Taking The First Step On Your Digital Transformation Journey

ByElsie Low

Last week, I received a call from a friend who returned to employment a few months back. Before she was scouted back to employment, she joined me occasionally in my business presentation to clients on my Digital and Gig consulting services. She was keen to learn how consulting can help organisations with their business transformation.

She was an HR leader and a practitioner who left her previous job to take a break from employment and to decide what she wants to do next.

Usually, after my presentation with the client, she will call me separately to wrap up and clarify certain information she needed. She will also give me her observation of the audience and brief reviews of my presentation. That works for me as she complements me very well during the session. 

She took the opportunity to learn as I explained to customers about digital transformation, the gig economy, and how this digitalisation is transforming the business arena. She was gearing up to support me when we get the project on board.

A few months ago, she received a job offer she can’t refuse. I supported her a hundred per cent taking the offer. I miss her on my project, but I am happy she received a great offer.

Respectfully, I know her personally as a strong HR practitioner however, her knowledge and skill in digital and business transformation are at the surface level then. Her latest call surprises me as instead of sharing how the typical HR solution works in the usual or legacy model, she spoke confidently about how being digital can overcome her HR challenges. She is now able to articulate and comprehend how being digital is the way forward to the future. 

She now experiences how some organisations face challenges, especially having organisations with a fixed mindset and old culture that hampered the organisation from being digital. 

Furthermore, she started to see many other digital marketplace solutions that could help businesses focus on promoting their brand and organisation. She went on to explain to me how a solution provider can provide a strategic end-to-end digital HR solution that can resolve many of her daily operational and HR challenges.

She is excited about the solution; however, her challenge now is how to convince her organisation and the leadership team to transform.

Acceptance at all levels

Do you buy in the idea that the Digital and Business Transformation journey starts from the Top and acceptance at all levels?

Boston Consulting Group’s 2020 study found that there is still a staggering 70% of digital transformation fail to achieve their objectives and goal even if the leadership is aligned with their strategy.

I am not surprised, and I did write this in my previous article about how Digital Challenges continue to plague SMEs. Many leaders today are getting more mature and no longer naïve to digital and business transformation. They have been exposed to many new technologies and solutions in the market. They are aware of the new demands and the future of digitalisation and business are at stake if they don’t transform. They are eager to be the forerunner to overcome their competitors and gain market share again.

But why are organisations still unable to transform?

Legacy way of working

Can you imagine that you are facing never-ending worker issues? Some enterprise businesses are challenged to overcome the shortage of workers. Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) told The Sun that Malaysia is losing as much as RM32 billion in revenue due to a shortage of workers. Then The Star reported that Malaysia is short of 1.2 million workers across the plantation, manufacturing, and even construction industries based on government data.  

We need to face the reality. Local workers are no longer interested to do this odd job and there are insufficient workers in those sectors. Therefore, the typical approach is still relying on foreign workers to overcome these challenges to meet these industry demands.

While the battle of getting foreign workers with the ministry continues, some small enterprises started to adopt new technologies to help them to overcome those issues. Many retailers and food chains have started to deploy self-ordering and self-checkout kiosks to overcome the never-ending workers’ issues and to decrease waiting times for their consumers.

Believe it or not, even my nearby residential “Mamak” restaurant has started using a robot as a waiter to serve food. The solution not only helps to mitigate the continuous shortage of workers and the workers’ issues, but it also helps the retailers minimise the workers’ contact from the pandemic.

Fixed mindset 

My friend continues her predicament of overcoming the issue of getting the right talent and fit for the organisation. I, therefore, asked a simple question as to why they don’t consider outsourcing or engaging gig talents if it is a short-term project as an interim solution. She did and tried to convince the hiring managers, however; a fixed mindset takes precedent. 

What about a larger organisation if the “Mamak” can change how they operate?

Lead digital

Many organisations today are eager to transform. During the mid-term plan, every business unit shares its ongoing and future strategies to achieve its goal. Leadership is convinced to move forward with their management strategies. 

The top leader then sums up his vision statement, outlines the plan to achieve the three to five years plan, and shares it with the entire organisation during a town-hall session.

