How digital leaders successfully manage digital transformation

How a digital leader successfully manages digital transformation

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Many digital transformations end in failure. How can you ensure your digital transformation programme succeeds when so many fail?

A successful leader of a digital transformation programme will have a clear strategic vision of where their business needs to be. They will understand their customer needs and business trends. A digital leader will look to see how they can change their business processes.
When it comes to a programme on this scale, they will want to answer this question:
How can digital transformation support our value proposition?

What is Digital Transformation?

Digital transformation seeks to change how a business operates in order to deliver more value to their customers. It’s not just ‘digital’, it is a continuous process of disruptive change.

It means challenging existing business models, breaking down established management silos and nurturing collaboration. Because of this, digital transformation poses multiple challenges for business leaders. Currently, up to 88 percent of digital transformation projects fail.

How to become a successful digital leader

People drive digital transformation not technology. A digital leader with strategic vision will decide which business processes can benefit from changing technologies. Digital leaders will need the support of other senior managers, who are themselves undergoing change. Digital transformation is as much cultural change as technological change. Technology is just an enabler – it’s constantly evolving. Your vision should always remain focused on the desired transformative outcome.

Digital Leaders are Agile

Due to the very nature of digital transformation, a successful leader needs to be agile. Holding the strategic vision requires an agile approach to decision making. It’s not easy finding alignment across different management levels. However, by finding partners to collaborate with you will unlock additional value. Depending on the size and nature of your business, this could be internal and/or external stakeholders.

As a digital leader, you will embrace adaptive design. By being agile, you approach digital transformation in short sprints. By ‘failing fast’ you reduce the long term impact these failures have. This allows your strategy to evolve to meet your business goals.

Digital Leaders are driven by business goals

It’s impossible to overhaul your business without buy-in from all staff, but you especially need the support of your most senior managers. Strong leadership is needed to facilitate cross-departmental collaboration. A digital leader will persuade their senior team to agree on the need for change. Your business goals will drive your digital transformation.

Digital leaders take time to understand the problem

To understand your business processes, you should speak with employees, partners, customers and anyone else who has a role to play. Digital is already impacting every part of our lives. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn your workforce is ready for change.

By looking at your existing business processes you ensure the digital solutions you choose match genuine business needs. You are investing in change, you are not investing in technology. Doing so will ensure you don’t fix problems that don’t exist.

Focus on your users – they are your customers and your employees

While you might want digital transformation to make your business more efficient (lower costs etc), you need to understand how these changes will impact your users.

Digital transformation should introduce solutions that please your end users. These users could be your customers or your employees. But don’t forget about your strategic partners. Collaboration is a key component of providing lasting value in any digital transformation.

Invest in your staff

Maintaining staff morale is key to successfully delivering digital transformation. There’s a temptation to view digital transformation as a pathway to automation. However, people remain your greatest asset. Big data might provide new insights, but intelligent decision making still requires people.

Digital transformation demands a commitment to education and training. According to PwC, 73% of CEOs cite skills shortages as a threat to their business. Invest in your staff by making innovation the focus of training and development. Give your staff the skills they need and they will reward you. By investing in your staff you help to maintain morale.

Digital transformation is preparing for tomorrow

You are not preparing for today’s digital environment, but tomorrow’s. How are you going to ensure your project succeeds?

Demonstrate leadership

Your entire management team must lead from the front. However, a digital leader will establish ownership and become a champion for the digital workspace. They will promote (and use) the tools and systems they are advocating for.

Collaboration is vital throughout your digital transformation. Managing change will require input from various stakeholders. A digital leader will look to break down barriers and reduce silo working. New digital processes will mean knowledge and resource sharing becomes more common.

For a digital transformation project to succeed, you need to bring your people with you. From a leadership position, this goes further than training and developing digital skills. A digital leader will find ways to improve internal communications.

Define goals, objectives and set targets

An agile digital leader will know that sticking to rigid KPIs will not succeed. Digital transformation is a series of small wins. Therefore, planning, engagement and analysis are vital to the success of your project. As a series of sprints, you will focus on a clear set of objectives for each stage. It is possible that each sprint could have a negative impact on the next phase. So, KPIs will need to be flexible. A digital leader will remain focused on business goals and ensure each sprint is progressing towards the strategic vision.

A digital leader will focus on metrics that report on scale, usage and engagement to gain insights into how their business is actually performing. These metrics can be compared against your financials which may hide a lag in business performance. For example, if revenue is flat but usage is trending down, how will that affect the financials next year?

In Summary

In order to successfully manage a digital transformation programme, a digital leader will be:

  • Agile
  • Understand and define the problem
  • Focused on the user
  • Demonstrate leadership
  • Will value your staff
  • Driven by business goals
  • Focused on the right reporting metrics

I’d love to hear your experiences of leading digital transformation teams and projects. Connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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