Digital transformation represents an urgent imperative for businesses today. But while the stakes are high, so too are the odds of failure. This post looks at the key requirements for building a collaborative culture and getting leaders ready to foster transformation success.
Digital Transformations: Critical, yet Prone to Fail
Over the course of the past year, the imperatives for digital transformation have only grown more urgent, and more fundamental to a business’ long-term prospects. In the vast majority of organizations, top-level leadership is committed to pursuing these transformation initiatives. So if digital transformation is business critical, and a top priority for top executives, what could possibly go wrong? A lot apparently. According to recent research, 70% of these transformations are doomed to fall short of objectives. Why are so many coming up short? While successful transformations have to start at the top, they don’t end there. I’d argue that that’s a key gap currently. Top executives can’t be everywhere communicating with everyone. While top decision makers are clear on the imperatives and objectives, getting that understanding to pervade the business, and drive behavior across the entire organization, represent major challenges.
In order to guide their transformation efforts, it seems virtually every top executive I speak to these days has read Leading Change, or one of the many other best-selling books by John Kotter. In his books, Kotter writes about the power of “guiding coalitions.” To be successful, executives have to be able to count on managers and executives at all levels of the organization to act as a guiding coalition. These coalitions represent the agents who can drive change that’s systemic, lasting, and transformative.
Once C-level executives have established the vision for transformation, the next focus has to be on getting managers and executives ready. To accelerate transformations, businesses are growing increasingly reliant upon BizOps, a strategic framework that seeks to align IT efforts and investments with business outcomes. (See our “What is BizOps?” page to learn more about this framework.)
In a recent post on business value, Kieran Taylor, CMO and Head of Marketing for the Enterprise Software Division at Broadcom, put it this way: “Today, principles like agility, focus, and alignment aren’t nice to haves; they’re absolutely vital as businesses pursue digital transformation. Budgets, focus, and staff time simply can’t be expended on efforts that aren’t aligned with key business outcomes. Development efforts, infrastructure investments, product development, and more must all be guided by a focus on business value. It is for these reasons that BizOps is emerging as such a vital strategic framework.”
Through BizOps, top leaders can empower managers across the organization to lead this transformation. Through this approach, leaders can move beyond working in silos and with their own teams, and move forward in a way that fosters a collaborative culture across the business.
Are your managers ready to lead this kind of transformation? In the following sections, we look at a few key success factors.
To pursue a successful, BizOps-fueled digital transformation, it is essential to ensure that business and IT leaders are on the same page. Consider a few questions:
Is there a common vision between the business and IT?
Do these teams have shared objectives and common metrics?
Are objectives and key results (OKRs) built collaboratively between the business and IT?
Is the focus on business outcomes rather than individual outputs?
Is there a shared culture of accountability, trust, respect, and transparency?
If the answer isn’t a certain affirmative to these questions, there will be work to do. It is not enough that just the head of IT and the business are on the same page. Leaders at all levels need to be aligned and pulling in the same direction. This is where creating a guiding coalition will have great value. However, without a collaborative culture, a guiding coalition’s effectiveness will be highly constrained.
Through establishing a collaborative culture, guiding coalitions can thrive. These coalitions will be comprised of individuals from all levels of the organization. Because they’ve worked together to define answers to the questions above, they will be accountable for driving change. Magic happens when executive leaders involve other people in defining how change will transpire: These people will take ownership of the transformation, in true partnership with executive leaders.
Leadership Skills and Behaviors
Do your leaders have the necessary skills? Are they demonstrating the desired behaviors?
How your leaders behave sets the stage for the rest of the organization. It is not enough for them to say the right things; they must continually model the desired behaviors.
In this regard, it can be helpful to keep the following quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson in mind: “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”
Your employees are watching what your leaders do and don’t do. No matter what C-level executives say, if their visions and strategies aren’t being embodied in the actions of managers across the business, the message won’t get through.
If your leaders do not have the right skills or are not demonstrating the desired behaviors, that’s a problem. However, this is a solvable problem—as long as you have leaders who are willing to learn, change, and grow to support these key initiatives. Managers may need training or coaching, but if they’re willing to make the effort, the change can happen.
Fostering a collaborative culture that brings the business and IT together to drive business outcomes requires a new set of skills and behaviors. The following table offers some examples of the changes that are required.
Stay the course
Decisions based on opinions
Focus on tasks. projects, work
Focus on business outcomes
Focus on my priorities only
Empathy in understanding others' priorities
Competing internally (IT vs. business)
Partnering (IT and business)
Lack of trust
Holding back information
Sharing information (transparency)
Does each individual leader genuinely believe in the vision you’ve articulated for the organization? It is important to recognize that leaders, like any other employee, need to buy in to the transformation. Ultimately, they need to be committed to change, and make the required transformation, before they can effectively lead their teams through change.
Ensure you give leaders the time and space to process the change and internalize it. This is essential in fostering the necessary belief. Toward that end, it’s important to recognize that this is about changing the culture, which isn’t easy.
As Serge Lucio, VP and GM of the Enterprise Software Division at Broadcom, said in a recent post on business alignment, “BizOps requires new processes and technologies, and it requires cultural changes. Cultural changes can be one of the most difficult parts of this transformation. Cultures need to adapt to align with key values and principles of BizOps, and a big part of this comes down to empathy.”
Without empathy—a true understanding of others’ goals, priorities, aspirations, and challenges—there simply can’t be effective collaboration, or true transformation.
There are a lot of reasons transformations fail. Through employing a BizOps framework and ensuring your managers are ready to be leaders, your organization can set the stage for a truly collaborative culture. In this way, you can pursue a transformation initiative that meets your key objectives, and sets the stage for the business’ long-term success.
Marie Daniels, CCMP™ is an award-winning global transformation leader focused on helping organizations and people become better versions of themselves. With 25+ years’ of experience including roles in education, customer experience, employee experience, technical support, quality assurance and new product development, Marie has leveraged her leadership, education and change management skills to partner with organizations to create and execute change strategies; including equipping leaders to accelerate their teams to lead themselves through change. She is currently a Project and Change Management Consultant at Broadcom.