Advice on how to seize the opportunity to become your organization’s digital transformation leader.

It’s no secret that there has been a lot of jockeying among CIOs, CMOs and CDOs (chief digital officers) to lead their companies’ digital transformations. You might think the CIO would be a logical choice. After all, digital is about technology, isn’t it? And isn’t technology the CIO’s responsibility?  

Yet according to a recent Leading Edge Forum study, fewer than 35% of CIOs are expected to lead their company’s digital transformation effort.  

Gulp! Obviously, having a CIO title does not automatically qualify someone for the role. 

The Digital Leadership Void 

Your company has a distinct need to accelerate into the digital era. You cannot afford to underestimate the mushrooming expectations of your customers, how new competition can arise from totally unexpected sources, or the speed at which disruption is occurring. 

According to a report by IMD and Cisco, 41% of executives believe that digital disruption has increased the risks of their company going out of business in the not-too-distant future. Yet, only 25% of organizations are proactively addressing digital disruption. 

Too many companies are waiting at the starting gate while their competition has taken off and is accelerating. The gap between digital leaders and laggards is growing larger with each passing day.  

Clearly, in many companies, there is a digital leadership void. And, as Martha Heller points out in Be the Business – CIOs in the New Era of IT, CIOs can this as either a threat, or an opportunity. 

Take Advantage of the Opportunity 

Sure you can hunker down and hope that this whole digital thing goes away. That probably wouldn’t be the smartest thing you ever did. Just ask former executives Blockbuster, Borders, or Blackberry. But what if you are looking to take advantage of the opportunity? What should you do? 

Here are some recommendations on how to seize the opportunity to become your organization’s digital transformation leader. 

  1. Reassess your leadership skills. Digital business doesn’t just disrupt markets. It disrupts tried-and-true management behaviors. Your organization is not going to transform unless you transform as a leader. Your personal transformation will affect the way you spend your time and what you talk about.  Everything is about speed, agility, and customer obsession. These tenets will change the way you lead, engage employees, and make decisions. You must go beyond the mentality of small incremental improvements to emphasize the necessity of breakthrough thinking empowered by a “digital first” approach.

  2. Emphasize the business. There is a lot of emphasis placed on the technological aspect of digital transformation. But technology is only an enabling tool. Fundamentally, this is about improving the value and sustainability of your business. In fact, you will not find a better opportunity to follow Heller’s call to CIOs to “be the business.” Take the initiative and seize advantage. Solicit and listen to “the voice of the customer” and broadcast that throughout the company. Push the entire organization to look at things “through the eyes of the customer.” Then work with the executive team to establish and measure bold goals leading to increased value. 

  3. Think big picture. Learn to shun the closed approach constrained by company resources. Instead, begin seeing an entire ecosystem of customers, suppliers, and partners that can add value to your firm. Study emerging business models and consider how to apply them. Leverage partnership resources to bring product/service innovation, development, and deployment at a much more rapid rate than a single company can ever afford.

  4. Look through “fresh eyes.” Instead of seeing things as they are, begin envisioning what they might be while encouraging others to do the same. Explore how to restructure the organization to better align with the customer while bringing drastic improvements in speed and agility. Realize the advantages of customer co-creation, advocacy, and sharing. Search for ways to digitize products. 

  5. Become a culture champion. Influence and instill the organizational culture needed for digital transformation – a culture of an empowered team passionately engaged and invested in the long-term success of the business; a culture where everyone is focused on proactively eliminating non-value-added activities and their costs on an ongoing basis; a culture in which the vision and direction of the organization are clear to all, and where every individual understands how to best contribute to the achievement of the goals of the organization.

  6. Increase your organizational change expertise. It is amazing to think about the number of IT projects, corporate change initiatives, and even corporate strategies that have failed because of managers’ failure to help people change. This gave rise to the saying “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Become a student of organizational change in order to overcome cultural resistance and break through this digital transformation roadblock.

  7. Ask for the job. In leading digital transformation, you will become the CEO’s personal SWAT team to drive the company through momentous change. You must be bold and unafraid, and at the same time, possess high emotional intelligence. Success will require you to influence people at all levels both inside and outside the organization. Obviously this requires a high-level, dedicated business executive. Don’t hesitate to ask for the job.

Digital transformation is not easy. Many companies will attempt it and fail. Some will decide it is not worth the effort and ultimately slip into obscurity. The successful will be inspired by those who have disrupted their traditional management approach and undergone a personal transformation into true digital leaders. 

Which will you choose?

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