After having been at the heart of transformations initiated by Digital the last 10 years, I tried to look back and find patterns – looked at what went well, what didn’t, and why.
After analysing carefully – it seems that indeed there are some patterns out there, similarities between companies/industries that managed to transform successfully their business, mainly because of Digital. Here are the main points I have noted, and of course, feel free to contact me to share any thoughts that could enrich this first analysis.
1. Pattern#1: It starts with a momentum challenging the people, and people being up to the challenge
Industries trying to transform without a momentum, a real sense of urge shared at all levels of the organisation simply lack engagement in the transformation. If only a few people have a sense of urge, they will be confronted to the reluctance of change of the rest of the organization, will lack support and will ultimately tire off, or even leave. If you want to transform, it’s essential to have an organization unified around 1 common goal (may it be a threat or an opportunity) and have a clear vision defined in which each and every one figures their role and contribution to support & deliver the vision.
Within this momentum, culture is key – the ones who have best taken up the challenge are those with a real combattive culture – a real sense of pride and wish to succeed. Fear doesn’t move the lines, but showing what you’re capable of allow people to think and go the extra mile.
2. Pattern#2: Everyone converging towards a common goal with a clear scope & mandate
We’re all into transversal collaboration and having diverse set of teams working together towards one goal. However transversal collaboration is *not* involving each and every individual in every discussion and decision. It’s counter productive, annoying and at the end of the day nothing happens. Talking with everybody and having everybody decide on everything just means people don’t know what to do and won’t take responsibility. If you want your transformation to succeed, people need to have a clear objective and scope, understand their role in the big picture and be empowered to do what it takes to make it happen. It’s ridiculous to hire smart and experienced people to tell them what to do. If you want to succeed, you empower these people and see how you can create a context where they can deliver, accelerate and thrive. If people bringing change need to be slowed down by multiple alignment meetings & several committee – you know there is no focus and no empowerement, efforts are dispersed and you slow down. In transformation time is of essence and speed can be a decisive factor. So work on it.
3. Pattern#3: Gaining leverage from customer intimacy and unique value propositions
Most transformations – and especially digital transformations – are about bringing new/different solutions to the market and/or changing how you distribute them. Digital transformation is creating enough pull and simplicity of purchase and use for customers to buy your new solutions directly online and enough customer pull to be able to challenge your indirect distribution. Indirect distribution will not distribute your products at lower fees if they won’t see an uptake of volume that will compensate the loss of revenue. They will not accept lower commissions if they feel they lose out not to distribute you. So make great solutions, demonstrate their effectiveness and use that leverage to challenge your distribution and shift lines between indirect and direct distribution. How can you build great solutions ? Gain customer intimacy (I didn’t say knowledge). Customer intimacy is about knowing what people would need, build solutions addressing those needs and knowing how they purchase it. The more intimacy you have the more knowledge you have to make great solutions and influence your distribution.
4. Pattern#4: Communicate the new strategy & build a governance and controls aiming to preserve it.
I know I said that empowerment is key and that it’s important to give a context allowing change agents to perform and deliver. However in parallel of change agents’ work, day to day business decisions are taken, line management solutions are brought to the market and potentially these can be counter-productive to your end-goal : your digital and customer strategy. When your organisation doesn’t breathe digital yet, or isn’t customer centric yet, it’s important to understand that some side-projects or decisions can undermine your digitalisation/customer centricity plans. Therefore once your strategy is elaborated, communicate it, repeat it and show how serious you are in it. This is not a one-time short term objective, it is taking a new direction and people need to understand it, make it theirs and see how they can build it in their day to day job. Don’t think because it’s good that people will naturally buy it in. Demonstrate leadership & engage people into going into that direction. And mean it: a new strategy comes with objectives and guiding principles. Match these against your day to day decisions and stick to them. If one project goes against your customer vision & digital strategy – you need to rework it. It’s not easy, it’s about sticking to your principles. But remember that everything that passes through that net is legacy you’ll need to manage tomorrow. So use gatings, use committees to exerce influence to communicate the strategy and ensure people are within the guiding principles that will make it happen and succeed.
5. Pattern#5: Don’t try to change your DNA, capitalise on it
That’s probably the hardest one; Digital transformation is about doing new things and operating differently. It can be a very strong shift of how you have operated the last few years and what you bring to the market. People have joined and stayed in your organization for many reasons and all of a sudden this changes. If you try to change too much, people won’t recognise themselves in what is happening and will be lost if not completely cynical (“this will never work here”). So it’s important to understand what is the DNA of your organisation, what can be challenged and when and how gradually you shift things capitalising on its DNA and not trying to work against it. Shift too small and you limit impact, shift too much and you take the risk to completely fail. The balance is hard but a stepped and well-thought approach is critical to succeed through time.
Yes, it takes a village.
No, all organisations are not always conscious how Digital transformation will require to challenge all these areas.
But others succeeded and every day, as Business Partners, Belly & Brain works with organizations to make this happen. So there is no reason you can’t succeed either.
About the author
Audrey has been managing digital strategy and digital transformations during several years from within large corporations before creating Belly & Brain.
By creating Belly & Brain, her aim was to design a consultancy firm finally adapted to the needs and reality of business leaders confronted to strong digital challenges - combining consultancy and coaching capabilities able to handle as well marketing and sales strategic questions, as well as change management, organisational & culture challenges needed to actually deliver on the transformation.
Audrey organises regular free meet up sessions with executives to discuss their challenges and give rapid feedback on solutions and options. Learn more about these here