4 steps to accelerate digital transformation in 2022

Whichever stage of the digital transformation journey your organisation is on, progress is expected to accelerate in 2022, writes Laurence Smith.

Laurence Smith
Business and manufacturing automation and iot. Technology and innovation concept on screen.

Here are 4 critical steps with proven strategies and tactics distilled from our team’s nearly 100 years of shared experience of digital transformation from our team and the organisations we work with. Ideally you will execute them in order, but if you are already on the journey, simply select those that fill the gaps and will have the most impact.

My last article in December recommended evaluating the results on your 2021 efforts before planning and executing in 2022. It also recommended evaluating your CEO and leadership team on their current versus required level of digital literacy (Digital Mindset)

A recent Sloan management Review report reinforces the importance of this: “Fewer than 25% of CEOs and about 12.5% of CFOs could be regarded as digitally proficient.… Even among those leading the technology function, just 47% of CTOs and 45% of CIOs made the cut.”

Clearly, your priority needs to be enhancing the digital literacy and future readiness of the people making decisions about the very future of your business. 

Enhancing the CEO and top team

No responsible CEO can afford to delegate responsibility for the future without themselves understanding at least the major technology trends and their potential implications for their customers, competitors, and their own business. They may not lead transformation day to day, but they need to visibly be the ‘change agent in chief’ and be credible in their understanding of digital – and ideally enthusiastic in not just exploring but advocating about it.

Some things to try:

Tech exposure sessions: Regularly explore new exponential technologies and their possible impact on the business. Ideally, this includes a combination of bringing in outside speakers, and each taking it in turns to share a new tech at the regular management meetings. This can be done physically, virtually, or even in the Metaverse.

Digital mentors: Link them up with executives from other industries who are further along on the journey and have them share and consider implications.

Startup buddy: Connect your execs with startup founders for monthly coffee sessions and just share what you are doing, understand what they ae building, and how they are changing the world. In a way this is like reverse mentoring, but with an outside-in approach.

Digital advisory boards: A more formal process of convening a working group of external experts to meet 2 – 4 times a year with your executives and work on sharing, learning, innovating, and problem solving.

Impact measure: That all members of the C-Suite have the knowledge & confidence to be perceived as enthusiastic and credible when ‘talking Digital.’ 

Building leaders to bring it to life

After the C-suite, the next 2 levels of leaders also need to have some form of ‘experiential learning opportunity’ to go through the same journey of self-realisation that digital is the future, how to get there and how to take their teams on the journey.

Some things to try:

Design hacks: Bring together cross-functional teams of leaders (physically and/or virtually) to solve real business problems by experimenting with various technologies – VR/AR, chatbots, AI & machine learning, dashboards and analytics, video creating, and digital storytelling.

Hackathons: This is similar to design hacks but also brings in startup teams as partners in the process, which massively accelerates the learning curve and quality of outcomes.

Digital mindset accelerators: 3-day (full-time) to 3-month (part-time) leadership development journeys. These focus on the four elements of SensingMakingLeading, and Transforming in the digital world, and leveraging design hacks, experimentation, and hackathon-like elements, as well as deep dives into how digital natives like Amazon and Google truly operate.

Impact measure: Getting a critical mass of leaders through this process as fast as possible gets you to the tipping point and overcomes legacy and inherent resistance – all ‘cohorts’ needs to be close enough in time to support each other and build irresistible momentum.

Enabling HR to support & sustain transformation 

The CHRO and their direct reports should be natural participants in the above, but it is also necessary to run a similar programme in parallel for the rest of HR to make them effective partners and enablers of the broader transformation.

Some things to try:

Re-design HR hacks: Create focused challenges that re-invent ways of working, and which are aligned with the digital world, from more effective meetings, to building the ‘test and learn’ muscles and culture essential for experimentation.

Evolving values and culture: Running company-wide “Values Jams” to involve everyone in defining the new values and ways of working to move towards becoming a ‘digital-first’ organisation.

Redefining HR business partnering: In collaboration with the business, running customer-centric design thinking to revise the ‘customer persona’ and thus ‘jobs to be done’ by HR.

Impact measure: When HR people are the most digitally minded in the room.

Taking everyone else on the journey

Now the real work begins of cascading this shared vision of the future and common language to all hands. Our experience shows that the tipping point is when a critical mass of leaders, plus 20-25% of the entire organisation, has had some form of ‘Digital Mindset’ experience; it is then that the magic begins to develop a momentum of its own.

Some things to try:

Lunch and learns: Inviting open sharing of new digital initiatives, technologies, start-ups, or tech natives.

Data days and tech festivals: Formal events to expose as many people as possible to new tech and ideas.

Startup showcase: invite startups to demo their tech and how they are shaking up other industries.

Impact Measure: Trying as many different things as possible and letting every team experiment. Here the secret is learning by trying, and then sharing what works best. Many of these can be about technology’s impact on life and society, not just work and business. (Consider trying some of this in the metaverse).

Finally, for you to have any credibility as a change agent in this transformation, whether as a business leader or HR leader, you personally need to re-invent yourself and have confidence and competence in this digital world.

Laurence Smith is the Co-Founder of TransformationPartners.Co, a boutique consulting firm of digital transformation veterans who work with senior leaders to accelerate digital mindset and transformation. He is also author of the bestselling ‘Transformation Mindset’ and was previously Group Head of Talent & Learning at DBS Bank, where he pioneered the award-winning Digital Mindset initiative.

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