believed to be able to cure all ills and where “the machines” can simply replace people, whenever dealing with those pesky humans becomes too difficult.

Terri, researching and practicing in the people aspects of change, flies in the face of that simplistic and dismissive attitude. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed talking to her so much. My opinions, as unpolished as they were, resonated with Terri and I was honored to have been included in her seminal book, The Plugged-In Manager: Get in Tune with Your People, Technology, and Organization to Thrive. If my own academic career is sadly lacking, the next best thing is being quoted by someone who is a bona fide top-shelf thinker.

Anyway, as I was building out the Digital Strength program, a free series of resources aimed at helping individuals and organizations understand digital transformation and how to apply it to their situation, it struck me that Terri was the perfect candidate to involve in the program.

And what better topic to speak with Terri about than Course Six, which focuses on transforming in a leader-led style. This is the course that looks at the management and leadership aspects of digital transformation, and the cultural implications that change raises. Terri actually wrote about our discussion on her blog, and as she wrote, her biggest takeaway were thoughts:

…about the empathy leaders have for how people in their organizations are (or are not) engaging with digital transformations. I offered the lens of Thinking in 4T — always keeping in mind your target, talent, technology, and technique — but adding the umbrella of empathy brings it to life. Of the four Ts, talent is the most complex and Ben sees that over and over in his consulting and entrepreneurship.

Terri and I went on to talk at length about empathy: about how any transformation needs to be seen within the context of the individuals who are actually going to interact with the new system and process. As Terri explained:

We need empathy to understand all the stakeholder perspectives as we consider a transformation. The 4 Ts help us to identify the stakeholders and critical issues that need to be on the table — part of the negotiation mix. Negotiation more broadly (whether or not it’s a formal negotiation) puts us in a frame of mind where making tradeoffs as new information comes to light is natural. Negotiation is also a skill leaders have spent a career honing – so we aren’t asking people to start from scratch. Empathy and negotiation are human skills for our digital transformations.

It’s always awesome to catch up with Terri, especially so when we’re doing something that other people will be able to benefit. Many thanks to HelloSign for enabling the Digital Strength program to occur and thanks, as always, to Terri for joining me on the journey!

Please feel free to listen to the session here, and if you’re keen to read the course in its entirety, you can do so here.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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