It’s been nearly two decades since we began hearing businesses ask the question “What is digital transformation?” Traditionally, it’s been defined as using digital technologies to streamline analog business practices and systems.
But ask the CEOs of ten different companies to define digital transformation and you’ll get eleven different answers. This isn’t to say that any of them are wrong. There are just so many lenses through which to view it — software, hardware, security, automation. Today, with everything from recruiting to payroll to even whiteboards going digital, it’s probably more useful to ask what isn’t digital transformation.
Implementing new digital business practices can no longer be thought of as a pivot driven by COVID. It’s now a way of life. So how do we prepare for this accelerated pace of change?
Here’s the key. While it’s easy to think of digital transformation as a technology challenge, it’s really a business challenge, and ultimately a people challenge.
Culture eats technology for lunch.
The first step in effective digital transformation is shifting the focus from your technology to your organizational culture. With the rate that technology is evolving, by the time you finish a traditional transformation process, there will already be a better technology to replace it. If you want to stay on the cutting edge of capability, you have to be prepared to make digital transformations continuously. For that, you need a culture of change.
For most organizations, continuous change sounds like a near-impossible task. Traditional digital transformation is like turning the Titanic. It’s huge, takes a well-coordinated team, and even with the best people working round the clock, you can still end up at the bottom of the sea. The organizational fallout can be so trying, everyone is just excited when it’s over.
Does digital transformation have to mean a constant state of turmoil? No. Based on our more than 40 years using a design-led approach to transformation at numerous organizations, here are our top three insights.
1. Listen to your people
Digital transformation often starts at the top. The C-suite tells the directors what the plan is, and leaves them to implement it. To no surprise, this results in poor alignment between leadership and line employees, and a poor rollout. That’s because it’s driven by the needs and insights of leadership, not those of the organization.
It’s only human to resist change — unless it’s going to make our lives easier. Everyone in the organization needs to see how the change solves the problems they see, and understand how they can play a role. The best way to ensure your digital transformation takes root is to listen to your people first. Not just leadership, not just managers, but every level of the organization. They will tell you what the organization needs.
2. Transform for experience, not just profit
Your employees are equipped with exquisitely tuned BS meters. If cost reduction is the only goal of your transformation, no amount of creative storytelling will convince them you’re doing it for their benefit. As the main drivers of your transformation, your teams determine whether the effort succeeds. The best way to guarantee failure is to ignore the work experience of your employees.
Before you begin a digital transformation, bring together every arm of your organization and ask what they are seeing. Where is the organization is falling short? Where are the opportunities for improvement? What would make their work go more smoothly? Once you have this information, distill the insights into actionable items that inform your strategy.
This approach will show you’re listening to your teams and working to solve their problems, which will help align them to your plan and grow confidence in your leadership. Additionally, they may become enthusiastic champions of the change effort. That makes it hard to fail.
3. Take an agile approach
Traditionally, going from paper payroll to digital payroll meant a dedicated leadership team driving the organization through a years-long waterfall process. They had everything figured out before anything was implemented.
As you can probably appreciate, that approach would spell disaster today. By contrast, an agile process lets you start quickly, tolerates mistakes, and accommodates changes. Pilot the program with a subset of your team to iron out the kinks. Make changes in chunks, instead of all at once. Let them feel the benefits as they go. This allows you to prototype your changes to ensure they’re achieving the desired ends.
While it doesn’t embody the certainty of a waterfall approach, an agile approach helps insure you against a transformation that flops. Transparency is essential. The more open and inclusive your efforts are, the more your teams can collaborate to push the effort forward.
Creating a culture of change
Listening to your organization, improving the work experience, and taking an agile approach to implementation can foster a culture of change within your organization. By modeling transparency and empathy, you cultivate trust not only in you, but between and among your teams. Trust is the foundation for true change.
By the way, there’s a tool many successful change leaders have used to accelerate this process. A detailed visualization of the desired future state — in illustrative form, not the typical schematic diagrams — has the power to promote understanding, surface important issues, and create alignment among diverse teams. A well-designed visualization can cut through the chaos of change, introduce your playbook, and lay a foundation for implementation.
So, ready to begin your transformation? With a culture of change that enables everyone from line employees to top leadership to assess needs and collaborate on solutions, you’ll never fear the words “digital transformation” again.
Are you looking for a collaborative partner to help guide your organization toward a culture of change? Reach out to principal Steve Frank at [email protected] to explore how ThoughtForm can help you change for good.