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Digital Transformation Isn't Just a Technology Issue, It's a Business Issue

May 18, 2022 Leadership
tim kulp
By Tim Kulp

Digital transformation is more than just a technology issue — it’s a business issue. It’s about how you use technology to create new opportunities and improve your bottom line. But too often, companies try to implement digital transformations without involving the people who will be doing the work. That’s a recipe for failure.

In order to succeed, digital transformation strategies must include engaging, activating and empowering managers and individual contributors.

As an executive, your digital transformation strategy begins by turning on the engine: start with the appropriate focus, attention and budget to indicate that it is critical to the organization. Focus, attention and budget are the fuel for the engine. You want managers and individual contributors to be drivers and navigators for you as soon as the engine starts up. These team members, managers and individual contributors know how your business moves and can find short cuts or detours that executives cannot see. Success is both in having an engine capable of making the journey as well as having people navigating the surprises along the way.

Some SMB CEOs may fear that managers and individual contributors won't be able to assist or that the transformation will generate negative emotions in their teams. Questions like "what does this mean for my job" will come up. In my experience, being able to proactively answer that question is the key to long-term digital transformation success. Helping these team members navigate the changes and impacts to their jobs is important. Once that hurdle is crossed, managers and individual contributors are critical in achieving a successful digital transformation.

Innovate at the Edge of Transformation

In my experience, having a monolithic entity driving digital transformation is limiting and can lead to failure. You want to embrace the edge of business to keep the engine of digital transformation fueled and running.

Citizen developers are key to successful digital transformations. Citizen developers are employees who build applications to solve business problems without needing to write code or have formal training in software development. They’re often able to create apps faster and more cheaply than traditional developers, because they understand the business process and user needs.

Digital transformation often comes with new tools. Citizen developers put those tools to work to build innovations in processes and data utilization at the individual contributor level. By empowering managers and individual contributors with these tools, they can continue to drive and navigate your digital transformation objective without major investments from IT. I've recently written about how to set up a citizen developer program.

I shared a warning in my previous article that I will share again here: Governance is key. Citizen developers can accelerate digital transformation. But without proper governance, they can create major data use and security problems. Set up your governance first.

Related Article: How Digital Workplace Governance Supports Agility

Build an Action-Oriented Feedback Loop

Digital transformation is often used to provide new experiences and capabilities for customers, according to a recent EY report. But, remember the first customers you need to win over are the team members doing the work.

Individual contributors are the employees who will be using the new applications and processes. They’re the first ones who can provide feedback on what works and what doesn’t. And they’re the ones who will ultimately be responsible for adoption and success.

Ensuring that your team members are focused on the customer experience is key to success in this area. As workers, we all can get caught up in doing our day-to-day and don't want to change. By building a customer-centric organization, you can help team members see and contribute to improving customer experiences even when those changes are transforming their work.

Creating a feedback loop doesn't have to be complex surveys. Plan for a regularly scheduled check-in where progress and change is discussed. Use the 7Ps to set an agenda for the check-in and follow up the meeting by sharing the notes of the call. In the next meeting, specifically call out action items from previous meetings and how they are progressing.

Feedback is important. Showing action on that feedback is critical. Make your feedback loop action oriented with team members both empowered to make change and accountable for owning the changes they seek.

Related Article: 5 Myths About Digital Transformation

More Than One 'I' in Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is a team effort. No one person can do it alone. To be successful, you need to involve managers and individual contributors in the process. They’re the ones who will make it happen.

There is more than one "I" in digital transformation — it sounds corny, but it's true. When transformation is occurring, people naturally focus on what it means to them. Their internal thoughts focus on "How does this change what I do," "how does this impact me." As leaders, it is critical to recognize that everyone has these thoughts. Helping your team get to "we" is an important challenge to tackle.

By recognizing that everyone is going through "I" concerns and fostering a dialogue that doesn't attempt to squash I in favor of we, you may assist individual contributors and bosses understand the advantages of digital transformation. I encourage you to directly address people's "I" related questions and encourage them to discuss with each other. Remember, digital transformation is about empowering your team to provide a greater experience, achieve operational efficiency and potentially open new lines of business. All of this cannot happen if your team members are in "I" based silos. Help your team connect their "I"s to become a we.

Related Article: Digital Transformation Is an Ongoing Journey

Digital Transformation Needs Drivers and Navigators

Digital transformation is a team effort that requires the involvement of managers and individual contributors to be successful. By recognizing and addressing the individual concerns of your team members, you can help them see how digital transformation can benefit them and improve customer experiences. Leaders need to focus on creating a customer-centric organization and establishing a feedback loop to ensure that progress is being made. Digital transformation has the potential to empower your team members and provide a greater experience for customers.

But it all starts with you. Your digital transformation initiative needs to empower your managers and individual contributors to drive and navigate the change you seek to implement. So what are you waiting for? Empower your team and get started!

About the Author

Tim Kulp is the Chief Innovation Officer at Mind Over Machines and a member of the Forbes Tech Council. He's trying to change the world.

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