Digital transformation: 6 keys to success now

Leading digital transformation involves great culture change – and the rate of change increased with the pandemic. Consider these six principles to support teams in a positive way 
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Digital transformation 2021

The road to digital transformation is far from smooth. From attracting and retaining talent in a tight labor market to warding off constant security risks, business leaders face daunting challenges when implementing digital strategies today.

If you are leading your organization through a change in technology and culture, you know how difficult the process can be, especially now as we weather all the additional changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Applying a little emotional intelligence can make a world of difference in reaching your team goals, especially in these trying times. The following six principles can help make your organization stronger and more competitive:

1. Be open

Allow for freedom of thought, action, and innovation. Foster an environment in which every individual in your organization feels they have the autonomy to affect change. Most organizations do not prioritize an “open” workplace culture. If you begin to prioritize openness, employees joining the organization must be aware and brought into the new culture you are creating. Being aware of your own openness and the rest of your organization’s current culture is key to digital transformation.

[ Read also: Digital transformation: 4 ways to plan for the post-pandemic normal. ]

Seek out feedback from your team members, and show an openness and willingness to accept it. This will help instigate larger changes within your organization. Another behavior that exhibits openness is being diligent about retrospectives and tracking the changes needed based on those retrospectives, which leads to a healthier, more successful organization. Be diligent about gathering feedback and tracking the changes you make that are based on your retrospectives.

2. Be thoughtful

Constantly think about the goals you are trying to achieve, evaluate your progress toward those outcomes, and change course when necessary. If you feel like your organization is going through the motions without questioning why, you are likely moving in the wrong direction.

If you feel like your organization is going through the motions without questioning why, you are likely moving in the wrong direction.

I recently spoke with the CTO of a Fortune 500 company who is leading a major digital transformation. Her primary focus is on mindful decision-making. Being mindful and transparent about her decisions has boosted employee morale and strengthened communications throughout the organization. It has also encouraged employees to offer critical feedback on training, which in turn led her to make changes that increased the organization’s recruiting pipeline and employee retention rate through creating a new platform for IT upskilling.

3. Be understanding

If you take the time and effort to understand others’ perspectives, you will be much more likely to receive the buy-in and creativity necessary to instigate change. Understand where your coworkers, your customers, and your vendors are coming from. If you can acknowledge your differences and have a shared understanding of success, you will see that diversity of thought makes teams more effective and organizations stronger. Great ideas are implemented through cooperative creation.

4. Be inclusive

A diverse workforce is a more effective workforce. According to a report by McKinsey & Co., companies in the top quartile for gender and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

Diversity promotes inclusive thought and ideas, which are essential in today’s workforce. To attract and retain talent, encourage diversity and inclusive thought by promoting positive actions by your employees, contractors, and vendors. Modern meritocracy is not necessarily about listening only to the loudest ideas, but rather allowing the best ideas to form through inclusive thought.

Diversity promotes inclusive thought and ideas, which are essential in today’s workforce.

5. Accept failure

We’ve all heard about the importance of accepting failure: Failure is a sign of progress because it shows that you tried to improve, which leads to positive learning as an organization.

At regular intervals throughout your transformation, detail what is working well and what is not, and revisit these notes at regular intervals and at the end of the project. Start by collecting data to understand how many people on your team are willing to admit that they had to change course, or that someone else had to fix a bug or an issue. Team members’ willingness to speak up will reflect whether you are ready to accept failure and move forward. The more transparently tracked data you collect, the more accepting you likely are.

The real benefit of this strategy is that failure can happen quickly, and your team can move on instead of wasting time, money, and other resources on an approach that ultimately won’t work. Insisting that “failure is not an option” will only lead to overspending on resources and missed deadlines as your team gets stuck in a cycle of great effort with little change.

6. Celebrate success

Celebrating success should be the easiest part of priming your teams for change, but the reality is that almost half of American employees today feel underappreciated.

In a workplace study conducted by Clear Review, a lack of appreciation regarding effort and performance topped the list of workplace frustrations. And an article in reported, “A remarkable 40 percent of employees, from a diverse range of fields and positions, stated that employee recognition was simply not a priority in their business, something that limited their motivation to truly excel.”

Employees who feel that their efforts and achievements are not recognized – or worse, that they are recognized only when something goes wrong – are more likely to underperform. So make a point to celebrate employee success at the individual, team, organizational, and corporate level – it will help encourage everyone to excel.

The business of change

Transformation – whether it involves new technology, cultural change, or other factors – is never easy. But using the principles outlined above, you can help your teams adapt and even grow stronger and more productive.

The most effective digital leaders facilitate change through openness and collaboration. They are willing to accept failure and use its lessons to help their teams succeed. And they understand that change is imperative to stay competitive in the age of digital disruption.

[ Want answers to key digital transformation questions and lessons from top CIOs? Get our Digital transformation cheat sheet. ]

Emily Brand is a Chief Architect at Red Hat. She focuses on building complex solutions for financial services, insurance, and healthcare clients using a variety of technologies including automation, Containers-as-a-Service (CaaS), Infraustructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), and integration technologies. She is focused on helping enterprises modernize both culture and technology.