If I had a dollar for every time someone told me Digital Transformation was easy over the past 10 years I’d have a private jet fueled up and on stand by 24 hours a day. The truth is transformation is not easy and there’s never been a more difficult time to be a c-level executive. Markets are less stable now, deciding on a plan upfront and hoping for success doesn’t cut it in today’s dynamic marketplace.
Compliance with a schedule used to be paramount but that way of thinking is now a liability when the priority is creatively responding to a rapid changing market and user need. Big up-front planning and large investments are gobbling critical investment that could be allocated to innovation. The solution is thinking big but taking action on smaller increments to learn fast, steer investment and maximize return.
Ask any big executive what keeps them up at night and they’ll most likely tell you:
- Heritage Applications fuel our business today but they aren’t the applications that will make us competitive in the Digital Economy. The challenge we face is keeping these applications running while transposing that value to a cloud context.
- Successfully executing on innovation will propel our business from also-ran to first place. Making more time for innovation and funneling more investment into these programs needs to be a higher priority.
- In the process of transforming applications, they’d like to reimagine these experiences and drive customer loyalty and change brand awareness.
Successful Courageous Executives are Doing these things
No two transformation movements are the same. Organizations like people, have their own DNA. So finding a consistent roadmap, one size fits all transformation blueprint is impossible. Yet there are themes to successful transformation movements and some are listed below.
Failing Fast: Plans change, customers’ needs evolve, and competition is fierce. The wrong kind of failure is watching revenues decrease quarter over quarter. The right kind of failing fast should be synonymous with quick learning and iteration on user need, so costly risk is mitigated through rapid experimentation.
A tersery look at successful entrepreneurs reveals that they have been successful by building companies that are constantly running experiments. Experiments that last one day or less. This is the type of rapid experimentation that will fuel innovation and success in the Digital Economy.
Successful c-level executives have embraced this way of thinking and taken it one step further by creating a vivid picture of success for their teams. At the center of that picture is customer benefit, customer usage or consumption and customer behavior. By iterating in small slices and using feedback they create a clear roadmap to success.
Drop the Pivot, Just Persevere: For many of us failure often recalls painful childhood images of losing an important football game; failing to make it onto the basketball team; getting a bad grade. Failure is often seen as something negative. As children we were taught that we can learn and grow from failure and the same lessons are true as we compete to win in the Digital Economy.
Organizations need to take learning from failure to an extreme. To develop the grit and determination to continuously learn from experimentation until the organizational mantra becomes, ‘learning from failure is just the way we do things around here’.
It’s not the end of the world if a product pitch or deliverable was rejected by a customer. Companies with strong organizational grit and determination will take the learnings and find better ways to solve client needs and problems. Creating safe environments where failure is identified as an important step in the learning process is key to success. In fact teams should be rewarded for learning, not punished for failing.
Psychological Safety: Leaders who create a safe environment where everyone’s voice matters and failure is a way of life, foster more open-minded, creative, and resilient team members. Successful startups have learned to evolve this way of thinking at scale and have created a learning culture that can sense and respond to the changing environment.
It all sounds good in theory but the breakdown in creating this psychological safety often occurs at the implementation phase. When we try to move from vision to implementation invariably people are impacted and this requires an immediate change in behavior. Like all change this is met with resistance. When it starts impacting managers and leaders—and control starts to shift—that’s where things erode.
We create an almost invincible combination when we couple user experimentation with high powered engineering executing at a rapid pace.
Learning from the Best: Large organizations are facing two complex issues: the pace of change of their market and their ability to connect their organization with the future of tech. They are not alone in facing these challenges nor are they the first to solve them. Netflix, Dropbox, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon are all great examples of organizations that have embraced change to position them to win in their market. We can learn a lot from each of them.
Companies across the globe are realizing that irrespective of the industry they are in, they now need to learn new ways of working from leading tech companies if they are to retain and grow market share.
Companies recognize that the dominant value proposition is often technology and their people drive that technology evolution and innovation. But they make a critical mistake when decomposing legacy value to the cloud; they attempt to build feature parity. In doing this they miss a critical opportunity to reenvision these user experiences for a new workforce in a new marketplace.
By adopting a different approach to decomposing value teams seek to understand the business context of the applications. They create an architecture that supports those capabilities and build vertical slices of the platform that are visible to users for feedback. Reducing the risk of replatforming initiatives and creating new business value. These teams are changing the future of work
People: Many organizations that fail to successfully execute a transformation movement don’t understand that the most complicated part of any digital transformation isn’t the technology— it’s the people. Companies do not evolve, people evolve. Successful executives know that lasting organizational success results from leveraging and harnessing the power of their people.
Successful Executives don’t pretend to know everything, they engage their teams. They solicit feedback from a broad base to define a pathway to success. By practicing these techniques they steer through ambiguity and focus relentlessly on value.
At Cognizant we relentlessly focus on hiring and retaining individuals who embody a full stack mindset. We often refer to these individuals as ‘unicorns’, hard to find and sometimes non existent in the market. When we do find these special individuals we don’t make common leadership mistakes and remove their decision making rights. Instead we cultivate an environment where we engage these professionals and empower them to do the ‘right thing’ through fast feedback.
Looking Beyond Cost Cutting: Continued success in the Digital Economy means looking beyond just cost cutting and creating an environment for sustainable growth. Visionary leaders will seek and find opportunities for people when tasks and jobs are automated. They coach, train and prepare their workforce for the future. They are thinking about the new roles, skills, training, and talent when automation replaces jobs.
They show equal passion for people and technology. They nurture the creation of integrated teams that have both business and technology acumen. Recognizing that by delegating decision making to teams individuals feel more rewarded and teams are far more likely to succeed. By doing this People know what decisions they can make, who to go to for help, and how to work together to resolve issues without having a “manager” involved.
Governance no longer involves command and control. You’ll find that in the new world, where the confluence of everyone’s opinion leads to the best outcome is more fun anyway.
Until next time, C-ya
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