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Digital Transformation in 7 Brain-Busting Steps

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Worried about how to digitally transform while you perform? Wondering how to change the tires while going 60 miles per hour? Are you preparing your team for their digital journey? (It's not a destination.) Are you trying to figure out how to transform yourself (or your company) into a digital powerhouse in internet time? All of the above?

The phrase "digital transformation" is so overused that it may be on the brink of its own transformation from a business imperative to a hackneyed refrain. But clichés aside, digital transformation is a business imperative and time is the enemy. So let's have a look at seven brain-busting steps that will enable you to create value in your organization through digital transformation.

1. Awareness

Digital transformation requires two kinds of awareness: self-awareness and organizational awareness.

Self-awareness: You must honestly evaluate your personal capabilities. How much did you love or hate math in high school? How much attention did you pay in statistics class in college? Are you a technophobe or a technocrat? Are you excited about learning every day or are you dreading it? These are just a few of the kinds of questions you must honestly answer before you participate in the digital transformation of your world.

You must evaluate your colleagues, subordinates and superiors as well. If you're not with the right people, it's exhausting -- and that's putting it mildly.

Organizational awareness: Is it possible for you to digitally transform your group, your unit or ultimately your entire organization? There are several obstacles to digital transformation, and the biggest ones are people-centric -- you might have a superior who doesn't believe in digital, for example, or individuals with an entrenched "digital is for kids" belief system, or a "that's not the way we do it here" mindset.

2. Literacy (not fluency)

You need to be digitally literate. This includes data literacy, coding literacy, machine-learning literacy, math literacy, and question/answering (QA) literacy to name a few. You need not be fluent. As I posited in "Data Literacy Will Make You Invincible," "You don't need to speak French to recognize that the email you just received is written in French. You just need to be literate to the point where you know that Google Translate is not going to get the job done and you need a highly skilled French translator to help you interpret and respond to the communication."

3. Strategy

Successful digital transformation starts with a solid, well-thought-out strategy that clearly identifies your business objectives. You are going to accomplish _____. Whether it's cost cutting or media optimization or product design or customer service, have a strategy that identifies a 21st-century problem and proposes a 21st-century solution.

4. Governance

Misalignment of incentives and outcomes is the number one killer of dreams. There is no way that any of your current employees are going to give you an extra minute of their time at the expense of delivering the outcomes they are incentivized (fiscally governed) to deliver. If you're expecting a unit to make its revenue numbers for the quarter, it should not surprise you to learn that no one in the unit will even do the pre-reading about the new new thing. They're not getting paid to do it. They won't profit from it. To effect digital transformation, you must fiscally govern for it.

5. Culture

You must create a culture of innovation where continuous improvement and adaptation to change are constant. While it is difficult to transform a culture of "Always be closing" or "Make your numbers or else," if you want to digitally transform your organization, you are going to have to do whatever it takes to assemble your orchestra in an environment where the musicians play music, not just notes.

6. Test, Fail, Learn

Failure is not an option; it is a probability. Part of a successful culture of innovation is an iterative process for testing, failing, learning, reworking, and repeating the process. This is far easier to say than to do. It is especially difficult when an "intrepreneur" has sold in a vision, built a business plan and created a roadmap and then is forced to follow the road, not the map. This is where leadership outplays management.

In a true culture of innovation, a leader leads the team in the new direction and leads senior management through the change in plans. Managers, who are destined to fail, try to manage expectations while the team does what it can to serve multiple gods. This situation happens so often it should have its own name.

7. Build a Yellow Brick Road

Digital transformation requires all kinds of partnerships. Some will be with old partners, some will be with frenemies, some will be with organizations you could never imagine being partners with. No matter what you call the new form of your digitally transformed organization, it will be based on an extensible platform strategy, and it will empower partners to add value in myriad ways you would never have thought of, or could ever have had time or resources to create.

To facilitate this part of your digital transformation, you will need to build a Yellow Brick Road that leads directly to your door. For example, the Yellow Brick Road for higher education leads to Harvard. The Yellow Brick Road for technology leads to Silicon Valley. Movies … Hollywood. Advertising … Madison Avenue. Finance … Wall Street. Build a Yellow Brick Road to your organization and the world's best and brightest will follow it straight to you.

Adapt or Die!

You can take your time, but understand that today you are experiencing the slowest rate of technological change you will ever experience for the rest of your life. You really don't have time to wait. Digital transformation will not get cheaper to do and it will not get faster to do.

This is the part where you push back and say, "Technology gets faster and cheaper and is doing so at an accelerating rate -- that's why we have to digitally transform. We can wait until we are ready or until we are forced to do it."

While everything in the preceding quote is true, the inherent problem is that it will not only be true for you, it will be true for all of your competitors and every startup that's gunning for a piece of your world. By then, it will be too late. Remember your Darwin: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change." In other words, adapt or die!

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