CDO Matters Ep. 07 | Digital Transformation through Human Centered Design with Dr. Cheryl Flink

September 29, 2022

Episode Overview:

Successful companies don’t just withstand disruption, they find ways to innovate throughout technological change.

In this episode of CDO Matters, Malcolm interviews Dr. Cheryl Flink, an author and noted researcher in the field of human-centered design and social psychology.

Dr. Flink shares insights from her upcoming book, “Doing Well and Doing Good — Human Center Digital Transformation Leadership,” set to release in March 2023. She makes the case that digital transformation represents a fundamentally different way of operating, one that represents an optimal intersection of business, social and employee success.

She proposes that a successful digital transformation is one that prepares organizations to withstand — and even prosper from — the constant disruption of technology, where the delivery of human value is as important to financial value.

In addition to making a strong case for a human-centered focus within digital transformations, Dr. Flink also shares some of the keys to digital transformation success — most notably the need for a strong mandate from senior leadership — something many companies still struggle with. Having broad awareness and consensus around the ‘why’ of a digital transformation is the foundational level of a ‘scaffold’ approach to a framework for digital transformation that Malcolm discusses with Dr. Flink — outlined in more detail in her book.

Dr. Flink also makes the case for creating the corporate culture needed to allow for employees to feel safe to highlight imbalances between any of the various tensions that naturally exist within organizations — for example — between speed/agility and governance. The more balanced these forces are — and the more employee or stakeholder needs play an equal role to financial needs — the more human centered the approach will be. This is exactly what Dr. Flink sees as the optimal approach for long-term social and business success.

This episode of CDO Matters is perfect for those CDOs who have been tasked to execute a digital transformation strategy and who are looking for alternatives to more traditional program management approaches to these large-scale business initiatives. This episode explores how using more human-centered design approaches could optimize not only shareholder value, but also employee and social value. Dr. Flink makes a compelling case that ‘doing good and doing well’ is not only preferred, but increasingly required during a time of constant disruption and social scrutiny of business practices.

Key Moments

  • [3:55] What is Human-centered (HC) Leadership?
  • [7:10] Who Should Reap the Profits of AI/Digital Technology?
  • [10:45] Human-centered Leadership’s Role in Environmental, Social Governance (ESG)
  • [13:20] Leadership Benefits of HC Leadership
  • [14:15] HC Leadership in Digital Transformation
  • [16:00] A New Way to Work
  • [19:40] Applying HC Leadership to Data Strategy
  • [24:25] Differences in Approaching a Digital Transformation
  • [28:50] The Decision-Making Process
  • [31:35] HC Leadership Investments

Key Takeaways:

The Significance of Human Centered Leadership [5:40 — 6:50]

“Are we really thinking about how we create human value? Not just financial value…I think that in this human centered leadership world, it is about the ability to think through that calculus…We think about that human value as including two major components: one is the value we are creating for individuals and the corporations we work with and the other is for society at large.” — Dr. Cheryl Flink

Digital Transformation Defined [14:45 — 15:35]

“The ongoing process of strategic renewal that uses advances in digital technologies to build capabilities that refresh or replace an organization’s business model, collaborative approach or culture. In other words, you are preparing the organization for the constant disruption of technology.” — Dr. Cheryl Flink

Transitioning to a Human Centered Data Organization [21:25 — 22:04]

“You cannot move forward with digital transformation unless there is a transformational mandate.  Why are we doing this? If that ‘why’ is not clear…the organization is going to flounder. They have to know why in order to create directional alignment and commitment. Alignment is we know how we are going to get there and commitment is we are all going to band together to make this happen.” — Dr. Cheryl Flink 

The Tension Between Business Innovation and Governance [26:00 — 27:25]

“When you think about these teams that are innovating, they are rewarded for taking risks…fast release of products. The seamless integration team is rewarded for protecting data…for making sure that what is produced integrates into the current platforms. I have to innovate and I have to have business continuity. So, one of the things that a leader, to create human value, has to do is really create psychological safety…and balance that tension. ” — Dr. Cheryl Flink

About the Guest

Dr. Cheryl Flink is the former Global Vice President for the Center for Creative Leadership. She helped organizations around the globe find new market opportunities, improve revenue and cost drivers and create exceptional customer experiences by linking data, technology and analytics to strategy, product development and business execution. Dr. Flink is currently applying her lengthy career in data, leadership, and research to the area of human centered business transformation.


Episode Links & Resources:


How can today’s Chief Data Officers help their organizations become more data-driven? Join former Gartner analyst Malcolm Hawker as he interviews thought leaders on all things data management – ranging from data fabrics to blockchain and more — and learns why they matter to today’s CDOs. If you want to dig deep into the CDO Matters that are top-of-mind for today’s modern data leaders, this show is for you.

Malcolm Hawker
Malcolm Hawker is an experienced thought leader in data management and governance and has consulted on thousands of software implementations in his years as a Gartner analyst, architect at Dun & Bradstreet and more. Now as an evangelist for helping companies become truly data-driven, he’s here to help CDOs understand how data can be a competitive advantage.


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