Leading Your Digital Transformation

Rapid, radical technology advances have always disrupted the status quo and created a generation of marketplace winners and losers.

In 1860, there were probably Pony Express riders who sat around after a long day's ride and joked that the transcontinental telegraph wouldn't become commercially viable even though everyone recognized its potential. Even President Abraham Lincoln called the plan to stretch cable over the Rocky Mountains and through hostile Indian Territory next to impossible.

On the surface, the current rush to embrace all things digital and the Internet of Things is simply the latest example of history repeating itself.

When you look deeper, you realize that the Internet of Things and the transformation it brings will radically redefine how you work and live. This is about much more than driverless automobiles, industrial robots, smart phones connecting to your smart home, or cool technology in your car. Machines now have the capacity to make other machines smarter.

Executing in the present is no longer enough. You must simultaneously lead your organization through a change toward a destination that you can't fully see.

How You Drive Your Change

Approximately two-thirds of companies engaging in digital transformation are failing at making this crucial change work. Even worse, they are wasting billions of dollars in the process.

The failures are usually not the result of faulty change management models. There are many excellent ones in the marketplace.

Change - especially large-scale transformation - fails more often because of poor leadership than poor management. Remembering these seven principles will help you get it right.
  1. Focus on the goal not the tool. It is easy to become enamored with what is possible with new technology. For instance, the RIBA medical robot definitely qualifies as "cool" on the digital innovation rating scale. It can safely transfer a human to or from a wheel chair or bed. You don't purchase RIBA just to show off the technology. The goal is patient and worker safety. The marketplace winners of the future will be relentlessly focused on being faster, better, cheaper, and friendlier. Digital is the tool not the goal.
  2. Work on the mindset. Change used to be linear and incremental. Today it moves in every direction at once and has the ability to transform how things are done. The traditional mindset is that people and organizations change when they have to. The new mindset must be that everyone - from the top down - thinks about change as an opportunity. That is the only way to flourish.
  3. Generate urgency. The largest companies in the world are making digital transformation a priority in their corporate strategy. The previously unknown companies entering your marketplace are even scarier. Slack, as an example, came out of nowhere and grew to over 2 million daily users in less than 3 years from inception. It reached a $1 billion valuation in just over one year. If you aren't on the journey, you are behind.
  4. Get it right once. With so many opportunities and needs, you will be tempted to take on everything at once. Instead, focus on making the first change successful. Create clear measures so your team can see the benefit. Most important, use your initial success to refine your change management process while simultaneously building confidence and energy to take on more complex initiatives.
  5. Pay attention to the middle. The middle of your organization is where change goes to die. People who have risen to that level know how to succeed in a world that you are abandoning. Likewise, organizations often devote more energy to building support for change with the front-line than the middle management. Commitment and support from the top of your organization is ineffective without the support from the managers in the middle that affect how work is done each day.
  6. Connect with people where they are. A McKinsey report suggests that 80 percent of what leaders care and talk about when enlisting support for change doesn't matter to 80 percent of the people listening. You are focused on increased efficiency, productivity, and profits. Meanwhile, your employees are likely thinking about something else ... like the knowledge that a significant portion of the activities that they perform could be automated or rendered obsolete. You can mandate compliance, but employees volunteer their commitment to leaders who connect with them where they are.
  7. Reframe the perspective. There will be a strong pull to do what has always done. It is comfortable, efficient. You are, also, asking them to produce results today as they prepare for the future. You, however, need your team to embrace change as the way they do their jobs not something that is done in addition. Everyone knows that there is upheaval and uncertainty in the marketplace. It is crucial that you acknowledge that also exists within the organization as you lead others out of their comfort zone

You can, like the Pony Express riders, ignore the future. It doesn't matter. The impact of digital technology isn't coming. It is here. The only question is how you will lead your organization through it.

Randy Pennington is an award-winning author, speaker, and leading authority on helping organizations achieve positive results in a world of accelerating change. To bring Randy to your organization or event, visit www.penningtongroup.com , email info@penningtongroup.com, or call 972.980.9857.

Randy Pennington does not have a financial interest in any of the companies mentioned in this article.