Everyone is talking about it. Many define it differently. Studies have reported efforts fail at an 84% rate. What is a leader supposed to do?
Let’s start by aligning on a definition. Digital transformation is simply defined as the application of current technologies to improve relationships with organizational stakeholders. That can be where it all started, digital marketing, or it can be enabling employees, equipping channel partners or making it easier to work with vendors and other partners.
In this post, we will identify and describe three things that will help simplify where you can focus your attention. Those three things are having: a transformational mentality, having a transformational focus and having a transformational team.
Being successful in digital transformation starts with having the right mentality. In less than three weeks, I will be fighting in Australia representing the United States at the Sports Jujitsu World Championships. Since fighting is heavily on my mind, we are going to reference fighting a lot in this post!
The first key in having the right mentality is you have to be fast. Just like you aren’t going to win many fights plodding and standing like an easy target in front of your opponent, you aren’t going to be successful in digital transformation if you aren’t fast. In Tim Sheedy’s article “In The Digital World, CIOs Need To Help The Business Move Faster,” Sheedy puts much of the responsibility for speed on the shoulders of the CIO. He notes that it is the CIO’s responsibility to remove friction points from processes to allow the building of new capabilities fast. All organizational leaders must also model the pace at which the organization needs to move.
The second mentality key is you have to be light. If you fight heavy you will likely wear yourself out and not have the energy to finish the fight. In transformation, organizations find that small, fast successes are important. Focusing first on small goals, the proverbial low-hanging fruit, will allow an organization to set a transformational culture of success and confidence. When stakeholders see relatively quick and easy change for the better, confidence will grow and set the playing field for bigger successes in the future.
The third mentality key is you have to be courageous. You will never win a fight cowering in the corner and you will join the ranks of the failing and failed if you are not courageous in your transformation efforts. Giving your digital transformation team permission to fail is critical. While we want to get early, easy victories, we also need to know that a lot of things aren’t going to work right the first time. More importantly, people will be too afraid bring forward their most creative and innovative thinking if a permission to fail culture is not nurtured.
The last key mentality key is you have to be “all in.” You aren’t going to win a fight if you are prepared to quit when it gets hard. Guess what? Champions suffer more than anyone. It will be hard if you are going to win. In heading to the World Championships, I have already accepted the pain that is definitely coming. I won’t be surprised by it and it won’t make me quit. I have accepted it as the price of admission for the opportunity to compete. In transformation, we must commit and not turn back. We must build a capability. It cannot be something we try out or dabble in. Transformation must be funded financially and emotionally. This especially means that leaders must be actively supporting and encouraging those in the ditches of transformation. Leaders that will not strongly support the digital transformation process have no place in a transforming organization.
Being successful in digital transformation also requires the right foci. Without focus, we get lost in our efforts. In fighting, if you aren’t focused on your skills, your cardio, your nutrition, your rest and your ringsmanship, you will likely have a short and humbling night when you step in the ring. In digital transformation, the right foci are outside-in, outcome, technology enablement and data.
The first focus key is having an outside-in view of your organization. That means focusing first on solutions and enablement of the stakeholders instead of focusing on the organization. It means that losing sight of the fact that without stakeholders the organization cannot be successful. Outside-in Stakeholder focus deals with the “why”. This is the most important of the transformational foci. Make customers happy and make it easy for them to do business with you and you will likely have strong customer retention. Make it easy for employees to be productive and you will likely retain more great employees. Make it easy for channel partners to work with you, sell and support your products and you likely will have a more productive partner. Make it easy for vendors to work with you and you likely will create efficiencies that will result in profit. The CEO of GM in the 70’s (Thomas Murphy) said, “We don’t make cars, we make money.” It was 2005 before GM once again hit the production of 1978. If we don’t make it work for the stakeholders, they won’t make it work for us.
The second key here is being outcome focused. Outcomes deal with the “what.” Once we understand how we better serve and enable our stakeholders then we can establish, specifically, what we will accomplish. Outcomes don’t need a lot of explanation. I think we can agree we need outcomes with timelines and measures. The challenge is we often make assumptions and then put the “what” ahead of the “why”. The real key is to do a thorough stakeholder analysis before jumping into the “what”. Taking the time to do some stakeholder research will pay great benefits in getting to the right “whats”.
The third focus key here is a technology enablement focus. Technology enablement deals with the “how”. Enablement is the key here. We don’t spend astronomical amounts on ever increasing short shelf-life technology because we want the latest greatest things. We invest in technology to enable our stakeholder’s success. Technology provides the solution to get to the desired, stakeholder supporting, outcomes. According to IDC reports, 25 percent of technology projects fail outright; 20 to 25 percent don’t show any return on investment; and as much as 50 percent need massive reworking by the time they’re finished. According to Forbes Magazine’s article “Are These The Real 7 Reasons Why Tech Projects Fail?” one of the biggest problems is a poorly defined outcome. Do you see how this starts to fit together…technology enables outcomes that should be shareholder focused?
The fourth focus key is a data focus. A data focus deals with the learning, innovation and continual improvement needed to better serve our stakeholders and to sustain competitive success. We are no longer in a world where we need to guess. We can continually monitor and assess the enablement of stakeholders and see what is working and what is not working. As long as we have access to the appropriate data (no small feat I know!), we can compile that data into information and analyze that information to get to the actionable insights that will drive innovation and competitive advantage.
Being successful in digital transformation also requires having the right set of talents. You put a boxer in a cage with an MMA fighter and he is going to get mauled. You put an MMA fighter in a boxing ring with a boxer and he is going to get beat up. We have to have the right talent for the right job. We have identified 25 talent areas needed for robust digital transformation teams. Of course, this team will change based on the scale of work, the specific initiatives and culture of decision making in the organization. You can learn about the gap assessment and download it for free here. You will see a sample gap assessment already completed as well as a blank one for your use. You will also see a sample staffing recommendations document which is the output of the gap analysis. Good luck! Please contact us here if you have questions!