Digital Transformation 101: Build a robust strategy

Most businesses are going through this exercise, which needs to be quick and evolving in nature

Bhavna Dalal
Updated: Feb 13, 2019 02:06:07 PM UTC

Bhavna Dalal ( www.bhavnadalal.com) is the Founder and CEO of Talent Power Partners [www.talentpowerpartners.com] a Leadership Development company based in Bangalore, India. She is a Team Leadership Coach with ICF PCC Certification, IIM Calcutta Executive MBA, and B.E.(Electronics). Also, the author of the book Team Decision Making [https://www.amazon.in/dp/B01MXF5QEM] endorsed by former CEO's of Target, Lowes, LimitedBrands,bank of Baroda, 3M , Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, Dr. Manoj Pardasani (Associate Dean Fordham University) and many others. Bhavna has been serving on the Board of Directors of Bodhi Education Society (A not-for-profit that supports schools in rural Andhra Pradesh in India ) for the past 5 years.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Most businesses are going through a digital transformation exercise to varying extents. Regulatory and technology disruptions are a new constant. Technology is also a huge enabler to drive growth. To intentionally transform your organisation to stay competitive in the current environment, you need a plan. The initial critical step toward it is formulating a robust transformation strategy.

First, let’s pause and understand what it means to transform. To transform is to change form. Think ice, water, gas. Essentially it means shifting your identity. You are the same organisation, but various aspects have to move and become identified with different products, processes or people to stay relevant. Transformation happens by adding on or letting go aspects of how a unit perceives and identifies with itself. Transformation can be a continuous process or a one-time breakthrough occurrence. Today, however, it needs to be evolving continuously.

Here are a few thoughts gathered from learnings from my clients and from a flip conference I attended on transformation.

Leadership team
The first and foremost step is the transformation of the senior leadership team. These are the people that define and formulate the strategy. It is crucial that all the functional heads come together to understand and internalise the transformation vision collectively. The chances of success are much higher if you start this way. If possible, the leadership team must meet at an off-site location. Come together openly; work through each of their fears, hopes and hesitations around the new way of thinking. Often, companies employ consultants and coaches that facilitate the process. Alignment of the senior leadership team for setting up the context for the transformation strategy is a crucial parameter for success.

Functional or enterprise-wide
Transformation in these times has to be quick. The need for change can come from any stakeholder--the customer, client, employee, region or product in the market. Being open to that at all levels is essential. It is imperative to know that if a transformation is what you are after, all parts of the business must get affected. If you see a transformation initiative that is departmental, push it enterprise-wide for success. Of course, some functions may be less impacted than others.

Very often, the initial strong need for transformation may come from one business area. While it’s okay to start with one, the strategy must look at the impact on every other area too. Although the agenda and plan may be top-down, there has to be an understanding from a bottoms-up approach also. Hence, it is important to note that creating the transformation strategy is an extensive exercise. There may be instances where a short-term approach may be needed but it’s best to see it from a longer-term lens. The complexity of your business model will determine where you start the process from.

Customers
Every department must ask these questions: How does my function’s transformation affect the end-client? How is the business model changing for my client?

Your transformation strategy is about how to win. The value proposition in future must pack a punch when it hits the market. Cycles of change are becoming shorter. You have to co-create with your customer. The customer’s needs drive transformation.

However, while it is vital to understand your customer and anticipate their needs, sometimes your customers might change too. For example, a company like Hike messenger started by going after the same customers as WhatsApp, but then decided to focus more on the rural markets where English was not the first language for their next billion customers. Irrespective of your function, communicating with the customers is irreplaceable. Some customers will tell you directly what they need. However, power value propositions arise from understanding the silent or unexpressed needs of your current and future customers.

Your employees are also consumers of the transformation process and are the internal customers. Make sure there is clear and intensive internal communication. Have clear rituals and visuals and emphasise it internally to ingrain the strategy devised.

Transformation at scale
Identify what scale means to you first. Is the geography vast, do you have several product lines or is it the number of employees? To bring about transformation at scale, you have to consider the impact of digital on products, business model, digital marketing and operations. It will require integrating all behaviorus, habits and cultures. It is a journey. You will need the right people in the right place at the right time.

The challenge for scale is that the 'why' and 'what' becomes important. Have mechanisms built into a feedback loop and strengthen the messages over the business or performance management cycles. Nimble organisations that can adapt to fast-changing technology will work. You have to build a culture where people are not afraid to challenge the status quo. Don’t expect transformation without a little shake up. Culture is the biggest ally for transformation at scale.

Thus, a transformation strategy is an evolving process because of changes in society and technology. It can start as an ivory tower exercise but has to be a grassroots level movement across the organisation. You can get the best technology, but it is the mindset, people and culture that will determine the success.

The author is a Founder and CEO of Talent Power Partners, a Leadership Development company based in Bangalore, India.

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