Last year brought to light the urgent need for digital transformation (DX) on a global scale, but that sense of urgency motivated many organizations to move forward without first developing an adaptive digital strategy. During the rush to keep up with unprecedented user demand, some companies were quick to implement new digital initiatives without realizing that true transformation can’t be found in a one-size-fits-all package. Every successful DX endeavor currently in play began with a plan designed to evolve with changing needs and unpredictable circumstances.
It’s not surprising that the strategic element is often overlooked, because DX is still shrouded in confusion. Many see the terms “digital” and “technology” as one in the same and before they know it, they’re entrenched in modernizing their business with new technology. Updating tools and systems is great, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle. The frame of that puzzle is — and will always be — strategy. A bulletproof DX strategy should focus on transforming your business from every angle (not just tech) while developing new revenue streams, for example. Because of this, it’s crucial to take a step back and assess key areas in need of change before moving full speed ahead with your digital initiatives.
Understanding your business and how it’s evolved
Digital transformation won’t take you anywhere if you don’t first examine your current processes and systems to fully identify what’s working and what’s not. Step one always involves pinpointing areas for improvement, clearly determining your objectives, and outlining specific, executable goals. The things that made your business thrive at different stages of your growth should have evolved substantially over time. Whatever it was that made you successful as a $15M company is not going to hold the same momentum at $100M. Yet, business leaders often fall into this trap and allow new tools and processes to get layered on top of, and in between, old ones.
When to slow down: If your business is still operating on the outdated processes and systems that made it successful at launch, it’s time for a change. These things should be looked at holistically and implemented in a way that enhances and empowers existing operations, with an eye toward the future.
What’s your leadership mantra?
“If it ain’t broke, dont fix it.” Sound familiar? In the case of a successful, organically grown individual or family-owned business, leadership has a unique way of bottlenecking itself by relying on old habits. When momentum and innovation don’t have room to grow, things eventually go haywire. The business process evolution halts and energy is instead used to put out fires. Suddenly, new initiatives are being implemented to solve the problem of the day rather than being intentionally designed, and the business begins to suffer. When solutions are implemented with urgency, they’re almost never documented, tested, optimized, or continuously improved.
When to slow down: Are you still using tools and processes that were introduced as a single-point solution? These things should be a part of your overall DX strategy, not function as a Band-Aid or to solve the shortcomings of an individual’s skill limitations.
No, everything is not “just fine”
It’s not uncommon for business leaders to rely on historical data in order to convince themselves that everything is just fine. But tribal knowledge will only get in your way, as it’s not a substitute for holistically designed, tested, and documented processes. When you only have the perspective of looking within, it’s easy to believe that your organization is doing just fine. In reality, it’s probably not. Leaders who take time to research and learn how others operate can more easily create meaningful benchmarks, and inform the organization of what’s possible.
When to slow down: Most business processes are inwardly focused and rarely contemplate the external user experience (UX). In today’s business climate when customers have limitless choices, looking outside-in is critical.
Reduce costs without jeopardizing growth
Most companies are organized around functional capabilities, creating silos that block performance and growth. The key is to reduce waste and enhance resources (e.g. automation of repetitive tasks). Many companies believe that they operate “by the numbers” or consider themselves data driven, but no two people look at data the same way, and a series of spreadsheets and manual calculations is not akin to running your business by the numbers. Depending on the complexity of your business, operating in this manner could drive you right off a cliff.
When to slow down: Are you running your business primarily “by the data”? Data and numbers do not equal leadership. They’re vital components of operating with clarity — but wisdom, experience, and inspiration are still required.
Determining your role in the transformation
Executive support in DX is tantamount, but so is buy-in from your employees at every level. Culture plays a big role here and it’s important to ensure every player has a digital-first mindset. This doesn’t mean every staff member needs to throw a party over your DX plans, but you have an obligation to recognize the potential negative impact it will have on them, and take steps to mitigate those issues. When soliciting buy-in, give your employees a voice on the matter; let them speak up and state any ideas or concerns they might have. By making them feel like they’re a part of the process, you’ll drive higher adoption of the new systems/processes and will meet your goals even faster.
When to slow down: Don’t bite off too much at once, and make employee buy-in a priority. Small wins build momentum, trust, and excitement. Tie your digital initiatives to real dollars and translate that into tangible performance results.
Building a framework that works
If you’ve already deployed several digital initiatives and you’re still not seeing results, it might be time to take a step back. Talk to outsiders for recommendations derived from their experiences to gain fresh perspectives (think outside-in). Begin with the big picture by looking at your business holistically, and map out a plan for the areas that require the most attention.