It’s safe to say that by now, most businesses are now in some phase of digital transformation. Most are driven by objectives such as improving critical processes, revamping products and services, or increasing agility across the value chain.
But not all is well.
Many studies suggest that the overwhelming majority of digital transformation projects fail, stopped by some unforeseen roadblock or otherwise overwhelmed by the very scale of their ambitions. Our own research at Procensol found that nine out of ten financial services leaders said they do not feel “well-equipped or prepared” for digital transformation. And these are senior executives with years of experience who were deep into DX projects.
Digital transformation initiatives fail for many reasons: Businesses try to do too much without establishing the right foundation. They focus on quantity rather than quality. Some try to separate digital initiatives from the rest of the business, or they rush haphazardly into a wide-scale project with only a blurry idea of future ROI. And all share a common fear of being left behind by newer, more nimble competitors.
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But in my experience, the biggest reason by far is digital transformation fatigue.
Are you suffering from digital transformation fatigue?
In his book Start with Why, Simon Sinek states, “All organizations start with why, but only the great ones keep their why clear year after year.” He points to classic examples of large businesses losing their purpose, including Volkswagen and Walmart, both of which began with great visions for the future that slowly eroded over the years. Both of these organizations, and many others, ran into trouble because they lost their direction.
Here’s how to rediscover (or reinvent) your “why” and alleviate digital transformation fatigue.
Go back to the drawing board
Gather your executive team, your co-founders, shareholders, and anyone else who has a substantial stake in your business. Forget about profit and loss statements and financial forecasts for the moment and take a trip back in time. Why was the business started in the first place? Why are you now undergoing a digital transformation?
In many ways, our current rush to digitally transform can mirror the startup journey of a fledgling business. We begin with a clear purpose and experience great initial success when creativity and innovation are at their peak. Then, as we move into phase two, we hit a wall; the ‘why’ of our actions is lost in the day-to-day battle of deadlines and accountability to various parties.
This is common in artistic and productive endeavors – the final third of a novel is said to be the hardest to write, for example. The only thing you can do is return to the source of your initial inspiration and understand – not with just your head, but in your gut as well – why are you attempting what you are. When you know the answer, communicate it effectively with your teams so they can feel it as well.
Become proactive rather than reactive
Many digital transformation projects start from a place of fear: A competitor or a new entry to your market is doing things more successfully and you rush to emulate it. It’s human nature – we’re a competitive species, after all. Being reactive is also a low-effort, passive way to maintain business.
However, passivity comes with a price: apathetic team members (especially the more creative and ambitious ones), lack of enthusiasm for projects, and a general mindset of following rather than leading. This in turn creates an insidious culture with its own self-fulfilling prophecy. To prevent this and alleviate fatigue in your organization, become a more active participant in the reasoning behind certain projects.
Stop looking at what the competition is doing and attempt the transformations that make the most sense and that create customer satisfaction. As Sinek reminds us, “Those who forget why they were founded show up to the race every day to outdo someone else instead of outdoing themselves.” It’s within your power to stop that now.
Reinvigorate your people
Digital transformation fatigue affects more than just senior leadership; the employees at the coalface of your organization can also suffer from a lack of direction. Change is difficult, and if it is drawn out for too long with few results, enthusiasm for future projects will diminish – especially if there is no overarching vision.
Once you have rediscovered your “why” at a high level, communicate it to your troops. Implement systems that enable robust internal communications and empower workers of all levels to engage in the digital transformation process by offering ideas and participating in business-wide conversations.
Upskilling your team to deal with change and challenges should also be a top priority. When people feel they have the tools to do a job and that they will get something for doing it, resistance will vanish. Recognize and celebrate team members who excel and embrace change. Incentivize and invest in people and you will be rewarded long-term, with lower staff turnover and enthusiastic buy-in for ambitious projects.
Remember: Fatigue arises from uncertainty. As a leader, you have the power to remove that uncertainty.
[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]
Practical advice that should be followed.
Too many digital transformation projects are framed by the "70% of enterprises prioritise AI powered automation projects so we should as well" way of thinking.
Knowing why you are in business helps frame the innovation required to deliver the why.