Digital transformation is hard, especially for “traditional” businesses. You’re a traditional business if you’re not a digital native — if you didn’t grow up during the past five to ten years and/or digital is not part of your business DNA. Your DNA is different and will require some rewiring. That’s the painful part. But it’s possible to make rapid, meaningful progress if you think differently about the change that you’re about to execute.
Think Big. Start small. Go Fast.
At the heart of any transformation are three things:
- a clear idea of where you’re going — the big thought;
- a valuable place where you can prototype your business model — small enough to not “bet the business” but important enough to matter as a proof point;
- the authority to act within broad guardrails — use the lightest management system you can get away with. By “Get away with”, I mean from a legal or regulatory perspective. You’re going to be uncomfortable with this part. If you’re not, you’re doing it wrong.
The Six Signs You’re Going Too Slow
- The CxO (that may be you) doesn’t meet with the project leader — A digital transformation can’t be farmed out to someone who isn’t the CEO or doesn’t have direct access to the CEO. That person, the CxO, also can’t farm out the responsibility further down the line. The project leader needs to be able to directly access the C-Suite. If that doesn’t happen, then it’s a clear signal to the rest of the organization about the importance of the digital transformation.
- You announced a czar – Nothing kills “fast” or “small” like someone with VP (or worse, SVP) in their title running the thing. Line execs, your directors and senior managers (unless you’re a bank in which case you can inflate those title 30%), need to run the thing. They don’t need a “czar” for their authority. They need the visible sponsorship of someone super senior, one of the CxOs, to get things done. That’ll be enough. (see #1)
- You gave the initiative a name – Extra points if you have an acronym or a slogan. You aren’t allowed the name the thing until it has demonstrated massive value and it is ready for scaling across your businesses. Names are for change management. You’re not ready for a name. You need to fix your business.
- You started too big – Don’t bet the business. Don’t involve all the naysayers, they’ll just be an anchor to your progress. Find an important part of the business where you have some people who are on board and start there. What’s “important”? It’s a part of your business that is a growth play. It’s the part of your business that is your future. It’s not one of your cash cows.
- You started too small – If the results of the experiment aren’t relevant you’ll never convince the important stakeholders. The corporate immune system will devour your work. Who are the naysayers? They’re all over the place. Some will be your SVPs who grew up calling non-digital plays and are happy to keep doing so. Some with be your SVPs who appear to be bought-in but are secretly undermining you. Some of them will have to go. But even the best will have to be convinced with meaningful data.
- You starved the effort – Someone stepped up and volunteered their business and you asked them to fund the effort out of their current budget. After all, they’re getting the benefit, right? No. Tax the other businesses. Get the team the money they need to do it right. This is your future.
So you’ve made a few mistakes and got started wrong. Here are a few things to fix.
- Get involved — Visible, active leadership from the top makes things happen. Make things happen.
- Sharpen the focus — shrink the management system, tighten the team, get a growth business involved, and give the team broad authority over process changes.
- Measure progress — put in place a measurement system that assesses not only the business results but the end-to-end process from a customer perspective. This may be very manual initially, but the sooner you get some data the quicker you’ll be able to see if you’re on the right path.
Digital transformation is an iterative process. It’s the process of hypothesis, experiment, and assessment. Your digital transformation is likely going too slow but because of its iterative nature, it should be relatively easy to get back on track. Regroup. Restart.