How to Survive the Awkward Phases of a Digital Transformation

How to Survive the Awkward Phase of Digital Transformation
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Making a move from an analog past to a digital future is no simple endeavor. With it comes any number of challenges and opportunities to give up and go back to the way things were.

It typically foretells many months of potentially awkward transition that can encompass every aspect of an organization - from accounting to operations to production on to product marketing and sales and customer service.

It requires time, patience, and commitment from every level of the organization. It also demands the understanding that moving from old-school methods to new-school processes requires some, well, schooling.

To say DX is an overwhelming change for many is an understatement. But that’s not to say it’s not a worthy endeavor. It simply requires bringing in an integrated mind-set of “constant change and improvement” versus “what worked once will work forever.”

Image showing digital project failure and digital skills shortage statitics

Here are five lessons with which to educate yourself and your team and ensure your organization survives a digital transformation.

Get Buy-In At Every Level

Plenty of articles on DX espouse the need and benefits of ensuring your executive team is on board with any digital transitions. While that is important, oft overlooked is the need to evaluate rank and file team members - the ones that will push your transformation forward.

Much of DX at the employee level requires assessing skill sets, training, and determining who can and cannot make the cut as your group becomes more technologically efficient. Some of the most challenging aspects of DX stem from a workforce unwilling to let go of archaic processes.

Of course, this means making some difficult decisions about those that may not fit with the new direction. After all, you’re not only changing your processes; you’re changing your culture.

And yes, this is extremely unpleasant. Many times it results in transitioning out once competent and productive workers, who for one reason or another are unable to adapt to the new processes.

Regardless, it’s critical to your transformation that you assess these skills and talents very early on.

In the beginning, it will ensure you have the expertise in place to overcome the inevitable technical obstacles ahead. Later, it will pay off with a cohesive group of team members who are on the same page and working as one to achieve the organization's goals.

Illustration showing a 10-step digital transformation roadmap

Have a Strategy That Bends (So As Not to Break)

One of the problems that many businesses face with their DX is a locked-in mindset of the way things have to be – this is our plan, this is how much we will spend, this is our time frame, and these are the people who will pull it off.

A DX strategy is fine – great actually – at providing you with an overview of where you want your transformation to go - but give the plan space to breathe.

The analog age may have meant finite questions with finite answers, new technologies, however, are anything but fixed.

Your approach needs to be less about ticking off individual boxes and more about achieving cohesive top-down changes and improvements.

Be prepared for new technologies or approaches to replace those that were current in your initial vetting (an 18-month DX may start with solution A, but end up at solution M).

Focus budgeted costs on the overall benefits to the organization versus the specific value of a component.

Identify leaders to carry out the DX, but understand that the transformation will affect everyone.

Yes, a strategy is vital to keeping your DX on track, but as technology and goals move, your DX must also go with the flow.

Illustration showing three common "no" times

Focus on the Collective “Digital Good”

One of the major points of discomfort for any company working through DX is trying to shoehorn in technologies or processes that are ill-suited for their core goals.

The catalyst for this can come from anywhere – investors with an agenda, competitors with a perceived leg up, or consumers with a “they have it, why don’t you” mindset.  

These are not concerns to ignore, but ill-fitting pieces will bog down your initiatives and lose you valuable time and resources. They can also cost you revenue. So how do you navigate change for change's sake?

By not setting sail.

Yep, keep that boat in the harbor and instead chart the course of your DX according to the next logical step for your organization – because it fits with your organization – and not because outside influences are dictating you do so. Plenty of companies won’t admit to it, but many pull back on DX because their initiatives were forced instead of organic.

Need evidence? Consider that Apple once famously held back on employing 4G technology in their iPhones, taking a wait and see approach until the tech had time to evolve. It paid off, as early 4G phones were rife with issues, and Apple took advantage once 4G matured. Apple is again using a similar wait and see approach with 5G.

Of course, there is a risk to all of this. Apple may fall behind if 5G is an instant hit with few issues, but it's their risk to take.

The same thinking applies to your company. Do what you believe best serves your business and your customer and your bottom line.

Illustration showing 1 in 5 senior executives have serious doubts about digital transformation efforts

Growing Pains are Natural (But Not Permanent)

One of the big stumbling blocks to any business realizing their DX ambitions is that it is a complicated process to experience.

Not only are you just changing workflows or systems, but you’re more than likely replacing legacy processes ingrained in the identity of your company. Such an enormous undertaking practically guarantees some level of employee turnover, communication breakdown, and customer confusion.

To minimize the disruptions inherent with DX, seek out small wins. These are the steps or tasks that may not make much noise outside of your organization, but will set the foundation on which to build your large scale transformation.

In basic terms, DX is akin to installing the technology that turns a house into a smart home. You start with automating the lights and adding a digital assistant to grasp basic concepts. Then move on to larger comfort systems, appliances, or more complex, personalized automation.

The advantage, of course, is that everyone associated with your organization – leaders, employees, vendors, and customers – acclimate to each new set of fundamentals before taking on the next DX challenge.

Not only that, but should the technology change in the course of your DX, or any time after, these minor set pieces provide solid pivot points, so you’re not always returning to square one.

Graph showing phases in digital transformation implementation

Commit, Commit, Commit

The last point is perhaps the easiest to relate but most difficult to practice: commit to changing.

Yes, it's a challenge for many to break free of old thought processes. After all, our talents and experience originate from what we’ve done, not what we’re going to do.

However, maintaining an open mind to emerging technologies will not just serve to make you and your organization’s DX a far smoother transition. It will also better prepare your group for the rapid advances that are certain to come.

Perhaps that is the most critical point for your team to understand. It's not the technologies that will make or break a business’ future. Instead, it's how the individuals that make up that business respond to it.

Be bold, be confident, and be open and the digital transformation won’t be about survival, it will be about success.

Resources to Help With Your Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is a hairy beast to tackle – but the business rewards are well worth it. To help you as you embark (or continue) your digital journey we’ve compiled a few resources to help you out.

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