Chief Content Officer,
Techstrong Group


In this Digital Insights Leadership Series video, Mike Vizard talks with Dr. Victoria Grady, author of “Stuck: How to Win at Work by Understanding Loss,” about how digital business transformation initiatives come to experience grief.



Mike Vizard: Hey, folks, welcome to the latest Digital CxO Leadership Insight series video. I’m your host Mike Vizard. Today we’re with Dr. Victoria Grady, who is a professor at George Mason University, and author of a book called “Stuck.” And we’ll be talking about how folks get stuck in digital transformation. Victoria, welcome to the show.

Dr. Victoria Grady: Thank you, Michael. It’s so great to be here. I thank you for hosting.

Mike Vizard: One of the issues that comes up all the time with folks, and we hear it, is its organizational behavior seems to have a massive impact on digital transformation. It comes down to, I guess, “Who moved my proverbial cheese?” But, you know, [crosstalk] exactly among organizations in terms of how they manage this process? Because you did write this book called Stuck, and a lot of that has to do with what goes on in the business world.

Dr. Victoria Grady: That’s right, Michael. And the full name of the book is Stuck: How to Win at Work by Understanding Loss. And I think how to win at work is kind of a fun play on words, because really, we think that understanding loss is one of the most important components of digital transformation success across the board. I mean, definitely, organizational behavior is such a critical factor, but it’s really the individuals that make up the organization, and it’s the individuals’ behavior that we are actually talking about, right? And when we go through a digital transformation, oftentimes, we’re actually talking about a pretty significant shift in the way we do business and in the way we interact with our workplace and with completing our daily work task. And a lot of times, that shift or that change in how we interact is a loss, and it’s felt like a loss for the individuals who are experiencing it.

Whether it’s a loss that is negative or positive, it doesn’t really matter. It’s really about the feelings of loss as you transition or get used to the new way of doing things. Does that make sense, Michael?

Mike Vizard: It does. In some ways it’s like grief, I mean, we get attached to some things and we’re gonna, people will go through a process of grief, because even if they hated the old process, it was still the one that they knew, right?

Dr. Victoria Grady: That’s totally right. And it’s very apropos that you used the word “attached,” as you were talking about that. One of the theories that we refer back to in our work around Stuck is something called attachment theory or attachment behavior. And originally, Michael, this wasn’t a theory that would have been historically common, if you will, to the organizational behavior literature. It would’ve been more common in courses to developmental psychology, which is actually kids, right, children, you know, the developmental process of humans. But what we’ve found is that, while most people that are employed by organizations are not children, a lot of what they learned as a child – yeah, I know we could probably debate that a little bit, but anyway – what they learned as a child is influencing how they work, right? And attachment behavior is something that we experience and kind of form our perspective on when we are children, but that stays with us, right?

And so, as we are adults in the workplace, experiencing digital transformation, a lot of times, we even unconsciously go back to those same feelings or same perspectives that we had when we were kids when we were experiencing loss. And I think that’s really, really important to recognize that, while we are now adults, in general, there are a lot of feelings and emotions and behaviors that are formed and stay with us throughout our lives.

Mike Vizard: Are there stages, therefore, of grief that managers should be thinking through? And do they apply? And is this gonna be part of the planning process?

Dr. Victoria Grady: I really think that there are stages, and I don’t know if it goes directly with the stages of grief, as we might all remember back to the work by Kubler Ross around the stages of grief. But even if there are not those exact same stages, it is a process, right, that we all have to go through. And what we’ve seen, overwhelmingly, is that the recognition that it’s a process is like step number one, right? Just understanding that everyone in the organization has the potential to experience the transition or the change completely differently, right? And to recognize that, while the organization may not move through the exact same stages at the exact same space, the organization being the collective of the people inside the organization, that we all are transitioning through.

And managers and project leaders need to implement strategies, and we encourage that proactively instead of reactively. But proactively, to say, “Okay, folks, this is coming down the pipeline, this is going to happen, and we all are going to be impacted by it and we’re all going to experience it a little bit differently. But here’s the space, if you will, that you may proceed through the transition in such a way that makes sense for you,” right? That’s acknowledging that we are individuals and that we are gonna experience the transition differently. And we have found that that’s critically important to understanding and supporting the organization transitioning. Does that make sense, Michael?

Mike Vizard: It does. Is it your sense, therefore, you know, we see that a lot of organizations are getting hung up on digital transformation processes; for every one that’s a success, there’s probably 19 that are stuck somewhere. What is your sense of how to, I guess, unstuck that – or unstick that, whatever verb is appropriate – and get in there and kind of move the ball forward? Because I think we can all recognize the issue, but I don’t think most people know what to do about it.

Dr. Victoria Grady: Oh, that’s a really good question, Michael, and one of the things that we did in Stuck, we had a book that was a prequel, if you will, it was much more academic to Stuck, and it called workplace attachment. And while I think that was a great foundation book, it was super hard to read and it was painful to get through it. Because the theory was there, but we didn’t really provide examples or a way to kind of worksheet, if you will, through the process. And that was the essence of Stuck. My coauthor, Patrick McCreesh, is a great – has as a fantastic ability to kind of frame exercises around the theory. So we worked very, very closely together, because the theory is my background, given that I’m a professor and I’ve been in the academic space for a super long time.

