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Tips for side-stepping the most prohibitive stumbling block to successful digital transformation

Changing your organization isn’t easy and requires time, investment, and a sincere desire to do things differently

Businesses who’ve realized success in the past have carefully aligned their organization to operate effectively within their marketplace. This includes looking at their people, processes, and systems − collectively − in how they serve the market. However, with the advent of digital, some of these habitual, entrenched − and previously successful traits − have started to work against them.

One of the key challenges is that digital transformation means changing the entire organization. It includes − but isn’t limited to − changing people. It’s about making bold and decisive changes to how business is done, and approaching things in a way that’s fundamentally different from the past.

Arrow indicating change icon

To successfully transform into truly digital businesses, organizations need to:

  • authentically be willing to do things differently
  • accept that they need to radically change their businesses but won’t necessarily have all the answers at the outset
  • realize that this change process cannot be successful if done superficially or without appropriate focus on taking people on the change journey
  • commit to changing the organization as a whole and avoid the misperception that just because they’ve been successful until now, and the way they’re currently operating and thinking is still working, means that change isn’t necessary
  • stop inadvertently curbing their ability to meaningfully transform by clinging to entrenched ideas, traditions, and practices which will fail to serve them well in the digital world
  • willingly explore new ideas of what the business is and does; this doesn’t mean losing the essence of the organization's identity or strengths, but rather being prepared to change these for the better
  • accept that this is a difficult task, but that’s ok – if it were easy, everyone would already have perfected it

Digital and the people factor

Let’s take a closer look at the people aspect of organizational change.

Organizations need to acknowledge that now, more than ever, people are their most important differentiator. But any form of large-scale change makes employees feel uncomfortable, as their entire point of reference is required to shift. It evokes emotions, such as vulnerability, insecurity, and fear.

Connected people icon

People are emotive by nature, have a need to feel comfortable, and seek to both protect and manage their immediate environment – a notion so well-articulated by Peter F. Drucker i: ‘Everybody has accepted by now that change is unavoidable. But that still implies that change is like death and taxes; it should be postponed as long as possible, and no change would be vastly preferable. But in a period of upheaval, such as the one we are living in, change is the norm.’ii

Although intangible and difficult to measure, emotive aspects can impact transformation efforts, or even derail them.

Unfortunately, too many organizations are ‘tripping over themselves’

In the digital world, new ways of competing, disruption, empowered customers, and evolving business models have diverted focus from the people factor, the one important consideration that should never be overlooked.

This happens for a variety of reasons:

  • Many leaders point to the magnitude of internal and external matters they need to attend to associated with ‘business as usual activities’ – and that these are diverting their attention away from how they help people to change.
  • The digital transformation process still focuses too heavily on technology opportunities which cannot be pursued in isolation of changing how the business evolves as a whole. This goes beyond technology.
  • A primary concern called out by recent research we’ve undertaken in this area is how organizations interact cross-functionally – a fundamental requirement for achieving digital maturity:
  • On the upside, however, the research reveals that ‘shaping new ways of working through organizational transformation’ (52.0%) is the number one benefit that respondents have tangibly realized in the last 12 months.
22.7% of respondents believe that working in silos remains one of the top barriers for enabling effective work.
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Organizations who are succeeding are spending more time understanding the essential nature of the human mind and what makes people ‘change ready’

Here are our top recommendations for achieving this:

  • Remember that to succeed in the digital world, organizations need to overcome new boundaries and constraints and challenge traditional perceptions of leadership, middle management, and employees.
  • Focus on how to make people your most leveraged advantage, and contemplate how to optimize their roles in this new digital economy:
    • Successfully changing people means getting close to and understanding the core of their human psyche.
    • Devote the necessary time and investment to change practices, even though they aren’t easy to implement.
    • Accept that people-change practices need to be authentic; currently, they’re not and are often half-hearted or insincere, which dilutes their value.
    • Set people up for success by providing them with the appropriate skills and working environments.
‘Shaping new ways of working through organizational transformation’ is the top benefit realized in the last year.
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With digital capabilities constantly maturing, change will continue to be the only inevitable factor. So, if organizations and their people can become change resilient, their digital ambitions are highly likely to succeed.

For more insights and analysis of this topic, download the NTT 2019 Digital Means Business Benchmarking Report. 

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i Peter Ferdinand Drucker was an Austrian-born American management consultant, educator, and author, whose writings contributed to the philosophical and practical foundations of modern business.
ii https://www.thebalancecareers.com/inspirational-quotes-for-business-about-change-management-1918438

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Wayne Speechly

Wayne Speechly

VP: Advanced Competencies, NTT Ltd

Wayne is dedicated to helping organizations thrive in the digital world. He heads up a team of strategists, specialists, and execution accelerators who are experts in customer and employee-centric digital transformation, focused on helping organizations act innovatively by leveraging the right technology opportunities.

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