Digital transformation: 3 signs you need to pivot

Digital transformation: 3 signs you need to pivot

How do you know when your digital transformation strategy needs a shift to address market changes or new priorities? Consider these three examples

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digital transformation reality check

Congratulations! After much hype and debate on whether to invest in digital transformation, you’ve successfully aligned leaders on strategy and priorities. You spearheaded an agile transformation to connect people with goals and empower them with the promise of great experiences and robust solutions. And you embarked on a program to help your organization become more market-, customer-, and data-driven so that visions, priorities, and requirements adjust with evolving business conditions.

But what if you need to adjust your digital transformation plans? How do you recognize when you need to address new goals or obligations?

Ideally, CIOs should design transformation programs to embrace ongoing changes. Just like we want agile teams to adjust priorities based on customer feedback, CIOs must adjust digital transformation programs based on industry, market, strategic, and operational factors.

[ Is your team tiring of transformation work? Read also: How to beat digital transformation fatigue. ] 

3 signals you need a digital transformation course change

But there are times when digital transformation programs require a pivot, reset, or realignment. Here are three situations that may signal the need for a course change.

1. Too many strategic priorities undermine execution

Digital transformation requires focus and discipline because any single initiative often drives significant transformative changes. True transformation initiatives impact all aspects of the business, from sales to marketing and operations. Pushing too many initiatives through the organization at once is a recipe for creating stress, under-delivering, or deploying with poor quality.

Pushing too many initiatives through the organization at once is a recipe for creating stress, under-delivering, or deploying with poor quality.

While initiatives should start small, they often grow in scope, complexity, and organizational reach to the point where they can overwhelm participants. Smart CIOs plan for this and project the timing of adding teams, maturing practices, and selecting technologies for transformation programs and prioritized initiatives.

It’s hard for leaders to prioritize and say no to strategic initiatives, so organizations often sign up for too many of them. But when you see high-potential leaders get stressed out, schedules fill with too many meetings, and agile teams miss deadlines, then it’s time to regroup with the senior leadership team. Present the facts and avoid walking away from the conversation without a clear statement that redefines a medium-term focus for the transformation program.

[ Get answers to key digital transformation questions and lessons from top CIOs: Download our digital transformation cheat sheet. ]

2. Business fundamentals have shifted

The clearest recent example of a shift in business fundamentals is COVID-19, which forced CIOs to implement business continuity plans, remote working at scale, and other operational changes. Even as governments open up businesses for restricted operations, there will be long-lasting impacts on supply chains, customer needs, sales, and operations.

CIOs must consider defensive and offensive changes to their transformation programs that align to new risks and opportunities. Seize this opportunity to drive positive changes in employee experience, hiring practices, and safety innovations.

Here are some other situations that may call for resetting and realigning digital transformations:

  • Leadership changes
  • Major acquisitions
  • Brand crises
  • Major shifts in market needs
  • Significant regulatory changes
  • Political turmoil

These fundamental shifts may require pivots in individual programs, realigning of priorities, or a full reset of the digital transformation. Under these circumstances, it’s critical that CIOs recognize the need for a pivot and take the lead in bringing the appropriate leaders together to discuss the required changes.

3. Your transformation strategy needs to align with breakthrough opportunities

You know a breakthrough opportunity when you see it. You recognize that a significant innovation must be shared and marketed to your business colleagues and may signify an even more significant achievement.

Let’s say your agile development team completes a pilot on a new mobile customer service application, and the response is overwhelmingly positive. Or a data science team, experimenting with a new reinforcement learning AI connected to thousands of sensors, demonstrates an innovation that can speed up manufacturing and lower costs.

CIOs need to realign people and other resources to take these innovations into production. But when there are breakthrough moments, leaders should use them to do more than just realign resources. CIOs should seek a “calling” – one key achievement that can make a lasting impact on the business – and seize that opportunity as the basis for transformation.

CIOs should seek a "calling" – one key achievement that can make a lasting impact on the business – and seize that opportunity as the basis for transformation.

Transforming large businesses requires a culture change, and leaders should use breakthrough moments as tools to drive changes in how people collaborate and execute on new ideas.

Is that a pivot? Founders in Silicon Valley use the term to get their startups realigned to a new mission. If you have a breakthrough moment, I suggest pivoting the transformation program to maximize this opportunity.

Realign transformations and pivot only when required

While there are compelling business reasons to realign transformation programs, leaders must consider the organizational impact of major shifts in strategy. The staff will second-guess leadership that changes direction too frequently, and it also risks burning out key performers.

Some circumstances require a significant shift in direction, or pivot. Other times, it may be easier to communicate new priorities and small course changes. Keep in mind that the world is changing quickly, so there’s likely another speed bump or a big opportunity further down the road.

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

Isaac Sacolick, President of StarCIO, guides companies through smarter, faster, innovative, and safer digital transformation programs that deliver business results.

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