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Three things business leaders should know about digital transformation

What business leaders should know about transformation


Today, most organizations are trying to navigate how they can think more like a tech company and bring technology closer to the core of what they do. Consumers experience companies more digitally than ever before, and it's no longer possible to punt this reality down the road. So what does it mean to "be" digital? And how does an organization transform decades of ingrained behavior fast enough to compete?


Modernization is more than a collection of technology decisions. It's a far-reaching change requiring new thinking, systems and practices — from IT architecture to governance to your customers' experience. It isn't enough to make a declaration such as "to the cloud" and hope that’ll transform your organization because this won't necessarily change your customers' or employees' experience and subsequently won’t be truly transformative for your organization. So how do you achieve real transformation for your organization? 


1. The right questions are more important than the right answers


It’s easy for us to say that technology is the simple part, given our deep technical expertise. There are many technology choices to make in a transformation, and the tendency is to focus on a particular technology or practice because it feels tangible. However, without a holistic picture of your technology strategy, you'll find yourself with new technology and without a transformed organization. And one can't answer the tangible technology questions without an overarching strategy connected to business outcomes. But, if your first questions are "Should we go to the cloud entirely or be hybrid?" or "Should we use micro-services?" you've skipped some critical questions. 


Here are a few good examples of questions to ask from the start:


  • What outcomes are you trying to achieve (frictionless customer experience or more responsive processes for example)?


  • Do you need to introduce new business models?


  • Are you needing to respond to the entrance of digital native competition disrupting your space?


  • Do you see a way to be the disruptor?


As consultants, we’ve learned over the years that our most important job is to ask really, really good questions. The right questions are more important than the right answers. As a leader, you need to communicate a vision, have deep curiosity and ask excellent questions.


2. To fix the work, start by fixing the way you work


Even without meeting you or your organization, we can probably guess the answer to one of the first questions. You’re probably spending more money and time on overhead than delivering value to your customers. To get different results, you need to change how people work. This isn’t to be taken lightly, it isn’t a side benefit —  it’s a primary concern.


Helping people change the way they think and learn starts by asking yourself and your leadership team, are you ready for this? Are your people? How does your organization need to prepare to become a continuous improvement organization? It’s possible to develop this capability while transforming — you can change the wheels on the bus while it's moving. But only if you start with organizational awareness of where you are today and what it'll take to help everyone on the journey. We begin a lot of transformation journeys with clients by gathering some of this organizational awareness. And throughout the journey, we continue to ask probing questions and redirect efforts based on new information. Transformation is not an event. Done well, it’s a virtuous cycle.


3. Executive sponsorship is critical to transformation


Thoughtworks commissioned Forrester Consulting to conduct a study on digital transformation and discovered that even among organizations with successful modernization efforts, continuous improvement was one of the most important drivers of success. Executive sponsorship is more than just signing the check. More importantly, executive behavior modeling is critical to becoming a continuous improvement organization. Continuous improvement happens by asking the right questions at every level. Having executive sponsors and leaders modeling this behavior is essential for driving this into the culture. Executives can demonstrate radical curiosity by asking good questions, reserving judgment, being open to the curiosity of others and rewarding that behavior with thoughtful answers — opening the door for organizational change. 


According to the Forrester study, Secrets of Successful Digital Transformation, 80% of decision-makers from organizations with successful modernization initiatives said that working with partners to accelerate their transformation efforts was very important/critical to their success. Gaining organizational self awareness and asking good questions are surprisingly difficult. That’s why it isn’t surprising that having a solid partner who can help gain this awareness and grow these skills in your leaders, along with the deep technical expertise and experience to apply strategy and execution to your specific situation is an accelerator. 


The skills needed for digital transformation are in short supply virtually everywhere. A valued partner for your organization needs to bring experience and knowledge that can accelerate technology adoption — not only as skilled application developers but also practitioners and exemplars of the DevSecOps methods required for modernization. But also with a deep understanding of how that ties to business outcomes and benefits. At Thoughtworks, we specialize in helping organizations just like yours experience successful transformations. And with a few good questions to build your strategy, you'll be headed in the right direction in no time.


Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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