The secret to digital transformation? Start by looking in the mirror








Digital is not just a technical thing. In fact, I would argue that technology can sometimes distract from true digital transformation.

So, what is digital?  It is the ability of a business to respond to or even predict change in a way that causes minimum disruption to the business, based on information from many sources (system and human, outside and in), and presented in a way that develops trust and understanding.

Digital transformation impacts three dimensions of a business:

  • People –Digital transformation impacts every level including employees, partners and clients. If you don’t believe this, you might be part of the problem.
  • Process – Business processes and the operating model are impacted by the new digital processes. How the company operates, make decisions and structures itself is key for success.
  • Technology – This is not the leading dimension but more a follower. Having platforms that support the speed of the organization, whilst seamlessly providing information to other systems and services, is critical.

A bit like the fire triangle, you need all three dimensions functioning to transform an organization into a truly digital one.

Organizational culture is king

Let’s focus on the big one, though: people. Suddenly organizational culture has become the big word on the street. Years ago, I raised the word culture as a mechanism for change, pointing out the maxim “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” One leader basically said they didn’t believe in culture impacting the business; you do what they say, as in “my way or the highway!” Not sure that this was a digital highway.

So, what do we need to do to start digital transformation from a people aspect? Firstly, look in the mirror.

Change for people occurs at every level of the organization. It requires people to understand what they are going to do differently. How will they behave, work with others, develop, and grow themselves and others in the new digital business?

Some of the human factors that need to be incorporated into the culture of a new digital organization are:

Trust, Humility, Collaboration, Teams, Self-Learning, Transparency, Risk, Listening

Digital companies of the future will manifest these soft skills in the operating model or fabric of the business. Heroes will be few and far between.

There is no quick fix to culture; this is a long game. We can migrate System A to System B, and we can shift our process from Waterfall to Agile; these things only require money, skills and technology to implement.  But to be truly digital is to move people to thinking digital in every action they do, and this is hard. It impacts beliefs, behaviours, historic cultures and current impeding actions.

Digital people

A good starting point is to surround yourself with digital people who inspire you to think and operate differently, exhibiting the skills above and impacting decision making in the business. Don’t convert them; let them convert you. Don’t just wake up on Monday saying you are digital; you need to go through your own transformation.

Test areas of changes within your organization. Create groups of people and programs of work that are empowered and enabled to work differently, driving towards a common strategy.

At some point, when you have enough evidence, you will need to take the findings of the test programs and roll the changes into the operating model of the business. This should include human resources changes, performance measurement methods, new ways of recruiting and improving key skills, strong teaming structures and rewards for business outcomes.

Digital transformation questions you should be asking

A successful digital transformation program requires the biggest change in people, from the top down, before changing technology and processes. Ensure you understand the culture and characteristics of the people needed in your organization to support the transformation and ongoing execution.

Below are questions you should be asking to assess how digital you are. Consider what each question is asking and why. I hope these questions help you think about the changes you need to make for a successful digital transformation.

The Digital Person Questionnaire

1: Do you listen to others before you make your decision?


2: Do you obtain information from many others inside and outside your ecosystem?


3: Do you trust the people executing your tasks, are you macro or micro managing?


4: Do you or your team collaborate on content and decisions?


5: Do you learn and develop new skills?


6: Do you help others learn and develop new skills?


7: Do you accept failure from others, to help understand what went wrong?


8: Do you work in isolation or with a team?


9: Do you create a personal relationship or connection with your staff, team and colleagues?


10: Do you consider yourself to be humble — do you demonstrate humility?


11: Do you lead through influence or is it more “my way or the highway”?


12: Do you embrace change?


13: Do you try to fix the big problem in one go, or break it down in stages?


14: Do you focus on your own success or the success of the team?


15: Do you recruit or surround yourself with clever people?