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Transformation Gets Lost in Translation

The struggle of translating what it means to digitally transform is real! Although digital transformation has been written about by almost every global management consulting agency and analyzed by technologists from every angle, there still seems to be a significant gap between the concept, it's related activities and the understanding of what digital transformation really is. Half of the time when I tell non-techies about this aspect of my career, they ask “what’s that?” So let’s clear that up - Digital transformation, by many definitions, is simply enabling businesses to create and deliver greater value through the integration and use of technology. That’s the first level of understanding. 


So how do we solve for: tangible ways to translate “digital transformation”?

Even after I share the intention behind digital transformation, I sometimes get the blank stares which when translated sounds like: “I still don’t know what you mean”. This is the second level of understanding and where I find the biggest challenge. Being able to translate what this kind of transformation means for the people who are delivering the key success milestones and those experiencing the value that this change will bring.


Why is this part so challenging? 

Well from where I sit, which is someone who supports leaders, entrepreneurs and teams in their transformation journeys, when people think of digital, they immediately think technology. This can sometimes create an immediate disconnection from their role in the process. And while most technologists know that transformation is about people, we still face the challenge of enrolling, engaging and empowering our teams to really grasp that they are the key to its success. So how do we solve for: tangible ways to translate “digital transformation”? Here are 3 approaches to try on:


1. Use The KISS Principle

Keep It Simple & Straightforward a.k.a. Keep It Simple, Stupid, has been used to help transformation teams remember not to overcomplicate the solutions that they are creating. The KISS principle states "that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore, simplicity should be a key goal in design, and unnecessary complexity should be avoided" - Wikipedia. Business leaders and their teams globally struggle with weeding through the jargon, acronyms and tech speak that is oftentimes thrown at them in transformation meetings and presentations. If the communication about the change is too heavily focused on the tech and not enough on how it relates to the business, the market and the value of change, people will get lost. Period. 


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2. Check For REAL Enrollment

There are still a large number of senior leaders who are navigating their comfort level with the significant change that digital transformation brings. In particular if they are not digitally savvy, they may “go along” with the program for fear of seeming out of their comfort zone. To validate this, take the time to meet one on one with influential team members primarily those who lead teams and note their concerns, ideas and gaps in understanding. While this may seem time consuming, it's best to get behind the veil of pretend buy-in by challenging leaders to articulate what value they expect transformation to create for them and their teams; identify any issues they are having with understanding what is being communicated and how they see themselves contributing to the success of the transformation program.


3. Pause For The Successful Outcome Cause

This is where many entities make the big mistake. With budgets and boards on their shoulders, teams charged with moving the digital transformation needle forward will oftentimes neglect that folks just aren’t getting it and push to have the technology part of the project completed. What usually happens in these cases? Great technology solutions sit on shelves not being used OR manual processes are now being done in the same way using technology which equals no added value. For the best outcome, digital transformation projects should not move forward to implementation when there’s a high level of misunderstanding at the delivery team level or lack of commitment at the leadership level. Pausing to ensure there’s clear enrollment (at least to some degree) is better than completing a project on time and missing the intended benefit to the business and to the market.


What are some of the things working or not working in your company's digital transformation journey? I'd love to share success stories and lessons learned as a part of this newsletter.