It’s not the sort of thing most people say out loud. While rarely uttered in boardrooms or written in memos, fear is one of the main reasons organizations can’t innovate fast enough to become more competitive, according to Virginia Gambale, a corporate strategist with many years of experience as a technology advisor to organizations undertaking digital transformations.
Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. Fear of losing one’s place in a fast-moving and ever-evolving technology landscape. It’s a complex but common emotion that can result in costly consequences.
“Without a vision of the future, there’s no incentive to move to the new paradigm,” Gambale said.
“Failing to overcome fear can keep companies clinging to the melting iceberg of legacy technology.”
Gambale started her career on Wall Street and later became CIO of several major financial institutions, including Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank. She’s currently managing partner at Azimuth Partners where she advises organizations on corporate strategy. She’s also chair of the Chief Executive Advisory Board at Nutanix.
She has a clear message for technology leaders and decision-makers taking baby steps toward a true digital transformation.
“Take the plunge,” she said. “It’s not so scary.”
Pithiness aside, Gambale empathizes with angst about the unknown. The pressure is on. Research firm IDC recently found that 85 percent of corporate leaders estimate they have two years to make significant strides in real digital transformation or risk falling behind competitors.
“It's very hard for some people because they don't know where they fit in the new world,” she said. “That’s part of the human condition: fear of the future.”
As is often the case, she said the past can offer guideposts for navigating the future.
We’ve Been Here Before
The shift to modernized data centers with hyperconverged infrastructure powering hybrid and multi-cloud services has parallels with the outsourcing trend that swept technology in the early 2000s, according to Gambale.
“In order to get people to buy into the idea of outsourcing, you offered them a job,” she explained. “Hiring managers would say, ‘You’re going to be doing the same thing, you’re just going to be doing it from somewhere else.’ That made the transition easier and helped people reinvent themselves,” Gambale said.
Without the ability to reinvent oneself or a business for that matter, the status quo remains. This is the death knell in today’s fast-paced world powered by tech innovation. Instead, Gambale said it’s critical to create a vision for the future that includes more than one’s own individual interests. It has to be a vision for the entire organization’s journey toward a more agile, more robust approach to technology. Understanding this is key to letting go of fear.
“People in IT positions see themselves as very important players in getting the technology to run, but they don’t necessarily believe they can actually paint the future and achieve it,” Gambale said. “And as a result of driving strategy — not just tech — they become a much more valuable player when they overcome fear and actively shape the future.”
The Price of Fear
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review cited survey results finding that 70 percent of digital transformations fail to reach their goals and counted fear among the factors leading to failures.
“It is critical for leaders to recognize fears and to emphasize that the digital transformation process is an opportunity for employees to upgrade their expertise to suit the marketplace of the future,” the authors wrote.
The article stated that $900 billion was squandered on botched digital transformations in 2018 alone.
Gambale said fearful employees usually fall in two categories. First, there are naysayers, who find all the roadblocks, all the reasons why something won’t work. The second type is open to change in theory, but doesn’t know where and how to start and ends up stalled, stuck in a state of fear.
Gambale has seen much of this during her business career has grown accustomed to facing upheaval. She’s learned to harness the energy that comes from significant shifts and changes.
Gambale believes the quicker technology leaders get over their fears and embrace new IT infrastructures, the better. Realizing the human and business benefits of new technologies helps people become agents of change.
Alex Gronczewski is a contributing writer.
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