The Art of the Possible when Change is Certain


Dan Kagan’s suburban kitchen is now the boardroom where he manages operations for Docusign Canada. The forced lockdown the pandemic demanded has also brought a unique opportunity for Dan to watch the tides of business shift in real time. We caught up with him at his home office to learn more about the profound business changes that have occurred these past few months – both in Canada and worldwide – and on what he sees as "the art of the possible." Here’s what Dan had to say.

For businesses, things may never be the same. COVID-19 has changed the world forever.

Those are audacious words, I know. But I’ve witnessed something few executives have experienced over careers that have spanned a lifetime: a radical culture shift in business compressed into 90 days.

From my vantage point as country GM for a global organization that enables remote transactions, I’ve watched the world scramble to cover the physical distance between business and clients. Whatever conditions prevented companies from adopting digital applications previously no longer matter. Today, mandatory change means we have to consider “the art of the possible”.

Here are some of my observations.

On change management

Fear is a powerful thing. It’s what holds companies back from change. Organizations that have long asked themselves, “If we go digital, will it be secure? Will it simplify or complicate things? Will our customers adapt?”, suddenly don’t have the luxury of time for a protracted change management process. Businesses that have lagged in provisioning digital processes and online customer interactions are now having to pivot–and pivot quickly. The virus has wrought immediacy.

Customary timelines to adopt tech solutions that include committees, budgets, testing, pilots, have all been compressed to quickly approve easy-to-implement SaaS solutions to bridge the remote business gap–ostensibly for the short term. It’s been stunning to see attitudes change overnight.

On what we’ve learned about work during lockdown

Working remotely, when you’re not accustomed to it, is like exercise. You’re using new muscles. In the beginning it hurts, then you get stronger and you get better at it. How did it feel on day one when all employees started working from home? We were uneasy. There were few processes in place. Soon we learned to trust our staff to work off-site, proactively and unsupervised.

Every department, and every manager, has had to build these new muscles: sales, legal, HR, marketing. Right now, many organizations are seeking ways to run operations (in part) without bricks and mortar. With the help of some well-placed online productivity tools, it’s possible to pave the way to do business remotely in very short order. In a matter of days in some cases.

Here’s an added bonus: remember those customers who you were afraid wouldn’t take kindly to new digital processes? They’re a lot more flexible than you think. A more generous public is now less resistant to change. More apt to embrace new methods in the name of getting things done without a trip to your office. A good example is Telehealth. Before lockdown, having a video call with your doctor might have been considered a compromise. Now we’re grateful for it.

One of the most important lessons we learned recently is that location is irrelevant (or should be!) for many business interactions. Clients want to engage with you on their terms, whether from the sofa on their mobile phone or online at the kitchen table at 3:00 AM. Make this a priority for your business and customers will stay. It might mean the difference between saving or shuttering your operation.

On the art of the possible

What is on a company’s radar versus their reality is often decidedly different. Every day I hear companies express desire for better workflows, auditing capabilities, online transactions, greener footprints. It’s a pity that even small-scale digital projects frequently languish as something to aspire to. Those initial forays into digitization, with their positive outcomes, bravely become the first of many that comprise a broader digital transformation roadmap.

It’s hard not to recognize the value of digital processes both internal and external. Strong business controls let you track, monitor, store, and trigger actions internally. And the more integration among applications, the more economies of scale. Like pulling accurate customer data from an existing CRM record into a formatted document. No replication. No re-keying. No opportunity for error.

As for the customer experience, online on-demand convenience is a direct route to their hearts. Digital tools, and easy access to cloud storage, allow external remote transactions anytime, anywhere, and on virtually any device. It’s not just good for customers; offering flexible channels of engagement keeps your business competitive.

Digital foot-dragging that occurred pre-COVID has proven to be a major handicap. This time of mandatory change for those who adapt stand a good chance of sustaining themselves now and prevailing through the next chapter. Fixed mindsets and red tape are no longer obstacles to getting things done as business executives react to what is necessary – and what is possible – at this historic hour.

On enterprises large and small

Needs and wants. That’s generally the difference between small business and large enterprise in digitization plans. Small operations need it now. Efficiencies that automation brings are a must-have to support modest workforces. Location-agnostic tools that allow always-on access for both employee and customer interactions boost a small company’s ability to compete. Small businesses trying to stay afloat working remotely seek easy-to-adopt solutions.

Large-scale businesses think more about long term strategy. There is a courtship of sorts that involves meetings with stakeholders, rallies around features and benefits, huddles with technical staff. Discussions cover the whys, but also dive deep into the hows–specifically, how each application fits into the larger digital picture. Enterprises currently navigating disruptions in daily operations are proceeding more tentatively, so simple, short-term solutions that can later sync with long-term projects are preferable.

CEOs, no matter the size of the company, deliberate over norms vs necessity, seeking immediate solutions that bridge distances and automate operations, but also square with company roadmaps.

On new norms

There’s a new truth that says we might never go back. Digital solutions that are helping businesses function during lockdown, specifically those replacing in-person interactions, are becoming the new norm. Today, that solution may be just a bridge, a stopgap measure, but that very tool will remain integral to how we operate long after we’ve recovered from cabin fever.

COVID-19 has tested the fabric of old standards and changed the business landscape of the future. This is far greater than a single product or solution. It’s about committing to the adoption of digital processes that break down physical distances and eliminate cumbersome, manual transactions. It’s about driving efficiencies in a remote world for competitive advantage.

The time for a digital revolution has never been more urgent – the need for digital transformation never more evident.

Dan Kagan
Dan Kagan, GM Docusign Canada




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