Talk of digital transformation is everywhere—at conferences, at the watercooler, in the boardroom. And organizations are at various stages in the process. Some are appointing a chief digital officer (CDO), while others are looking to their CIO or CTO to lead the way. But successful transformation isn’t about a functional role; it’s a way of thinking.
Changing perspectives, however, is often the biggest stumbling block to any transformative initiative. In a 2017 Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO survey, 43% of CIOs cited resistance to change as the top impediment to a successful digital strategy.
The good news, according to a recent panel of experts who convened at Microsoft’s Envision conference in Orlando: There are concrete (and softer) steps leaders can take to shift organizational thinking so that digital transformation takes root, and flourishes.
While digital transformation was a core value of Australasia’s National Rugby League (NRL) for two years, simply establishing a value wasn’t enough. Changing the culture through education, handholding and taking people on the journey is key, according to Rebekah Horne, CDO of the NRL.
Leading the digital charge at the NRL required bringing in new people with more technical skills, which in some ways upended the legacy sporting culture that had been in place for a long time. Horne’s approach to smoothing the cultural shift? Getting buy-in from her CEO, which was huge, and communicating the benefits across the business.
“The key thing is building a business case and communicating, a lot, what the benefit is to every part of the organization,” says Horne. “You need to provide the context for the why—business metrics are really important—and how you’re going to do that.”
Become an Evangelist
Both Nvalaye Kourouma, CDO of Barclays Africa Group Unlimited and John Lema, CTO at Elevate by Convene, find that as they lead their organizations through digital transformation, their role is less that of a technologist and more of an evangelist. That requires collaborating and coordinating across business functions (not to mention leadership buy-in).
“You’re teaching the organization that the world has changed,” says Lema. “That [as with] Moore’s Law, everything is still accelerating, and if you don’t change the org structure and your business to be on that curve, you’re never going to get there.”
Barclay’s Kourouma found that while organizations all define “digital” somewhat differently, there is one constant: digital is a mindset. “It’s how you think about your customer, your process, your operation, your tech, your infrastructure,” he says.
That means thinking about how to enable instant gratification for customers—something that is almost non-existent in large companies—bringing simplicity to everything, and ensuring that transformation delivers value to the customer and the company. “Otherwise, it’s useless,” says Kourouma.
Digital transformation requires new skill sets. That can be an opportunity to instill cultural change. Jacky Wright, Corporate VP at Microsoft, leads the organization responsible for driving digital transformation within the company. She is very deliberate in how she builds multigenerational teams that enable transformation. The foundation of that approach: diversity and inclusion, or “DNI.” That includes hiring people with different backgrounds and experiences and hiring outside the norm. (Microsoft has an Autism Hiring Program, for example.)
“I probably have one of the most diverse teams at Microsoft,” says Wright. “And that’s by design. Having diversity of experiences, who you are, where you come from, creates innovation. Innovation is not created by group think.”
To ensure DNI within her team, Wright walks the talk. “You lead by example and folks know what good looks like,” she said. “Folks know what to expect.”
For more on navigating the culture of digital disruption, watch the webcast episode, Chief Digital Officer: Does Every Organization Need One?