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28 Mar
2019

Grappling with Digital Transformation? You’re not Alone


digital transformation

“Digital Transformation” is a daunting and often poorly-understood challenge for more established organisations

Many companies have, over the years, built up an intricate legacy of infrastructures based on now-antiquated (or sometimes very limited) technology. The few organisations still holding on to “what worked in the past”, or think of “digital transformation” as merely a buzzword or passing phase, should be taking a very hard look at how this approach worked out for the likes of Kodak and Blockbuster.

Organisations that are future-focused appreciate this challenge, even if they don’t necessarily understand how to tackle it. They get the need for digital transformation but are struggling to quantify what it actually means (because for many it’s new, unchartered territory), how to re-imagine and re-engineer their businesses, and where to even start the whole process.

Andrew Allison – Red & Yellow’s Head of Corporate Training –  says that these are the most common issues he encounters across industry sectors, from businesses large and small. There is a universally express – and admirable – intent to embrace technology as a business enabler; coupled with an entirely understandable fear of how to shift into the agile, responsive digital realm, resulting in  “analysis paralysis” and difficulties in getting started.

“Can Red & Yellow help us?” is the question that follows. Andrew’s response is usually “Yes, of course, we can”, followed by, “But you need to first understand what digital transformation means for your business”.

What is the solution?

Arguably the most meaningful and effective driver of organisational change, at scale, is training and development, and this should be premised on a three-tiered approach that affords leadership the time to formulate their digital transformation plans, whilst simultaneously driving digital awareness and knowledge across the organisation.

  1. Drive from the Top: Leadership has to first identify and buy into the need for change, and accept that the process will likely be difficult and painful. Current success, or at least not failing, may in itself be a massive obstacle to critical change for the future. After all, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Well, it might not be broken today, but it could be completely redundant this time next year!
  2. Prime the organisation: Broad-based buy-in relies on clear, open and consistent communication across the organisation; underpinned by equipping teams with a foundational understanding of the digital landscape, the key technological drivers of change that will affect them, and how your industry and the market is being impacted. This will help facilitate a new way of thinking, remove some of the fear of “digital” and equip staff with the requisite basic knowledge, skills, and know-how to cope with the change that’s coming.
  3. Build new skills, capabilities, and mindsets: Implement a well-coordinated, top-to-bottom learning and development (L&D) programme that develops new ways of working and thinking about your business, and builds the critical skill-sets and capabilities that your business needs to capitalise on nascent opportunities and deal with emerging challenges.

Unpack a little further?

Unless the digital transformation strategy is a directive driven from the top, based on 100% commitment and buy-in, it won’t work. Equipping staff with digital skills and thinking without providing a receptive environment for implementation, or enabling company-wide support and excitement about the future direction, is akin to spending money on ingredients, without a recipe or outcome in mind.  All the elements are there, you just don’t know what to do with them.

This is why most ad hoc training initiatives fail. There is no such thing as a quick-fix. Transformation does not happen overnight – it’s a strategic journey, contingent on iterative small shifts and learnings.

Adapting to “thinking digital” is hugely challenging

True “digital transformation” is complex, challenging and complicated. Apart from the lucky few who are either ahead of the pack or impervious to technology’s impact, most companies will need to deal with the reality that every single aspect, process, and methodology (refined over many years) will be disrupted and up-ended.

Companies that aren’t prepared to act swiftly in adapting to this new digital reality and a more demanding and’ informed consumer are at serious risk of obsolescence in the coming years. The world is changing at an ever-increasing rate, and “what got them here” may very well just not be enough “to take them further”.

 It might feel like “all or nothing”

At first, the concept of digital transformation might seem insurmountable. Or perhaps you “get” it, but the “people who make decisions” still stubbornly stick to “this is how it’s always worked, why to change it?” Or dismiss the transition as“fake news”.

Spoiler alert: the world as they knew it, is changing. Faster than they realise. It’s more disruptive than they can comprehend and more powerful than they can imagine.

The rising impact of intelligent technology;  the increasing confluence of disparate data sets, that when combined, reveal what consumers like, want and need; the dramatic shift of what marketing “was” to “what it needs to be” and a host of other unassailable factors cannot be ignored or denied. Organisations need to think very differently going forward in order to ensure future growth, sustainability, and success.

Fast-track the process

Many companies regard digital transformation as a linear process – first, the leadership team needs time to agree on a strategy, then it needs to be communicated to the business, and only once that’s done can implementation commence. A more effective approach – that dramatically fast-tracks the process – is to see it as an interconnected  “top-down, bottom-up” strategy that happens simultaneously. Allowing leaders and direction-makers the time and opportunity to devise the best long-term strategy, while simultaneously equipping the staff with the skills, knowledge, and expertise so that they’re ready and able to make it happen. This relies on two key factors:

  1. A senior team that is informed and aware
    Short, sharp training sessions are critical for making the senior team aware of new opportunities and emerging challenges. They need to know enough to chart a strategic route, without being bogged down by the granular details.

    This small contingent of staff has the power to make the biggest impact – positive or negative – on the success of the business.

  2. The staff that support the new direction, and have the requisite digital literacy to appreciate its importance and potential
    Change is scary which is why people resist it. The bigger the organisation, the fiercer the resistance. Basic digital literacy helps to replace fear with optimism – and the easiest solution is to enrol them in online courses that are recognised, relevant and genuinely value-adding.

    By grounding people in the principles of the most progressive, future-first businesses (which include change management, a customer-centric focus, design thinking, lean business practices, agile methodologies, problem-solving and entrepreneurialism), the benefit is two-fold: staff that are more informed and equipped, along with a way smoother and speedier start to the digital transformation journey.

How ready is your organisation, really?

We’ll leave you with three key questions that’ll help ascertain your organisation’s appetite for and commitment to digital transformation:

  1. Are the leaders/EXCO truly on board?
  2. Are your people ready for change?
  3. What critical skills, capabilities, and behaviours are needed to fundamentally transform the business for future success and sustainability?

Remember, it’s not about the destination

Digital transformation – like any large-scale adaptive change – is not about the destination, but the journey itself. The future is by nature unpredictable, and defining the perfect strategic direction is impossible.

But movement towards an informed, relevant direction is the only way to avoid stagnation and irrelevance. Transformation speaks less to the embodiment of an organisation as a digital entity, and entirely to its ability to survive and thrive in the future.

 

Business Essentials is Africa’s premium networking and business directory.

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