Digital transformation: 6 do's and don'ts for new leaders

Leading a digital transformation can be daunting, even for seasoned IT pros. If you're a new leader, use this advice to keep your initiative on track
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Digital transformation has been increasingly common among large enterprises in recent years, and the pandemic has now accelerated digital initiatives across smaller verticals as well. Guiding a digital transformation is stressful and complicated even under ordinary circumstances. With the pandemic shifting consumer behaviors and creating pressure to adapt quickly in order to remain viable, new leaders are more susceptible to making mistakes that could negatively impact the organization.

If you are struggling to navigate your organization’s digital transformation through this pandemic and beyond, here are six do's and don’ts to help guide your efforts.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

3 digital transformation don’ts

- Lose sight of people

Many leaders see digital transformation as driven by emerging technology, but consumers are responsible for causing these changes. It is imperative to keep people at the center of your digital transformation program. After all, it’s people who run companies, use the technology, and innovate. 

When designing your vision for change, be sure to keep people in the spotlight.

Amazon and Apple are two companies that do a great job at implementing user- and customer-centric approaches. When designing your vision for change, be sure to keep people in the spotlight.

- Follow the crowd

While technology shouldn’t drive your need for transformation, you should be selective in choosing the technology that will facilitate that transformation. Don’t make the mistake of following the herd – just because conversational AI is the latest tech trend, for example, doesn’t mean that technology is helpful to you or your consumers. Keep your team focused on the technologies your organization needs rather than the latest trend.

- Have an imbalanced team

The more individuals involved in your transformation initiative, the more support it will garner. The more talent you have, the more expertise you will have access to throughout the process.

Integrate existing teams into the transformation process so that each person’s skill set is put to use. Digital transformation initiatives are most successful when they include people who offer different perspectives and areas of expertise. It’s important to include experts throughout your organization, but make sure they exhibit specific attributes that support your end goals. Consider including on your team IT specialists, the CIO, third-party vendors, HR personnel, and senior and middle managers.

[ Do you know how to spot top digital talent? Read also: Digital transformation: 4 signs of a superstar. ]

3 digital transformation do's

- Communicate your transformation goals clearly

Digital transformation can be intimidating, especially when it involves automation. Employees may feel uncertain of processes and frustrated by information overload – and some may even feel threatened by the technology. As a leader, your job is to prevent fear and burnout by implementing a robust communication plan that outlines clear goals. Present a shared understanding of what is to come across the entire organization.

To achieve this:

  • Communicate transformation goals early
  • Anticipate resistance and address it quickly by providing information regarding the benefits of digital transformation
  • Explain not only what you’re doing, but also why you’re doing it

- Prioritize the employee experience

Your employees are your greatest asset. Therefore, it’s essential to prioritize the employee experience throughout the digital transformation process as this can significantly impact the transformation’s success. Employees who benefit from change will support it, contributing to a happier work environment.

Improving the employee experience can be as simple as:

  • Maximizing employee engagement
  • Helping employees grow their careers
  • Training, educating, and improving employee skills

- Define what success looks like 

Ask yourself: Why am I undertaking this transformation? What am I hoping to get out of this digital transformation? And finally, how will I measure success?

Answering these questions will enable you to track your progress and communicate with your team on areas of improvement. Setting goals and benchmarks will help you develop a strategy to guide the implementation of new technology.

Some metrics to keep top of mind include training results (the number of people trained in the organization), project results (the number of projects where design thinking is used), and customer satisfaction (response to specific assignments, usability metrics, etc.).

There is an undeniable shift in how companies manage everyday work processes – a shift towards becoming truly digital. Transitioning to become a fully digital company brings a serious competitive advantage. For new leaders thrust into the digital transformation world for the first time, the advice above will help guide your journey.

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

As CTO of Clearbridge Mobile, Sanjay Malhotra has built an agile team of mobile experts who have created award-winning solutions for media, telecom, fintech, healthcare, mobile payments, and QSRs.