How to Lead Successful Digital Transformation – Transform Yourself First

It’s no longer a question of implementing what others have developed. It’s a matter of creating one’s own transformation.

Any worthwhile change is disruptive. It creates anxiety and fear; it sometimes results in stubborn resistance for those who are impacted by it. But change is inevitable, and in an increasingly digitised world, it is not an option.

Companies that fail to make key digital transformations, often on a continuing basis, will be “left in the dust,” as their competitors move forward, become leaner, more relevant, and able to conduct business in a far more effective and streamlined manner.

Consider, for example, a bank. As technology began to transform this industry, banks looked to outside development firms from which to purchase software products that would meet their needs to remain competitive. That day is over. Banks have realised that, if they are to remain truly competitive, they must internalise their digitisation, so that they can be in full control of the products and services they offer their customers. Such a change has involved a new leadership role for those who must spearhead digital transformations for their organisations.

And banks are just one example. Digital transformation crosses all industries, and new leadership roles are required, if that transformation is to be successful.

So, let’s take a look at what that new leadership role must be, if digital transformation is to be successful and to “stick.” It’s no longer a question of implementing what others have developed. It’s a matter of creating one’s own transformation.

Creating the Environment

This will perhaps be the toughest challenge of all. You first have to create an internal environment of change within yourself., if you expect to lead your team in a transformation. How ready are you to lead this change? What approaches will you have to adapt to spearhead a major change and inspire your team to do likewise? Perhaps some that you already have, and perhaps some new ones.

Whatever those are, it will be important to create an environment of innovation, the adoption of fresh ideas, and an enthusiasm for thinking in new ways. This is the way that you get your team to willingly take risks and try new things.

This approach may mean getting your team out of the workplace and into new, creative, non-tech environments – field trips of sorts. A Capital One CIO took her team to places like an art museum and a botanical garden, just to “move” them from their tech environment and into more inspirational settings. She also brought in outside speakers. The goal was to create some different mindsets among team members as they set out upon making decisions about the digital transformation(s) that were upon them.

Roll Up Your Sleeves

If you have been somewhat at a distance because your team has been operating well and you are averse to micro-managing, now is the time to put yourself back into the mix – not as an authority, but rather, a colleague and facilitator. There is an old saying, “When the players are on the field, the coach is always right there.” You are now in the role of coach and facilitator, not a manager.

Let’s suppose your digital transformation involves moving to the cloud. There are a lot of decisions to be made.

  • What are the goals? What’s the best choice for a cloud provider, given those goals?
  • How do you prioritise this migration with the least amount of disruption to the organisation and to your customers?
  • What system, data, apps, and services move in what order?
  • And do they all migrate or just some?
  • And how is security going to work? Who will have permission access to what?
  • What specific level of services are necessary for each function that is migrated?

These decisions will involve a lot of discussion, a lot of problem-solving, and some creative thinking.

Your team has to move its mindset from updating and maintaining an in-house system in which they are in charge of everything to letting go and letting the cloud provider perform many of their current tasks. While they will ultimately love this, right now there is a sense of losing control and taking a big risk.

As the facilitator, it is your job to create the right physical environment, to establish the agenda for each meeting session, and to continue to assuage the fears and concerns about this major transformation.

Remember: the decision to migrate to the cloud may have come from above. But how, when, and what that involves is you and your team’s task, and you all must be comfortable with the decisions that are made. Jim Cauley, IT Manager for Trust My Paper, put it this way recently: “When our CEO made the decision to move all of our systems and apps to the cloud, my small team and I were initially panicked. It took a while for us acclimate to the major task before us. Fortunately, we had a great collegial relationship already going for us, and we relied on that to get us through the problem-solving, the decision-making, and the phases of migration – that and lots of time to think things through and get it right.”

Create the Right Physical Environment

How do you dress for work? Are you in business attire? How does your tech team dress? This one element alone can be psychologically important. Dump the career dress, and get into jeans like most of them work.

Beyond that, think about the physical environment you want to create as the transformation is begun and continues. Do you have the right spaces for collaboration, for quiet individual thought, for sometimes raucous brainstorming sessions? If not, move the team somewhere where these things can occur.

Accept the Mess

Most IT people are highly organised and want “ducks” to drop in a row nicely and neatly. Digital transformations involve innovation, taking risks, confusion, and uncertainty, and that’s messy at times.

The most important thing is to provide a “safe” environment for all to express themselves, to think outside of the box and ensure that the guiding principle of no “put-downs” is honored by all. Kristen Savage, contributing writer for Writing Judge, and author of her own blog, Fly Writing, puts it this way: “I have had many occasions in which collaboration was critical to crafting a major piece of research and writing. It requires brainstorming, thinking outside of the box, and everything being put on the table. My cardinal rule? No idea is worthless – it must be absorbed and perhaps built upon, or, in the end discarded. No matter – it is on the table without criticism.”

Remember this: your job is not to manage the course of the discussions. You are a facilitator with the ultimate goal of consensus. You can craft the agendas, of course, but form the items into questions that will stimulate thought and conversation.

Digital Transformation is Not Easy

Change is hard. It is hard for tech departments that must achieve that transformation. It is especially hard when non-IT people in an organisation do not understand what it is – only that they will have to live with it. As a leader of such transformations, you obviously have to change your style and approach with your own IT team. Beyond that, it will be important to think about how this transformation will be spread to other departments in the organisation, in order to get buy-in. That is the subject of future study.

Bridgette Hernandez is a Master in Anthropology who is interested in writing and is planning to publish her own book in the near future.

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