The 7 Secrets of Effective Digital Transformation

If you’ve ever read the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, you’re familiar with the concept of “beginning with the end in mind.” Putting that into context in terms of digital transformation means organizations must determine what their goals are before they begin adopting a ton of shiny new technologies. Unfortunately, many otherwise intelligent business leaders make the mistake of focusing so much on technological innovation that they miss the mark altogether.

This is not to say that technology isn’t a key driver of digital transformation. The problem often lies in a misunderstanding of what digital transformation actually is. According to a recent report by Altimeter, despite the fact that a growing number of enterprises are investing in innovative technologies, the majority of them are still lacking in terms of meeting customer expectations due in large part to a lack of digital literacy. The report also concludes that the main obstacles to achieving the solidarity and collaboration necessary for true, effective and lasting digital change are ego, politics and fear.

When an organization begins with a tech-first approach, it risks missing the point about what digital transformation is truly all about. In many instances, company leaders – CIOs in particular – fall into the trap of attempting to build new technology atop an old and crumbling legacy foundation. There’s an erroneous belief that all it takes to keep up with disruption is continuously adopting the latest and greatest apps and programs. New tech is great, but it must be adopted as a component of the digital transformation process, rather than its fundamental basis.

To demystify the whole digital transformation concept and improve your chances of success, here are a few expert tips to keep in mind.

The human element should be front and center.

Yes, the term is “digital” transformation, but in reality, it’s more about human transformation than anything else. That’s really what’s at the heart of any successful change. Technology is essential, yes, but it’s equally, if not more important that your people are all on the same page and moving together at the right speed. One of the biggest challenges to transforming a business is bringing its workforce up to speed, in particular, getting them current with the skills needed to facilitate change.

Experts unilaterally agree that the key to achieving true digital transformation is having a team of individuals who are curious, motivated by and passionate about the mission. Only then can you successfully usher in the innovative technologies you need to move forward.

A great example of this is Pitney Bowes. Several years ago, the company began initiating a shift to align itself with the changing world of tech. Specifically, they focused on evolving in 10 key areas such as machine learning, analytics, mobile, SaaS and APIs. But while leadership recognized the critical need for a strong technical strategy, they also prioritized the development and implementation of a solid people strategy as well.

The company organized curriculum for each of the 10 key areas of disruption and every one of the 1,200 employees was tasked with immersing themselves in one of those 10 topic areas for a period of one full year. The results have been beneficial to both sides – the company, by enhancing its workforce, and the employees, who have enriched their skills and improved their personal value proposition. Additionally, with staffers becoming subject matter experts in their chosen topics and subsequently collaborating together, many new and valuable relationships have been forged. This is advantageous to everyone involved.

Take the time to really understand your customers.

Ask any business leader what they believe the biggest driver of digital transformation is and they’ll probably cite the evolving behaviors and preferences of their clientele. Yet, according to the Altimeter report, a remarkable few (less than half) actually bother to truly understand their digital customers.

The few that are actually getting it right have done so by taking an outside-in approach. In other words, they take the time to determine what’s missing or broken that can solve a need and then focus their efforts on doing just that, tying in key performance indicators (KPIs) and ROI to demonstrate success. Rather than looking at internal processes, these innovators examine the customer experience first to identify opportunities to add value.

The key takeaway? If you aren’t meeting what your customers want or need, your efforts to achieve digital transformation will inevitably fall short and you will risk being left behind. The best technology, the best policies and procedures, the best laid plans – none of that will matter if the end result doesn’t make the lives of your clientele easier. That’s the end result that should be your focus from day one.

Establish new teams.

Spearheading digital transformation shouldn’t be a side project. If you want it done right, you need to have a team of individuals who are 100% dedicated to the cause. Teams should be made up of various people with different strengths and diverse backgrounds. For instance, you might have a project manager, a lead developer and someone who is focused on the customer experience. You could then supplement this with members from other roles, such as QA, development, ops and finance.

When an idea for a new initiative arises, the team’s job should be bringing it to fruition – at least to some degree – as quickly as possible. It’s not about achieving perfection right away. Digital transformation involves evolution, which means your team should be ready to go through a cycle of development – try things out, assess how they work and then adapt and improve accordingly. This agile methodology may require a paradigm shift, which is why it’s so important to have a dedicated team.

Cultivate collaboration as you deploy technology.

As mentioned, digital transformation isn’t entirely about technology. Yes, technology is a critical component, but it takes people to really achieve successful change, and that requires ongoing collaboration. Trailblazing ideas, sharing best practices, building a community – these things drive innovation and continuous improvement.

Use Pitney Bowes as an example once again. While they were designing their curricula around their 10 targeted technology areas, leadership also hosted global innovation roundtables to enhance collaboration efforts. As a result, they were able to identify cases in which there were common problems with their integration, delivery and operational practices. This enabled a fast and effective resolution across the board. Furthermore, because of the improved collaboration, workers acknowledged feeling much more engaged, as opposed to being just another “cog in the wheel.”

Don’t give in to the resistance.

It’s human nature to fear change, and that fear often manifests itself as resistance amongst workers. Logically speaking, the larger the enterprise, the greater the push back is likely to be. If you want to successfully shift to a digital ecosystem, you simply cannot let the naysayers get you down.

That’s not to say you should steamroll over them and ignore their concern. It’s more about your approach. Over communication and clear articulation, not just about what is happening, but how and most importantly, why, is key. It’s also important to develop a group of early adopters and innovators – those who embrace the proposed changes, as they can become your champions.

At the end of the day, digital transformation is really about people transformation.

Think like a startup.

As organizations become larger, greater divides between various groups and departments begin to occur. This results in silos of information, which can hinder communication and the ability to collaborate effectively.

To avoid this, try to adopt more of a startup mentality – one that focuses on operating nimbly and making sure that projects are being carried out in the correct way. Be cognizant of any walls and barriers that exist and focus on eliminating those and encouraging unilateral communication across the board. Encourage teams, departments and divisions to work closely together with a goal of making strategic decisions more quickly and rolling out smaller changes faster.

Take a bottoms up approach.

According to the aforementioned Altimeter survey, only 40% of the companies polled say their digital transformation initiative is overseen by an executive-mandated steering committee. Getting buy-in from the C-suite is certainly important, but how you go about doing so can make all the difference in the world.

Many organizations have had tremendous success by flipping the typical top-down narrative to more of a bottoms up approach. In other words, they focus on obtaining buy-in from all levels of hierarchy within, bringing together a diverse group of workers to collaborate together to create a digital transformation strategy.

This provides the opportunity to go through checks and balances to determine what makes the most sense and is directionally appropriate. Only when every ‘I’ is dotted and every ‘T’ crossed is the strategy presented to the C-suite for approval.

Conclusion

Is technology an important part of digital transformation? Of course. But if that’s all you’re focused on, you will inevitably come up short. Instead, focus on the people and policies that matter most, get all your ducks in a row and start with the end in mind. Do so and your organization can be counted among the success stories.

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