Digital Transformation Means Adopting a New Culture: Here's How To Do It

In much the same way an athlete is constantly dedicated to an all-encompassing lifestyle in staying fit and preparing for success, organizations hoping for transformation must embrace a cultural commitment to digital fitness

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Today, 70 per cent of companies cite digital transformation as their most critical business development goal, making technology adoption and digital innovation top priorities for the path forward.

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Successful digital transformation involves more than following a checklist for technological adoption. It's about cultivating a positive attitude every day among your team members, and bringing a smile to your customers—elevating the experience for everyone to an epic level of excellence.

As a global chief digital officer, I've seen what works—and what doesn't work—as businesses big and small navigate this process. Here are four strategies leaders employ to inspire true business transformation now and in the future:

Start by embracing a spirit of transformation

Most companies will approach digital transformation by migrating data to the cloud, moving corporate management to software solutions, and using automation tools to improve communication and engagement. Then, they will ask, or mandate, adoption by the employees and the customers.

This is backwards. These companies later struggle with inefficient processes, inadequate technologies, high costs and unhappy employees and customers. Putting the cart before the horse, innovation before adoption, is no good. First you must start by embracing a spirit of digitization—a mindset of growth and a belief in all things possible.

In today's world, companies distinguish themselves less and less by their products and more and more by their people and platforms. The experience becomes the product, the reason why they buy again and again. The experience is everything and everything is the experience.

Focus on creating and capturing value

When it comes to digital transformation, executives rarely start with the question, "How can we create more value?" Instead, they typically ask, "What will it cost and how long will it take?" The fact that they lead with this one-two punch shows a misunderstanding of the 'why' behind digital transformation.

So what should be the guiding goal? The answer is simple: To create and capture more value at scale for all stakeholders. This is done by listening to your team and meeting your customers with what they need (solutions) where they are (online), and in a way that satisfies them (seamlessly).

What's more, you need to sustain a continuous path towards value creation by developing the digitized business simultaneously on the technological and operational levels—all the while internalizing the famous feedback loop of markets, technologies, and digitization. Your transformation won't happen in isolation, and you'll need to test the value you're delivering at every point in real time with a new feature, solution, or workflow. There is no stop sign. This is a continuous journey, an iterative process of everyday innovation.

Keep your teams in conversation

When building the technological interface, it's critical to keep two important teams in constant communication. One team is tasked with 'the art of the feasible,' drawing on customer insights to explore the operational components of the interface. A second team, taking its cue from the first, is charged with determining the 'art of the possible'. This is the team building the technical components, tailoring the design to customer needs as much as possible.

In practice, this means that strong data engineers develop the technology in communication with the team analyzing and working with the business processes. This constant interaction and collaboration between those familiar with the ideal customer scenario, what is technically possible, and what makes sense to automate in terms of cost efficiency is the key. If these views are progressively improved and aligned, then magic happens.

Reinforce digital transformation as a culture

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it must be understood that digital transformation is not a checklist to complete. It entails building a digital culture within the company—and with customers and partners. Such a culture must be driven by continuous agility, flexibility, and openness to reinvent the digital architecture and the value the business drives. In my experience, this entails three guiding principles:

First is responsibility for value creation. This means that everyone has a voice in the process and accountability is shared. As a leader, you must ensure every team member has the knowledge and mindset to embrace the transformation in such a way that delivers continuous value to the employee and the customer. You must also learn to listen to and incorporate team members' ideas. That's the only way to foster innovation from the bottom up and the top down.

Next is clear and thoughtful decision-making. Everyone must continue to perform while you transform and to do that consistent and clear communications remain critical. In this way, we must keep all team members informed and engaged, soliciting feedback and sharing in the decision-making cycle.

Lastly, calculated risk is where innovation happens. Many companies shy away from taking risks. But taking small, measured risks from the beginning is critical to optimizing your outcomes. If you're climbing a ladder for example, falling earlier on is okay, especially if it helps you determine how best to climb. In the beginning, testing out your footing is a best practice.

In much the same way an athlete is constantly dedicated to an all-encompassing lifestyle in staying fit and preparing for success, organizations hoping for transformation must embrace a cultural commitment to digital fitness: with every team member staying agile, flexible, and open at every step along the evolving process. Though obstacles will arise, the rewards far outweigh the risks, and a shared, continuous effort unlocks extraordinary value for your partners and customers.