A lot of the chatter about digital transformation focuses on where you are — or by default — where you are not.

There is no shortage of opinions and guidelines — roadmaps, maturity models, research studies, assessments, scorecards, pundits, etc. And research actually shows that companies who adopt and excel with digital outperform their peers

This can leave people and organizations feeling perpetually behind, which can be demotivating. For all the studies, focus and discussion about digital transformation, has it really moved things forward for most organizations? And if not, why not? Why does this seem so hard to implement successfully?

From my own experience, here’s why it’s so hard: You are building the bus as you’re driving the bus. 

What that means is, at the same time that you are creating new and innovative programs, initiatives and ways to reach, influence and engage with your customers, you are also creating new internal and external processes to implement and execute that vision. And, there's no “off” switch with digital.

Here are some practical suggestions on how to tackle digital transformation, whether you’re an individual or an organization that is poised and ready for change.

From Theory to Practice: Make Your Strategy YOURS

Digital transformation (whether you want it to or not) touches every department and function in the organization. And while roadmaps and maturity models abound, your digital transformation roadmap must reflect not just where you want to go as an organization but where you are now. Further, it must be fully adopted and accepted individually and collectively within the organization if the effort is to succeed.

Create or choose the roadmap or framework you like, and filter for the factors that impact your business from the outside as well as the inside. Then distill down to the key issues and initiatives that will make the most impact in your organization. 

Choose a couple of initiatives to start, and give them every chance of success in terms of allocating people, budget, resources and support. Success breeds success — the more the broader organization sees change happening, the more they will want to support and take part in the change. Make sure you’re modeling the change you want to see — as this McKinsey Quarterly article goes into in great detail to illustrate.

Mind the Gap: Understand Where You Are and Where You Aren't

Digital transformation carries with it an implicit recognition that there’s a gap between where an organization is, and where it wants to be. 

Be realistic. Identifying these gap states will point you in the right direction of where to focus. And keep unpacking until you get to the real, foundational issues of what might hold your organization back. 

For example, if your organization wants to launch an employee advocacy program, ask yourself, do your employees currently use social media, are they comfortable with it, literate with it, able to engage without causing damage to your brand or company? If not, maybe you don't need an employee engagement program, but a digital/social media training program, to get folks trained and ready to become advocates and influences for your business.

Map out your current state, desired future state and determine the gaps between the two. Use this to formulate your action plan on how to get there. Use any roadmaps or maturity models as a guide, but remember that these do not take into account the unique nuances of your business and how to get you where you want to be. 

It’s the People, People

Many articles purport that digital transformation is really a people and culture issue. 

Without question, people and culture are critical to any digital transformation effort. But the focus must be on people, because of the simple fact that people can be the obstacle to digital transformation, but also the solution.

As far as culture goes, it is what it is. Digital transformation will happen despite your company culture, not because of it. 

Learning Opportunities

Digital transformation is not optional. And if you're determined to change your culture before embarking on a digital transformation initiative, you're in for a long haul. You have to work with what you’ve got, and nurture the people and behaviors that support your digital transformation goals.

Seek out and support internal hand raisers as a way to begin to cultivate a more entrepreneurial culture. People who want to do this, and are open to learning and evolving. 

These change agents and “intrapreneurs” within your organization need the time to do what they set out to do, the resources to do it and some praise and recognition along the way for stretching beyond their current role. You may also need to relieve these folks of their current duties to focus on the digital transformation initiatives.

Harvard Business Review published an excellent article 10 years ago that has stood the test of time. The authors propose that, in general, employees cannot invest more than 10 percent over their current workload if an initiative is to succeed, so it’s imperative to review resources before committing people to new initiatives such as those with digital transformation.

Know Thy(Brand)self

Do you have a clear understanding of the customer value proposition in your digital transformation? Lacking a strong brand identity and clarity on the customer value proposition can make it difficult — if not impossible — to display a coherent brand voice in digital and social channels.  

If your company is unclear on what they stand for, how can they communicate in a transparent world? You’d be surprised at how many household names have a shaky value proposition.

Do that important foundational work to understand your brand and your value proposition. What do employees or customers love about your brand? What do customers or consumer really think of you, and what can you offer them? 

The more granular you can get understanding your unique proposition, the more prepared you'll be to craft compelling initiatives or communications campaign that resonate and make a difference to your intended audience.

Last But Not Least, Practice Compassion

Yes, compassion. 

For yourself, your colleagues, your leaders, the department you work in, the organization at large. 

The work of digital transformation can be difficult, frustrating and exhausting and requires the highest levels of commitment and grit to see results. So go out there and do your best, but have compassion for this task that you and your company have undertaken, because it’s no small task. Keep going. Keep trying. You can’t lose if you don’t give up.

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