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How NOT to digitally transform your office

Would it surprise you to learn that searches for the term ‘digital transformation’ have quadrupled in the last five years? It’s a headline-driven fascination – stats abound across the business press, urging leaders to ‘transform or die’ because ‘time is running out’. Big promises are made to those unafraid to make big changes. In the mind’s eye, one can see executives across the land, rolling up their sleeves as they feverishly pour petrol on filing cabinets in company car parks, fanning the growing flames with back issues of Forbes and The Economist. Oh, were it so simple!

In reality, transformation projects are no walk in the park and most businesses are guilty of woefully underestimating the task ahead. But despite knowing this, businesses tend to make the same mistakes time and again. If you can bear to read on, can you recognise your organisation in any of the following disaster scenarios?

1) Cover your ears and press delete!

Out with the old systems and in with the new – quickly, no questions asked. Putting something as business critical as transformation into any kind of consultation takes far too long and employees can be such dreadful complainers – it’s almost as though they don’t want to see change. Plus, this is DIGITAL transformation, so of course it’s 100% about the complete removal and replacement of the existing infrastructure. Your teams might believe that they’re dependent on the old systems, but are they the experts? Of course not. And working live on the new systems before they’ve been road-tested is an excellent learning opportunity. Another speedy way to show everyone that the future is now is to go paperless effective immediately. Implement an overnight ban and clear the path to modernisation!

Four people sit at a table, looking at a laptop, with expressions of worry, shock and concern.
Is your digital transformation shaping up to be a commercial catastrophe? You’re not alone. Many organisations experience the same pitfalls and a few simple changes can course correct even the most disastrous projects.

2) Have all the gear but no idea!

Invest and install – then celebrate a transformation well done! Your shiny, expensive new tech is going to dazzle everyone in your organisation with its product features and impressive spec list. Next stop is a quick training session to get everyone up to speed – nothing too lengthy. Pack as many people as you can into a conference room and give them a deck of thirty or so text-heavy PowerPoint slides. No Q&A required, as you’ve definitely covered everything (and these things have an awful tendency to drag on, don’t they?).

3) Put one person in charge!

Laser focus is what’s needed here, not complicated project plans involving lots of people. ‘Too many cooks’ will just mean a mess of contradictory points of view. Far better to put digital transformation in the hands of as few people as possible, who will drive forward change for their departments without bothering anyone else with their plans. All the large businesses silo their transformation projects, right? And there’s absolutely zero sense in wasting time trying to find out what other teams do, as it will just hold up your own progress. Especially if you’ve never bothered with them in the past.

The word ‘transformation’ is actually something of a misnomer and can cause more harm than good

If the above leaves you with a discomforting sense of familiarity, all is not lost. We can also offer three simple ways to limit the damage, smooth the path and repair relationships that might have found themselves in the DX disaster zone.

1) Transition steadily

The word ‘transformation’ is actually something of a misnomer and can cause more harm than good by raising expectations to the unachievable. It implies a ‘grand reveal’ (which, incidentally, is often what is promised by consultancies), when the reality is more akin to a steady step-by-step change. The rollout of new processes and technology is important, but so is keeping the lights on, so it’s important to respect the role that legacy infrastructure plays in keeping your business afloat, while introducing deep-seated organisational change.

2) Onboard thoroughly

Would you buy a ride-on lawnmower to drive to work in every day? It may have a five-height cutting setting and superb turning circle, but no matter how dazzling the features, if they have no practical use, then why waste your money? A successful transformation project consults the workforce throughout to ensure that any new technology actually offers benefits, is workable and addresses current pain points.

3) Collaborate, collaborate and collaborate some more

Siloed projects can result in each department running separate software and systems which do not work together, which is the very antithesis of company-wide transformation and can lead to deeper problems with harnessing data across functions. For example, a single customer journey can often be managed by multiple departments.

Final words of wisdom

Yes, transformation pressure is real, but it’s important to understand in advance that no two businesses will transform identically. Buying off-the-shelf packages and steamrollering through your existing infrastructure is a false economy. Instead, recognise the uniqueness and structure of your organisation, take time and plan carefully. Don’t be afraid of the detail and set yourself realistic goals by bringing all teams together. And remember: your company will still be your company. But through good transformation it will learn the benefits of continuous improvement.

Written by Micaela Longo & Deepa Parbhoo

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