Digital transformation: 4 ways to achieve real change

Digital transformation now requires resilience and flexibility on a new scale. Consider these strategies
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While enterprises throughout the world have embraced the concept of digital transformation, these transitions are often less successful than one would expect. According to a 2020 study from BCG, only 30 percent of transformations met or exceeded their target value and resulted in sustainable change.

However, many enterprises are accelerating their digital transformation efforts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. IDG reported that 59 percent of IT leaders are increasing digital transformation efforts as a result of pandemic pressures.

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There are no miracle solutions to ensure the success of a digital transformation. Each situation varies depending on the size of the enterprise and the scope of the transformation; a winning strategy requires careful planning and a tailored approach. But while each enterprise’s goals and circumstances are nuanced, some overarching approaches have emerged that can help you reach a positive outcome. Consider these four approaches

1. Focus on specificity

Businesses and reporters have referred to various technology upgrades as “digital transformations” for nearly two decades, to the point that the term has lost meaning. A company’s digital transformation could encompass anything from the deployment of a new AI feature to the transition to remote work. To set goals and expectations throughout the organization, avoid using catch-all terms to describe new tech deployments; instead, it’s important to be specific.

As an example, many enterprises are now navigating the process of returning to the office and developing systems to better facilitate collaboration between in-office and at-home employees. Instead of defining that entire process as “transformation,” be clear about the goals and the tools being used to reach them: “Our company is deploying X cloud-based solution to improve collaborative tools for our hybrid teams.”

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

2. Invest in resilience

The past 18 months have shown how business operations can change at a moment’s notice. With unpredictability now built into planning and forecasting, technology decision-makers should react accordingly by prioritizing sustainable and resilient upgrades over flashy innovations that may not be built to last. In the short term, research solutions that will optimize the performance of your existing solutions and facilitate smoother integrations. 

Placing an emphasis on resilience through digital innovation puts enterprises in the best possible position to weather unpredictable storms.

While the pandemic may soon be in our rear-view mirror, today’s executives must be prepared for any number of game-changing events, from security threats to economic crises. Placing an emphasis on resilience through digital innovation puts enterprises in the best possible position to weather unpredictable storms.

3. Reimagine the road to the boardroom

With digital tools taking on greater importance in enterprise operations, companies must now consider to what extent technical expertise should be expected from C-suite executives. A recent feature in Harvard Business Review took aim at this topic, examining what percentage of searches for CEOs and CFOs, as well as more technical positions like CIOs and CTOs, require specific technical skills from applicants. According to the article, between 40-60 percent of searches for roles like CEO, CFO, and board director included technological or digital skills.

Companies that are introducing new digital solutions should evaluate to what extent their top-level executives will be able to oversee the operation of these tools. Without people at the top to evaluate their performance, companies may end up investing heavily in a new product without knowing if it’s moving the needle on business outcomes. Forward-thinking enterprises should consider what they’re looking for in new executive hires, while also providing avenues for tech-savvy employees to rise through leadership positions internally.

4. Balance leadership and freedom

A clear mission and strong leadership are necessary to lay the groundwork for success in a digital transformation. However, a leadership presence that is too strong could be resisted by employees – those who will ultimately determine whether the initiative succeeds or fails. Digital transformation requires a delicate balance between firm guidance and autonomy, giving employees the freedom they need to adapt new tools to their processes and goals.

This is particularly true in the new post-COVID working conditions, where employees have grown used to working at home, away from the watchful eye of a supervisor. While providing leadership from the top, strive to simultaneously foster a culture of ownership throughout the organization, allowing employees to provide input on the transition and feel a sense of pride in company accomplishments.

To allow for more autonomy among teams, consider evaluating employees based on outcomes rather than activity. This shift in mindset provides employees with the freedom to accomplish tasks as they see fit, while maintaining expectations and accountability for the end result.

Digital transformations will continue to shape the work of enterprises throughout the world, as companies large and small identify ways in which technology can boost efficiency and improve business outcomes. A flexible, resilient, and tailored approach is essential to deliver the ROI expected from cutting-edge business technologies.

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

Katherine Kostereva is CEO and Managing Partner of Creatio. Creatio is a global software company providing a leading low-code platform for process management and CRM. The company has been highly recognized as a market leader by key industry analysts.