How to Revitalize a Stalled Digital Transformation

September 16, 2019

Contributor: Susan Moore

Organizations must take a business-led approach to digital transformation to succeed.

A large telecommunications company is under pressure to digitalize its services and business processes, but initiatives keep stalling. The main problem sits with five of its business leaders, each with the belief that they’re primarily accountable for the transformation, and each with a different view of how it should be accomplished.

"Digital transformation won’t succeed without a common understanding and a clear vision across the organization," says Neil Osmond, Distinguished VP Analyst, Gartner.

“When people think about digital transformation, they tend to emphasize technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots or automation, as these are the most visible attributes."

“But technology issues are usually the easier things to work through. The nontechnological aspects, if not addressed, can mask the depth of organizational transformation required and become serious inhibitors.”

Osmond cites a lack of clear digital vision, an overemphasis on technology and a passive resistance to change as the most common issues.

Establish a clear digital vision

Without a shared vision, digital transformation will stall. Only a vision that’s meaningful and easy to understand is actionable. Compare the following two examples: 

  1. “We will digitalize our systems and processes to enable brilliant customer experiences and simplify our ways of working.” This statement, while succinct, is generic and ambiguous, making it difficult for people to buy into and act on.
  2. “We are changing from selling equipment to selling recommended actions and insights to better serve our customers’ needs.” This second example of a digital vision is better, because it uses a “from-to” descriptive metaphor to explain the intent and rationale.

True digital transformation involves optimizing your current business (improved productivity and products, better customer experience) to get “digitally fit,” and also transforming it (new business — products, services or models). What’s your organization’s intent?

Ensure the transformation is business-driven

Digital transformation must be focused on business priorities like revenue growth, customer satisfaction or operational efficiency to be truly transformative. It must also encompass people and processes. 

“Resist jumping straight to solving technology-related issues,” Osmond says. “If you do, your initiative will rapidly turn into a lengthy IT modernization project that doesn’t address key elements of your operating model, such as processes and ways of working.”

Instead, start by clearly understanding what the business outcome is and center initiatives on business priorities. 

Address passive resistance

Employees might hear your transformation message and vision — and may even think it’s great — but then go back to their daily tasks. In their minds, change can equal risk, which can lead to inertia, and ultimately failure.

“The number of times that change is mentioned every day can lead to transformation fatigue,” Osmond says. “People come to work to deliver, not to change. If you’re forcing change on them, it can be really tiresome.”

Spend time with your employees and build a storyline that helps them connect emotionally with the desired future. Create a path they trust. Talk about what won’t change. That gives people surety and confidence.

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