The Mavericks Guide to Becoming a Digital Business

Mavericks wave

You now have to be a Digital Business or at least be considering it otherwise you are doomed for failure. That’s the message coming out of all the large management consultancies and research houses. Act now, act quick, put a huge amount of budget aside for your impending and unavoidable ‘Digital Transformation’.

It’s true. Businesses do need to be thinking about how they are going to address the digital challenge, the increased pace of technology and rising customer expectations have made it so. In fact, if a business hasn’t already put ‘digital’ on the boardroom agenda, they are already way behind the curve.

But businesses don’t need ‘Digital Transformation’. Businesses need to become adaptive. Change is not new, never has been, it’s just that now, change has become so fast, it’s scary, meaning there is huge reluctance to change anything within the organisation that holds risk for the bottom line. And the term ‘Digital Transformation’ has not helped. Wow, do I have to transform everything, all at once and it’s going to cost how much? And it could fundamentally and negatively affect the way the business operates and through a multitude of high profile, failed projects, and the list goes on. Only a couple of weeks ago did Mike Bracken talk about the disillusionment of so-called ‘digital transformation’ due to the failure of long term ‘BIG IT’ contracts within the Civil Service.

It is inevitable that the business world has to embrace digital…every business does, large or small, if they are to survive into the future. And this is not a technology/IT discussion, this is embracing digital across the entire organisation; it’s a change to the business model, the development of people, a shift in culture and the way a business communicates. Digital is affecting every pillar of the business and thus needs to be addressed across every pillar, holistically, to make the most of the digital opportunity. The rewards are proven. There is more research out there than you can shake a stick at demonstrating the benefits, cost savings, revenue growth and increased innovation possible when businesses are more digitally mature. So rather than focus on the obstacles to change, perhaps it’s time to focus on the advantages. 

We have to think differently. We have to take the fear out of digital and provide a means for action rather than just talking all the time. So if Digital Transformation is not the answer, what is?

Here’s our Maverick’s guide to becoming a Digital Business. It is based on the Adapt2Digital: Digitally Adaptive Framework & Methodology™ that helps businesses become adaptive over time. Think of digitally adaptive as taking the best of what a business has today and then looking into the future and pulling both together, in small incremental stages to create meaningful change. Not so scary now is it?

Take the time to understand the difference between technology and digital. Technology has an important and valid place within the organisation but there is a need to change the perception of technology from an internal service provider to a place that can share insight into the art of the possible to create business solutions. Digital on the other hand is about the whole business from the organisation, to the people, to the culture to the wider business ecosystem, it’s about the point of connection between technology, people and culture…and it’s always continuously changing.

It doesn’t matter who in the organisation starts the transition to becoming a Digital Business. The standard interpretation of changing your business to be more digital is starting at the very top. So this is getting someone, generally the CEO to mandate the digital directive. This is not the start, this is actually the tipping point. It actually starts with an advocate, someone who has recognised the digital imperative and can see the business benefit and communicate this upward and outward.

Find your champion. Maybe the advocate is the digital champion but maybe not. If not, find the champion. This needs to be someone who:

  • Can talk up to the business
  • Who believes and participates in digital
  • Has credibility as an individual
  • Has courage to challenge the status quo 

Build a Business Case for digital. You aren’t going to get anywhere without a strong business case that is bought into but the senior leadership team. Make sure you include a broad assessment of current digital capability and competency across the business and what the effects of the transition could be in real terms.

Find some good news stories. There will be pockets of digital happening in your organisation. Find the good stuff and demonstrate the value of this. Use these as best practice examples, think about how learnings from these initiatives can be repeated, enhanced, and made more of. 

Bring people together. Vitally important. Bring the senior leadership team together and do something with them that shares the business case, that creates digital definition for the organisation, that builds agreement and consensus. Everyone needs to be aligned and committed to the digital cause because it is everyone’s responsibility.

It’s all about lots of little. The business isn’t going to transform overnight. Thinking this would be very unrealistic. Neither do you need big digital transformation projects to adapt to digital. What is needed are as many believers and advocates as possible that can start to seed positive change in many areas and just start small.

Break down the barriers and collaborate. Find some areas where you can collaborate, invite different people to meetings, learn something new from someone. Get away from hierarchy. Businesses in the modern world are not hierarchical; they foster collaboration to enable innovation. Empower people to make data driven decisions.

Make sure you have a framework to track progress. So many times ‘digital’ is happening without a structure to monitor results and progress. A robust framework is needed to ensure you are moving in the right direction. Anchor digital back to the business and find a way of proving real, tangible ROI. This is the only way to ensure digital is seen as impacting positively on the business from a financial perspective.

Take care of mindset. No business can change without the right mindset. A collective digitally adaptive mindset shifts culture. Seek the solution, not the reasons to fail, be an enable, not a blocker and remember that mindset is learned, it is not a given. 

Nobody believed in Steve Jobs when he first took the concept of the personal computer to market, in fact he had to describe it as ‘putting a TV screen and a typewriter together’, which to most was a crazy idea. But as Apple has proven, belief by a few can change the world.

It is time to believe in a new business model, one that is adaptive, one that is not stuck in traditional ways of working and operating. Here’s to the crazy ones…