In my previous post, I discussed some typical leadership pitfalls that derail digital transformations. I got some good feedback that it resonated with many who’d been involved in or leading such transformations. There seems to be some good consensus around the danger of neglecting the cultural and commercial implications of digital transformations and treating them like isolated technology initiatives. Also in follow up conversations, some common themes began to emerge around strategic approaches that actually worked. Collective experiences suggest that a combination of the top four strategies discussed below establishes a solid foundation for the successful integration of digital technology.
Communication: simplify the message
I actually heard this repeatedly from technology heads who felt that their teams and larger organizations would benefit immensely from simplified top leadership communication. These high-level messages need to articulate the rationale behind the transformation and what to expect during the journey:
- What are the goals of integrating new digital technologies and going through an organization-wide transformation? How is this going to affect the bottom line, operations, or safety? Is the organization being reactive or proactive considering where clients and competitors are on their transformation journeys?
- Which teams and functions are responsible for figuring out how to get there? The answer- which typically requires some investigation- need not include the fancy solutions that some executives tend to promote prematurely: the Internet of Things (IOT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, Analytics, the Cloud, etc.
- What is expected from other functions to support the planning and execution of the transformation? Will some roles and responsibilities change during or after the transformation? What exciting growth opportunities does this transformation present for people and teams?
Execution: demonstrate success
Securing stakeholder buy-in and commitment can be extremely challenging in ways that slow down transformations. Anticipating and mitigating this and other risks are not necessarily straightforward. One proven strategy is to start with small demonstration projects with direct commercial or efficiency impacts. Successes can then be scaled up and failures can be avoided. Organizations that use this strategy typically scope out and implements individual projects to achieve very specific digital transformation goals similar to the following:
- Improving efficiencies in data gathering, manipulation, and analytics to liberate resources for higher value activities;
- Raising safety standards or overall quality levels across operations;
- Extracting better insight from employee and candidate data to inform HR strategies;
- Enhancing existing products or launching new innovative offerings; or
- Gaining additional intelligence on clients and competitors to support product development, and sales and marketing efforts.
Change management: engage the wider business
This is another strategic imperative that technology and data analytics team leaders are very big on. Their tech-savvy teams require so much support on understanding and transforming the employee and client experiences, which are what it all eventually comes down to. Therefore, it is critical that teams that are responsible for operations or interact with clients are sold on the value of the transformation and are partners in making it happen.
Effective engagement starts from the top and very early in the journey. It requires proactive communication and genuine solicitation of input related to the transformation. Otherwise, most employees will continue in a business-as-usual manner expecting some new invention to drop on their desks one day or maybe they won’t even have faith it will! Ineffective stakeholder engagement can easily make the latter a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Personnel: attract, develop, and retain hybrid talent
The scary pace of technological advancement is removing geographic and functional barriers much faster than we are able to adapt to it. Understanding and addressing this challenge is not only a strategy for success but also a necessity. Digital transformations involve changing the employee experience, or the way employees carry their jobs and interact with each other and with clients. They may also involve changing the client experience through enhanced and new products and services or more innovative methods of delivery and client interaction.
This requires not only solid understanding of legacy processes but also the imagination to visualize how these experiences would change. The latter calls for familiarity with the available technological options, what they can deliver, and how they can change employee and/or client experiences. Organizations will therefore benefit from the ability to attract, develop, and retain employees with hybrid skill sets that allow them to consider the operational, commercial, and technological aspects of the transformation. Defining what the ultimate hybrid skill sets and roles look like takes some work, but it is a clear necessity.
We are still in the middle of an overwhelming digital transition, which means there is still so much to learn about how organizations can make digital transformations successful. But our collective experiences are increasingly offering significant input on strategic approaches that work. What’s interesting about the strategies discussed here is that they are probably critical for orchestrating and executing any major transformation- digital or not!