illustration of a man with digital coils inside his body
Digital transformation is fueled by an internal desire to simplify the customer experience. PHOTO: David Goehring

Change is tough.

I remember times at previous jobs when I learned the company was headed for some major transformation — and I’d go through the seven stages of grief about it, progressing from “This will never work” to “Maybe it’s going to be okay” to “All right, let’s look for opportunities here.”

Some of this resistance is ego-driven. It’s easy to think “Why me?” until you realize this isn’t about you. Change is about the needs of your business.

What's Driving Your Transformation?

But resistance can also arise when change is phrased in unfamiliar language or framed in ways that don’t seem relevant to the company’s objectives — or when it’s undertaken solely for the sake of “transformation,” just because that’s what other companies seem to be doing.

When it comes to digital transformation, the biggest mistake most companies make is to assume they need to transform for transformation’s sake.

If that’s your approach, you’re focusing on the wrong thing. A transformation will only work if it’s driven by concrete challenges your teams are facing and framed in terms of opportunities to solve specific problems.

Unless catalysts relevant to your work — for example, frustrations expressed by customers, or time-consuming internal processes — fuel your transformation, it’s never going to take root.

Here’s how to zero in on your business’s catalysts for digital change and use those catalysts as fuel for meaningful improvement.

Empowerment to Improve

Last year, the customer service department at a large international bank realized many of its customer complaints were triggered by lack of communication between departments.

The tellers in one brick-and-mortar branch had little information about customers’ interactions with other branches or with the bank’s website or mobile app, creating a deeply fragmented customer experience.

The bank addressed the issue by creating teams of people responsible for each customer journey. For example, the team responsible for the journey of a student signing up for a credit card was empowered to make changes in every touchpoint a student would interact with, from the call center to the mobile app to the physical branch.

If the “credit card journey” team caught a hang-up at any of those touchpoints, the people responsible for that touchpoint were required to immediately address the issue.

This approach capitalizes on the fact that each team naturally prioritizes its own objectives by making a smooth customer journey the central performance indicator for each of its customer journey teams. The program dramatically increased completion rates for many onboarding processes, securing thousands of new customers and measurably raising satisfaction rates among existing ones.

Old Problems, New Lens

I never understand why so many companies put the same people in the same rooms with the same lens on problems and expect them to come up with new solutions.

Obviously, they’re going to come up with the same answers they always have. Even if the people are very bright and have a genuine desire to solve problems, they’re working with a familiar set of assumptions.

If you, as a leader, don’t know how to change that lens, then you’re part of the problem.

Part of our jobs as leaders is switching lenses or bringing in people who can. Sometimes a leader needs to step in and say, “Your math may be correct, but you’re using the wrong equation.”

Once you’ve seen the true nature of the problem, the need for improvement often becomes obvious. Still, it may be your job to connect the problem and its solution.

Instill Urgency

It’s impossible to manufacture urgency. Every department has its own agenda – and the CIO’s agenda often differs dramatically from that of the CFO or the CEO.

How do you get your solution noticed? How do you translate the urgency you feel?

By personalizing the changes: Start with the benefits you’re excited about — what you genuinely can’t wait to change — and draw attention to the ways these changes will make you better at your core functions.

Remember, this isn’t about politicking, and it’s certainly not about sugarcoating negatives. If you’re transforming for the right reasons, then those reasons should sell themselves.

Along similar lines, frame the change in terms of opportunity. Encourage people to look for ways to escape old problems now that the window for change is open.

For example, say your team needs approvals from 20 people before you can issue a press release. But now that you’ll be processing approvals digitally, you’ll only need signatures from two people — and they can sign remotely, shortening the approval process from weeks to hours.

Put People at the Center

The biggest mistake most companies make when thinking about digital change is to frame it in terms of “modernizing” or “transformation” instead of in terms of the specific problems that need to be solved in the customer (or employee) experience.

You don’t have to change the world to achieve measurable change in your business.

Don’t wait for your CEO to come in and give a companywide mandate. Start with smaller steps, on the level of your own department or team. It all begins when you peer through a new lens and ask, “What’s one small thing my team can do to make the customer experience simpler?”