Q&A Governance issue – digital development and my digital leadership role

Dear Sofie,

I need your help. I work as the digital director in a large global organisation. As with everywhere that has a global presence there is a lot to work on and coordinate.

I’ve been in my job now for two years. I know lots of people and through my network it’s easy to know who knows what. This is the good side of my work.

Now to the problem. I’m the digital leader. I have the authority to approve new digital projects and I should encourage digital initiatives. There is often little transparency around why a certain decision was made and who actually decided that a certain investment should be made.

There are some IT people who’ve been working in the organisation for well over ten years. They are all in senior positions. If I compared my ranking in the hierarchy I have more power than them, but just because they are glued together from projects and memories from years ago they are not too keen to be helpful to many of my newer colleagues.

This would not be a problem if they were in a department that doesn’t influence my work at all, but it does all the time, every day.

Digital development is about the future, thinking ahead and organising so that as many people as possible can benefit from the work you do. The group I’m talking about is the opposite. They are too connected to the past, only think about their next boozy night out together, and would never like to think of themselves as a team serving the organisation.

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It all got really absurd six months ago when they were all working against one of my projects, trying their best to make me look dumb. I challenged two of them in a large meeting asking why they were holding information back from me and my team.

Their reaction was hilarious, both were in total denial of their behaviour.

There’s obviously something weird going on and their team culture is not open to any kind of collaboration.

After this I took action and started an informal investigation with some of my allies tracking all of the activities of the team from years back. Not surprisingly they have been giving each other awards such as promotions and other company perks. Their whole existence in the organisation is based on promises made to each other.

From what I know it feels like corruption to me and they are preventing a lot of work from moving forward and are making up excuses for why something is not possible. It was okay to struggle with them for a while, but there has been no improvement and the organisation is not doing what is possible.

My efforts are not working at all and the next logical step is to resign, but at the same time I could try to talk to people in the organisation.

What’s your thoughts?

Hannah

*****

Dear Hannah,

This sounds like a tough situation to be in and I can only imagine the frustration you feel. If you reveal your findings to the CEO and their team you become a whistle-blower, which puts you in an uncomfortable position. But by leaving you are not standing up for the kind of leadership and management you stand for.

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It’s very hard to drive a digital change project in any organisation that is built on ‘friendship relationships’ where people owe each other favours. These kinds of incentives end up as factors that destroy motivation and honesty.

When too many people in an organisation are there because someone owes them a favour the whole energy is broken and people are not looking at the future with any kind of similar outlook.

At the same time, it’s normal to stay in an organisation waiting for a better job or promotion, but in the situation you are describing it looks like this is leading to inaction.

One option is to talk to a risk manager in your organisation, they should be better equipped to deal with this kind of issue. It may take some time and, depending on how patient you are, you have to decide how much time you will give it.

A lot of organisations have relapses where ethics go downwards on a regular basis, even those who should walk the talk relapse, so that this is happening is not surprising.

The management board need to ask themselves if they believe in what they are doing and their strategy and if they have the courage to stick to the strategy every single day.

I met a quality director in a diary company once who said that they have to meet the minimum standard of production even on their worst day. That’s why they are always aiming for a higher standard. When you start slacking and accepting lower standards, you are risking your quality and work ethics.

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Leaders who value good ethics are aware of how these factors connect.

Sofie