The success or failure of an organization’s digital transformation ultimately depends on leadership by the CEO. To really transform the company’s technologies and the culture around them, strong leaders have to be equipped with the knowledge, advice, and tools they need in order to effectively lead their organizations through transformation. If you’re a CEO committed to leading your company smoothly through its digital transformation and toward permanent adaptation, you’ll find greater success by implementing these four essential tactics.
Digital transformation has been the big buzz for years. That became especially true when the pandemic began and many businesses were forced to go almost entirely virtual nearly instantly. For most CEOs in the United States, the conditions wrought by the pandemic accelerated the rate of digital transformation by years, a KPMG analysis found.
While it makes sense that the focus during discussions about digital transformation is typically on finding the right technologies and gaining the buy-in of all those impacted, one crucial element often gets led out of the conversation: leadership. And according to McKinsey & Co., the CEO is ultimately the only person in an organization who can guide a digital transformation to success.
It’s clear that when it comes to digital transformation, technology alone only goes so far. Without strong leadership, digital transformation isn’t really transformational at all.
How to Lead a Successful Digital Transformation
To really transform the company’s technologies and the culture around them, strong leaders have to be equipped with the knowledge, advice, and tools they need in order to effectively lead their organizations through transformation of any kind.
If you’re a CEO committed to leading your company smoothly through its digital transformation and toward permanent adaptation, you’ll find greater success by implementing these four essential tactics:
- Stay adaptable.Leading well through innovation and transformation requires flexibility and agility from the CEO so that the organization can reach a permanent state of learning and adapting in order to beat the competition. Understanding that goals and processes may need to adjust — and frequently — will be key to navigating transformation agilely, experts say. “With the ever-changing face of customer needs and technology, it’s important to keep in mind that the goal may morph or change over time, and being adaptable is inherent to success,” says Mousumi Behari, digital strategy practice lead at the digital consultancy Avionos. “Digital transformation is more about the journey than the destination. Once you achieve the first goal, there is typically more to be done.” As such, it’s important to keep in mind that for your digital transformation to be successful, you’ll have to stay open to change as a core leadership philosophy. It only makes sense that to lead a major change in your business, you have to be open to continuous change in the way you operate and model that adaptability from the top down.
- Know your company inside and out. Part of being comfortable with and weathering change successfully is having an intimate knowledge of your business. To choose the right digital tools for your organization and lead the implementation of new technologies, it will be key to keep a pulseon everything from team members’ thoughts on the changes to operational challenges the changes might present to the processes you hope the transformation will improve. Not only does this help you choose the best technologies for your digital transformation, but it also helps you spot new, strategic opportunities when they come up. “Exemplify radical transparency through consistent, open communications with teams and ensuring that team members feel comfortable sharing their views and opinions,” writes Karthik Chakkarapani, the VP of digital transformation and technology at Cisco. He adds that it’s important to keep your (virtual) door open and practice transparency in order to enable his team “to identify options, provide recommendations and tackle challenges effectively.”
- Take a holistic approach to digital transformation. As with many ventures, successful digital transformation requires a holistic approach. Simply trying to introduce new tech tools without a strategy or choosing tech tools just because they’re the hottest thing on the market doesn’t work.
If you’re going to ask the people and organization you lead to get on board with the major changes required by well-planned digital transformation, you have to ensure that you come at the transformation from all angles and prioritize strategic integration.
“Those who treat digital transformation as a one-off project and separate it from the day-to-day operations of the enterprise are going to fail,” digital transformation consultant Bhushan Parikh says. “Thinking about these new solutions and the future of the enterprise has to be an integral part of as-is, day-to-day operations. From there, you can encourage the evolution of the enterprise as you continue to carry out as-is operations.”\
- Lead by example. Finally, the example you set as a leader will be critical in determining the success of your digital transformation. If you don’t walk the walk, your teams won’t, either. Set an example by doing what you ask your employees to do and calling attention to issues when they come up. If certain teams or people in the organization aren’t doing their part to make the transformation successful, respectfully call them in (rather than calling them out). Have conversations about why, take their feedback, and find solutions together. When people are doing well, call attention to that, too. Also, ensure that you’re working to meet the goals of the transformation and operating in a way that aligns with the actions you’ve requested of others. Leading by example is always important, but it’s especially so when you’re asking those you lead to make a major change that will impact their day-to-days. Acknowledgment of that alone can go a long way.
In the end, leading a successful digital transformation is more about taking the right actions than choosing the right technologies. While selecting the right technology to implement is certainly important, ensuring that you are leading by example, letting people know you value their feedback about the changes, and being open to whatever comes your way during the transformation process should be your top priorities. Once you understand that, the rest will follow.
Written by Rhett Power.
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