Usually, MNCs will have the advantage of engaging external consultants who can help them formulate a plan and map the entire strategies with a defined roadmap to start the journey. Some even have the upper hand to hire a Chief Digital Officer to lead the journey.

However, many local SMEs may not have those privileges. Therefore, they started to deploy their digital journey based on assumptions and even hearsay. Some started by 

  • Adopting new technologies without understanding the impact on the entire business eco-system
  • Sending their employees for training, reskilling, and upskilling based on market trends without mapping to their organisations’ strategies.
  • Deploying new processes without understanding the fundamental of digitalisation, business transformation, and the outcome they like to achieve
  • Fail to evaluate and understand the holistic pain points and market demand 
  • Engaging vendors to deploy silo solutions and technology independently

The list goes on and the journey starts to defer.

Think digital

To start a digital journey, the fundamental is all about everyone in the organisation understanding what it meant by going or being digital. Digital Transformation is not just about transforming from legacy work to a hybrid work model alone and some extent work from home strategy.

Digital and Business Transformation is about the entire business ecosystem that will help the organisation stay ahead of the curve. They need to determine the outcome they want to achieve by understanding what the current business model is, and what is needed to meet the future business model, whether it be the customer experiences, the business experiences, or some solely focusing on employee experiences. 

According to TechTarget’s report, there are at least 75% of digital initiatives fail to achieve their objective. Let me add-on to that perspective. 

  • Lack of having the right mindset. It’s all about being digital. If one fails to understand the fundamental of being digital versus adopting technologies and remain the legacy mindset, then it defeats the purpose of starting the transformation journey.
  • Lack of the right culture. We cannot undermine this. Many employees have reservations about being digital. Some have resistance to change as many of them are afraid of losing their position and control, which they once know best.
  • Lack of clear goal. Objectives, goals, strategy, and planning all start from the top. However, without communicating the goal, direction, and plan, the entire organisation will not know where to place the effort during the journey. This will lead to poor execution.
  • Failing to think through the required technology and yes, it is because it is not about technology coming first, it is all about the business outcome. Ideally, get a driver to evaluate the entire business eco-system as to how digitalisation able to transform the business and organisation
  • Adopting a fall-fast attitude is so important as one must remember and understand that digital and business transformation is a long journey. It is not a short-term project, it is a journey from how to lead the digital journey, think about how to adopt technology to digitalise, and not forget governing the digital journey.

Empower the driver

Do you know that the driver of the transformation journey shoulders a lot of challenges ahead? While they have the upper hand and accountability to lead the journey, we must remember that they will shoulder a lot of risks throughout the long journey. But do you know why many failed to drive it?

The challenges the driver needs to overcome are

  • The elephant in the room
  • The legacy mindset
  • The continuous support from the leadership team
  • The organisation’s priorities

And many more.

As such, the driver needs to have continuous empowerment and support from the organisations to lead the change, and the most crucial is to overcome the elephant in the room.

Who’s the driver?

Before I proceed further, let me set the pace again. This article is primarily directed at day two organisations. For understanding purposes, day two organisations are those businesses that have already been in a steady stage for many years and probably need realignment to their business or are in a turnaround stage that needs a new direction or business model. 

Therefore, before considering the driver, ones need to determine the critical business outcome one like to achieve. It may be the customer experiences, business experiences, or perhaps employee experiences. Which is the priority? 

Whatever the overcome ones like to achieve, the primary trait of the driver needs to 

  • Understand the current business pain points so that they can plan, and execute the future model 
  • Have continuous support from the leadership team throughout the entire journey
  • Have the empowerment to plan, drive and execute business and organisational change
  • Be a strategic thinker with a business empathy mindset
  • Be a storyteller as this driver needs to translate knowledge into a laymen’s context so that everyone in the organisation understands and is prepared for the journey
  • Be able to resolve conflict as he or she may need to address elephant in the room and challenge orthodoxies 
  • Be collaborative as transformation needs to work with strategic partners to complement the new business model. Some may leverage on partner’s expertise, or skilled outsourcing partner so that the organisation can focus on their key business objectives.
  • Able to identify and consider the risk landscape in the digital ecosystem

At the end of the day, having empowerment and continuous support from the top leaders will help the driver to lead the digital journey in a better manner.

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