But Patrick was able to help translate, if you will, a lot of that theory into worksheets or practical application. And throughout Stuck, at the end of every chapter, we created a way to step back from your process as it’s happening and think about it, and really work yourself through how your organization needs to make that transition. Sometimes it’s asking your employees to look at the questions that we have outlined in the back of each chapter and really think about those questions and how they potentially are responding to the process of the transition. Sometimes it is to, you know, have just an open dialogue with your team, around different thoughts about how the transformation is gonna impact your organization.

So, the book itself helps you walk through the different perspectives that you probably need to consider as you are going through the transition, or preparing to go through the transition. Does that make sense?

Mike Vizard: It surely does. Do you think managers kind of underestimate all of this? I think everybody has a tendency to build these grand plans, and they just assume that, you know, everybody who’s supposed to execute along the grand plan will do so according to script. But last time I checked, no plan meets actual reality after five minutes, so, how do managers think through this whole issue with, you know, the people factor?

Dr. Victoria Grady: You know, I think that’s such a great question, and I have to tell you that, as you are saying that, my brain is going back to a movie from – from a long time ago, I might be dating myself – called Field of Dreams, with Kevin Costner, I don’t know if you remember that. But in the movie, they talk about if you build it, they will come. Well, maybe that was true for Field of Dreams, but I don’t think that it’s necessarily true with digital transformation. I think we want to come, right, we want to embrace the technology, we want to improve our productivity, performance, all that good stuff, but I think making that transition, getting from the current state to the new state is a little bit more challenging than a lot of the management team often think it is. And it’s much more individual, right?

When I started talking about this at the beginning of our discussion, Michael, I mentioned something called attachment behavior. And attachment behavior is uniquely individual, right? It’s part of our biological instinct as humans; generally, the entire population of human beings have an instinctual predisposition that is realized when you are a child, to attach to things. And that’s something that is rarely considered in these plans that we’re talking about, in these strategies that leadership roll out. They are oftentimes a checklist of, “If you do these things – check, check, check – it’s going to work and the transition’s going to be successful.” And that’s not true. Sometimes that list, it’s not all those things; surely, it’s not in the same order that you think it might be, and it might come in a totally different order.

Your people need to be considered at their most basic level, as being unique individuals that will transition through change based on their perspective and their life experience and their personalities. It’s not just a cookie-cutter, if you will, strategy that can push the project forward. Our experience is that just doesn’t work very often.

Mike Vizard: And we’ve been talking about this from the perspective of employees, but it also impacts customers. They’re the same way when they look at a process and they’ve known how to do something for a while, and they may resist even more than the employees.

Dr. Victoria Grady: A hundred percent, right? And especially in our customer-focused environment, I think a lot of times customers tend to feel betrayed. That’s one of the things that we’ve heard that the data tells us, right, from some of the projects that we’ve worked with in the digital transformation space is that, you know, the organization is onboard with the change and how the digital transformation is going to impact their activities. But there is no consideration in the project given for how the digital transformation is gonna impact the customers. And oftentimes, again, the customers feel betrayed by not being included in the process. And so, that seems like it’s a heavy lift for a lot of organizations, but honestly, Michael, the lift of making sure that all parties that are impacted, be it internal employees or your external customers, is what we believe is a critical part of the process that can’t be ignored. It may feel heavy, but it’s, honestly, a lot heavier to retroactively try to go back and fix it than it is to be proactive and build it in from the beginning.

Mike Vizard: It sounds like maybe we should maybe go slower and experiment more to see what happens as we go along versus kind of just rushing to the end and assuming that everybody’s gonna be on the same page when we get there.

Dr. Victoria Grady: I totally agree, Michael. I don’t know that I could’ve said that any better. I totally agree. And I think, again, I think in the environment that we exist in culturally, I think that it’s go-go-go, right, push-push-push, be better than the competitor, hurry up, make it happen. I think all those things are great, but we have to temper, sometimes, our excitement, enthusiasm, and motivation to understand that not everybody that’s impacted by the changes that are coming down the pipeline are gonna respond the same way, right? Otherwise, we’re gonna just spend our time putting out fires and not really embracing the advantages that the technology just brought to us.

Mike Vizard: Right, so, wrapping up, what’s your best advice to folks? What should they be thinking about?

Dr. Victoria Grady: I think the best advice is to make sure that you understand who your people are. A lot of times, leaders and managers think they know what their people need in terms of a project plan, but it’s better to ask, right? And to really get down in there and see if you can understand, at least from a departmental or a group perspective, if you don’t have the bandwidth to do it on an individual level, to understand how your organization really needs the process to move forward. What can you do to make it a custom process, even if you’re using a checklist of sorts, but understand that that checklist may come in different orders, or it may need to have different levels of importance on different areas than maybe the standard process would embrace.

Mike Vizard: All right, I guess it comes back to what we always know somewhere in the back of our minds, it starts with people.

Dr. Victoria Grady: Absolutely.

Mike Vizard: And then it comes to process. Hey, Victoria, thanks for being on the show.

Dr. Victoria Grady: Thank you, Michael, it was a pleasure.

Mike Vizard: All right, folks, this is our latest episode. You can find this one and others on the website. We invite you to check them all out. And until then, thanks for watching.