Interview

'It offers you a template
for the digital transformation
in your company'

This interview was conducted in November 2019 at the start of the fourth edition of Take the Lead

Early 2020, Take the Lead, the training program on digital transformation in the workplace, will start its fourth edition. Three participants of this year’s edition look back: “Innovation processes and the resulting transformation can no longer be banished to a remote corner of the company. The entire organization must join in. And this program is an excellent guideline to do so. ”

Take the lead Vlerick staff

What expectations did you have when you registered for Take the Lead this year?

Sophie Angenot: Above all, I wanted to get a good idea of everything that comes with such a radical digital transformation. From my professional context I already know the purely technological aspect fairly well, but in the past year, we have also given a lot of thought and invested heavily in new organizational forms at QuaData. I was specially curious about the way you link innovative forms of organization or new partnerships to such a digital transformation.

Guy D’Hauwers: I have a lot of experience in the international go-to-market in the high-tech sector, but I wanted to acquire a deeper insight into the aspects of transformation and innovation. I am also a real networker, and that also appealed to me in Take the Lead. I would never register for a pure online course, I find that too boring (laughs).

Ivan Stuer: Innovation is good, but what kind of structure can be hidden in and behind that innovation? And how can you really structurally integrate that innovation into your systems to prevent certain innovative ideas or projects from leading their own lives for a while and then gradually fade out? I was looking for new insights on that matter. And I agree with what Guy just said: the network aspect was also very important to me.

‘We do not just provide the students with easy solutions, but we really try to trigger them to effectively use the new insights’

Stijn Viaene

To what extent these expectations came true?

Sophie Angenot: I found Take the Lead’s theoretical model a very useful guideline. It has helped me a few times to explain the need for a digital transformation to others. And to start a conversation about new roles and responsibilities in my own company. The examples from the course have become a kind of library and toolkit for me, which I can refer to if I want to get a better explanation.

Did the training program already had a concrete impact on your own company?

Sophie Angenot: Certainly, and even a quite far-reaching one. Our company is part of the Cronos Group and more specifically its iAdvise cluster. Within that cluster we have already given a presentation for the managing partners, and I have decided that my consultants can also follow the training.

Guy D’Hauwers: I am part of a relatively small organization, but during the training I learned a lot about the different leadership types. That really helps me with my customers, in the sense that I started applying certain cases to them and later on even to their customers.

‘It gradually becomes very clear that we have passed the stage of free experimentation and innovation’

Sophie Angenot

The training itself lasts twelve weeks. How difficult was it to combine that with your regular professional activities?

Ivan Stuer: Initially, the very strong pace surprised me. It is quite a tough process. Those who register must also be prepared to invest a considerable amount of time and effort: if you do not so, you risk losing a lot of added value.

Stijn Viaene: I agree that it is not a free lunch, we have to be clear about that. It is a digital training program based on the fact that when you participate, you should learn from it. We do not just provide the students with easy solutions, but we really try to trigger them to effectively use the new insights.

Today, the need for a digital transformation is all over the place in the business world: do you, after completing this training, have a better idea of ​​both the urgency and the way in which a company can tackle that transformation?

Ivan Stuer: I think so. The Flemish government invests a great deal in all kinds of innovation. But it is also important to specify that innovation and its impact in concrete terms, and then to decide what the next step will be. At Informatie Vlaanderen (Information Flanders), for example, we had three separate processes running around blockchain, artificial intelligence and smart cities. We recently decided to integrate these processes into our regular operations. This model lends itself very well to that.

Stijn Viaene: You hit the nail on the head. Today we often fail to make the distinction between innovation and transformation. Companies that do not succeed to incorporate innovation into their core business will not gain anything in the end. It was precisely this observation that was more or less the starting point for this training. We have put away digital transformation as a sort of external project or program for too long, but that is not the case anymore.

Sophie Angenot: I think it is difficult for many companies to find the right balance. All too often they continue to experiment and get new projects on track without having to make any decisions. Or they set up start-ups in their own company, but I don’t believe in that. At a certain point, innovation must also be integrated into your core business.

Guy D’Hauwers: The interesting thing about this course is that not only the ‘usual suspects’ register. In other words, not only the people who are already very much involved in technology and innovation in their own company. Innovation can and will no longer be confined to a small corner of the company. The entire organization must be drawn in.

Let us be concrete: you have successfully completed this training, and then you go back to your ‘business as usual’. How do you get your new insights integrated into the company? And do you ultimately create added value for the entire organization?

Guy D’Hauwers: Precisely because it appeals to more “roles” and a wider spectrum of profiles, I feel that this training is an excellent tool to quickly create a broader support within a company. I entered with a fairly open mind, and I did not expect to be able to apply the knowledge I gained to my customers.

Ivan Stuer: Of course, that support already exists in our organization. But, as a course participant, it still remains a difficult task to get your own organization to agree with the new insights. It would be a good idea to pay more attention to that aspect during the course: how do I transfer this new knowledge and how do I get enough people enthusiastic about it?

Sophie Angenot: My situation was slightly different, because I already entered the course with that approach. Moreover, I am in a company and in a sector where the concept of digital transformation does not immediately make people gaze in awe (laughs). Together with the other companies in our group, we are already considering a new digital strategy for months. In that sense, the timing was just right for us and I immediately included concepts from the study program in those discussions.

Do you think that the impact of the digital transformation still is underestimated in Flanders? And was this training some sort of an eye opener?

Sophie Angenot: A number of examples from the course really illustrate how far reaching the impact of that transformation can be. It gradually becomes very clear that we have passed the stage of free experimentation and innovation. This process gives you a kind of a template to effectively proceed with that knowledge in mind.
Ivan Stuer: In recent years, we have gone along with the so-called Spotify model, giving a great deal of attention to autonomy, or flexible and self-managing teams. But at some point the question still arises: how do we reintegrate all that newly acquired knowledge into the organization? What are we left with, and which models cannot be used? The training program makes you think about this.

Take the lead Vlerick staff

Take the Lead also explicitly targets people who are a bit lower on the hierarchical ladder: middle management or even junior profiles. Is it realistic?

Guy D’Hauwers: I think above all you should have enough knowhow and a sufficiently developed network in your organization. You must be sufficiently connected to have an impact.

Sophie Angenot: Above all, you should realize that your people are coming back with a huge desire to change things. So give them the chance to do so, let them take on that role of catalyst.

Concluding question: what is, summarized in a single sentence, this training’s greatest added value?

Ivan Stuer: It makes you think seriously about the danger zone in which your organization is located, and about the possible impact on the entire organization.

Sophie Angenot: You can continue to apply the structure that you are given in the longer term, and the program just gives you a lot of motivation.
Guy D’Hauwers: This training offers you a good insight into the broader picture and the wider impact of the transformation that we face. Some courses may go a lot deeper, but they are more focused on specific niches.

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