The Humanity of Digital Transformation

For years, we’ve been hearing about how companies should learn to adapt to the rapidly changing business landscape, with report after report espousing the benefits of digital transformation. But have we thought about the human side of innovation? Once a company has come to grips with its decision to find ways to combat the Facebooks, Amazons, Microsofts, Googles, and the latest “unicorns” of the world, it’s time to find the right person to lead the evolution — but what steps should they be taking to ensure that they’re moving in a direction that’ll eventually lead to success, versus going around in circles?

One resource worth considering might be “The Digital Change Agent’s Manifesto“, a new report from Brian Solis, principal analyst with the Altimeter Group. It’s the latest in a series of research that he’s conducted around the concept of digital transformation, which he’s promoted as a #AdaptOrDie mentality. Previous reports have focused on the six stages a company goes through to achieve this realization, but it’s from the proverbial 35,000-foot view. Now he zooms in to better understand the individual that companies turn to to spear a digital revolution.

The 10-step Journey of a Change Agent

Companies looking to better understand how startups are impacting the landscape around technologies like artificial intelligence, communication, augmented reality, shopping/e-commerce/payment, cryptocurrency and blockchain, connected devices, and more simply can’t designate someone and label them a Change Agent. One probably shouldn’t go around and boast they’re a Change Agent — in my opinion, it’s more of a practice versus a profession.

Change agent journey

Solis doesn’t qualify who an ideal Change Agent is exactly, but he does list things that individuals tasked with encouraging and accelerating innovation will have to deal with:

  1. Embrace being a catalyst. Accept your assignment to be the one to enact change. Yes, it’s a daunting challenge because you’re going to be responsible for turning around an entire enterprise, not one division. Acceptance before execution.
  2. Organize with other Change Agents. It takes a village to see change happen so don’t expect you’re going to be able to do it alone — it’s okay to get help from others. Find like-minded teammates who are passionate about innovation and coordinate efforts to guide the ship toward the goal of transforming the company.
  3. Learn to speak the language of the C-Suite. Even though you’ve been tapped by management to be the Change Agent, you still have to keep executives informed, so learn to translate all the buzzwords and technical terms into everyday speak that others can understand. But helping them to understand what you’re doing, executives can feel invested in the initiative and offer support.
  4. Make allies. Similar to item #2 above, no Change Agent can succeed on their own, so make efforts to work across departments. Successful transformation won’t happen thanks to what’s been done within marketing — it’ll take the help of those in IT, sales, engineering, design, management, and others within the company.
  5. Spread digital literacy. Not everyone is up-to-date on the latest lingo, technology, methodology, and best practices, so don’t rush through digital transformation and leave folks behind because they won’t feel invested in the initiative and that could create a problem moving forward. While innovation helps companies remain competitive, that innovation will only come if everyone is on board and works together.
  6. Create a digital transformation roadmap. Digital transformation doesn’t come from short-sightedness. Just like with everything in a company, have a roadmap to guide innovation over the long term. “While change agents must deliver value quickly, they must also keep an eye on the bigger picture,” Solis wrote in the report.
  7. Link digital transformation efforts to business and individual goals. Don’t innovate just for innovation’s sake. Make sure you have an idea of how these efforts will achieve the goals of the business. “A strong digital transformation roadmap must state a specific and clear business end goal and the key milestones necessary to achieve it,” Solis explained.
  8. Set metrics and milestones. Like everything else, make sure you know what the metrics and Return on Investment (ROI) you want to measure will be. If you’re not tracking your efforts, how will you know whether anything is working?
  9. Democratize ideation. Executives shouldn’t lead ideation, but they shouldn’t be excluded from the process as well. Instead, companies should encourage innovation from all levels so that many ideas around digital transformation can be heard and reviewed. Executives have to participate in the process, otherwise the best ideas won’t be enacted upon.
  10. Capitalize on their own inherent “superpowers”. There’s a reason someone is tasked with enacting change, and it’s not because of their education or some certificate saying they’re good at innovation. It’s because of their characteristics — are they good problem solvers, communicators, critical thinkers, self-starters, etc.? Change Agents have to tap into their strengths to help not only themselves but also the company, succeed.

Go forth into the light

Embracing change isn’t going to be easy. Definitely not for an entire organization and certainly not for the Change Agent his/herself. And leading innovation is more than sitting on your laurels and sharing the latest tech development. According to Solis, there are four things they’re responsible for: Data gathering, influencer and case making, relationship building, and being a champion.

Change agent roles

As mentioned earlier, having such responsibility can make anyone feel overwhelmed. After all, who are you to come into an established company with a storied history and change things around. And while everyone is probably accepting the fact that something is broken, they’re resistant to fix it, so there’s going to be people questioning initiatives. It’s an uphill battle but it can be won.

Some of the common challenges that these individuals have faced include managing the egos of not only the Change Agent themselves, but also those in the company — everyone always has their way of doing things, and thinks their ideas are the best. Overcoming fear of failure and embracing change is also a necessity, as is dealing with bias (e.g., groupthink, confirmation, present, etc.), and managing self-doubt or perhaps better known as “impostor syndrome”.

No one ever said turning around a company was going to be easy, but if you’re up for the challenge, it could result in a big reward. The things listed in “The Digital Change Agent’s Manifesto” aren’t going to solve all the problems, but it’s perhaps a good starting point to help set expectations for those willing to take on modernizing companies.

You can download Brian Solis’ latest report here.

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