As a director, it’s your role to help govern your digital transformation, and one of the primary roles of governance is risk management. Having your first step into digital being an organisation-wide transformation is not good risk management.
Picture your organisation in five years, and let’s assume a successful digital transformation. Almost every aspect of how you govern, how you organise people, and how you operate will look different. The hierarchical organisation structure in place today will look more like a network of cross-functional teams. Command and control will give way to leaders who empower others, who coach and mentor. You will have replaced long planning cycles with experimentation. And, you will move away from people holding onto knowledge to a situation of sharing and transparency.
Moving to this new type of organisation, one that is both innovative and inclusive, will take several years. And that’s if done well.
Growing evidence supports my own experience that you must start small. Pick a customer problem you are currently looking to solve. Observe the initiative to understand and address cultural issues. Where you hit roadblocks due to policy and process, you can make changes. With this approach, there is no big bang. You look at which customer problem is most pressing. You establish a digital initiative to solve that problem, then the next, then the next. Keep doing this and over several years each new customer problem will draw in more and more of the organisation. Over time your organisation will be digital. You will now be able to sense and respond to changes in your market and your customers’ expectations. No big bang, no big gambles – it is a managed transition to the new world.
Many do not see this approach as being practical. Directors and executives feel they do not have time to take this incremental approach. Instead, they see the only option to be a large-scale digital transformation. I understand the reasons behind this pressure to ‘go big’. But the reality is, ‘going big’ is not going to get you to your destination faster.
Think about the statistics. Over 75% of digital transformations fail for a reason. Could it be they bite off too much too soon?
Endless analogies describe the challenge of running your business while transforming it at the same time. Trying to run a marathon while having open heart surgery. Flying a plane while replacing the engines.
I understand the desire. It’s exciting to oversee a program that may involve thousands of people. Where budgets run into the hundreds of millions. And at some point in your organisation’s digital transformation this may be the right decision. But not at first. We need to check our egos at the door and start small.