I wonder how many CEOs run and hide when the term Digital Transformation (DX) is dropped in their presence. I have seen some stammer, mutter incoherent statements, make meaningless sounds uncomfortably trying to figure out what questions to ask, yet they are supposed to be the custodians of this organisation-wide transformation initiative.
Digital transformation is a process of reconfiguring your business to take full advantage of emerging digital change. While the term “digital” is often used to describe the latest digital technology that makes life easier, it’s more accurate to say that digital transformation is simply an organisation-wide digital-based change. Digital transformation encompasses two facets – a technology layer which includes all of these: mobility, social media, analytics, mobile applications and devices, cloud computing and Big Data analytics, cybersecurity, and more; and a people and processes layer.
CEOs must focus on creating a vision that outlines the “what” and “why” of this initiative. The resulting vision must be simple (understandable by all members of the organisation), actionable (something that can be done today), and communicated to the entire organisation for everyone’s benefit.
For example, a retail shop has chosen to adopt new technology for inventory management. In order to accomplish this goal, they would need to make several changes in their workflow—and their employees would need to understand exactly what needs changing so they can adapt without friction. A critical aspect of implementing this initiative successfully is for top executives to identify exactly what must change within each department so employees know what needs to be done.
Some say that the role of the chief executive is to inspire employees to drive a transformation in the business. Others say it’s about communicating the value of those changes. Still, others insist that it’s more important to ensure that your key stakeholders are on board with your vision and understand how it fits into their goals, which you can only do by setting out a clear course for them.
All these things are true, but none is sufficient on its own. The CEO needs to be able to execute on all of them and still make time for the mission-critical management issues that will affect the leadership and culture at the top of your organisation, too.
Leading from the front
The CEO needs to show the way, leading from the front. This will set a clear expectation for senior management and empower them to lead their teams through digital transformation. But leading digital transformation requires a new mindset, one that emphasises the importance of the “what” and “why” of an initiative. In other words, it’s not enough to do the right thing (move to mobile or adopt cloud) or even do the best thing (leverage AI, collaborate on shared enterprise applications). If you want your employees to be excited about what they’re doing every day, you need a clear vision and understanding of their role in supporting that vision.
Building and maintaining such a strong vision is fundamental for driving digital transformation initiatives forward. The CEO needs to assemble executives around her who have similar ideas about where technology should take them, as well as how they should go about executing that plan in a way that supports the wider organisation’s goals and priorities.