Overhauling your digital-transformation strategy


It’s time to make transformation personal

Trent Mayberry, Stephen Coller, David Berney and Cory Slater Scancella |

In a time of unprecedented change, we’re taking digital transformation beyond “digital.”

Trent Mayberry, Stephen Coller, David Berney and Cory Slater Scancella

Among the truths that 2020 has laid bare, one stands out for today’s leaders: the way we do business is deeply personal. Public expectations of brands are at an all-time high, with consumers demanding more transparency, more effectiveness and more purpose than ever. The organizations that will succeed are those that approach change holistically—integrating technological change with empathetic design, thoughtful employee engagement and careful attention to their purpose and values.

Prior to 2020, organizations had already reached an impasse: After years of trying, most digital transformations were delivering precious little fundamental change in how organizations actually conduct business. COVID has reinforced this learning, making it impossible for business leaders to ignore these shortcomings.

The truth? The established model of transformation was not a recipe for sustainable change. It didn’t prepare our organizations for the realities of today.

This old model relied on incremental change. In seeking efficiencies, most things remained static: the profit-based motives, the products, the services, the org charts and their siloed composition. Only the application changed. Data wasn’t integrated with microservices. Decision making still had to cascade down from the top. And middle management still played the role of hall monitor.

The result? When COVID hit, these businesses were deemed non-essential and their warehouses became hot spots. Their customers switched to competitors and their remote workforce started questioning what they’ll eventually be asked to return to. Not the transformation these leaders had in mind.


COVID is the cue for overhauling your digital-transformation strategy

Like any individual seeking to chart their post-COVID path, today’s business leaders have been presented with an inspiring opportunity: a moment to reimagine preconceptions and habits, to embrace more thoughtful approaches. To take transformation personally.

COVID has reminded us of just how interdependent we are. It’s highlighted our responsibility to contribute not just to recovery, but to the creation of more resilient and adaptable organizations and ecosystems that are better able to withstand inevitable future shocks.

If we return to business as usual and default to our existing transformation plans after COVID, we will fail. Our services and infrastructure will remain vulnerable. Our employees and customers will remain exposed to risks we could have otherwise helped prevent.

We can and must do better. We must acknowledge that employees and partners—not processes—make organizations adaptive and responsive. We must build new digital-transformation strategies based on better design processes informed by values and purpose. And we must fundamentally reimagine how companies can be built to anticipate and react to market and customer events in real time.

COVID has served to underscore the importance of these foundational capabilities. The business leaders who learn these lessons and deliver on them will develop transformation strategies capable of delivering true change.

As we guide our customers through this historic moment, we’re keeping two key ideas in mind. Think of them as principles for successful transformation today.

Principle 1: Transformation must start with values

Transformation should not be an abstract technocratic exercise. It requires courage, honesty, trust and accountability. Adhering only to an operational plan won’t get you there.

In order to really mean something, transformation has to be first and foremost about the values and purpose that drove the founding of the company you lead in the first place. Values provide stability. They are your foundation and your focus. Without their guidance, you cannot be fully prepared for the next disruption.

And the more relatable those values are to the people you serve, the more those people will want to be a part of what you’re building. Securing the buy-in of your people and your customers is critical in an era of increased accountability. Your community will participate when they believe, not when the sophisticated roadmap you designed for the board says so. Your purpose will provide the guidance required to enable rapid, distributed adaptation—the hallmark of future success.

The good news is that transformation is the perfect moment for leaders to unpack, clarify and share their company’s values. With the right technologies and a little commitment, business leaders can express their organization’s purpose more clearly and measure it more effectively than ever before.

Principle 2: Transformation must fundamentally evolve your infrastructure

COVID has demonstrated that corporate America remains woefully unprepared to handle disruptions at scale. Too much of our infrastructure, designed for specific system architectures and exposed via APIs, is hardwired to maintain the status quo.

If we are to craft more resilient systems, we must adapt or rebuild our present infrastructure so it can accelerate our capabilities, improve our resilience and offer more generative modes of organization and decision making. That means moving our applications, our labor and our knowledge to the cloud.

These, in turn, are predicated on the ability to combine digital feedback loops with increasingly machine-driven decision making so that we are capable of dynamic adjustment and self-correction.

We believe change is fundamentally human, but that the right tools for empowering people and informing how we think and act are critical.

Let’s reassess transformation design

This new approach to digital-transformation strategy—achieving greater organizational resilience in the service of a clear, measurable purpose—means rebuilding the core foundations of transformation design. It means asking different questions, setting smarter goals and seeing challenges from new angles.

This is an ongoing task—one we’re working on every day with customers. These are some of the end states we’re solving for—and the questions we’ve been asking to guide us down the right paths.

Goal: Remote, distributed work that enhances, rather than impedes, business continuity

Goal: A protected workforce in industries where social distancing is a challenge

Goal: Supply chain visibility

Goal: Service flexibility

Goal: Real-time analytics and signal processing

It’s time for meaningful transformation

These questions are leading us and the business leaders we’re working with to develop fundamental change. Change that’s anchored in purpose. Change that materially evolves infrastructure.

This is our call to action: Let’s stop going through the motions. Let’s build systems, tools and beliefs that make an impact. We’re already doing it, and we’re learning some key lessons. Here are those lessons, distilled into a few key imperatives. Incorporate these into your transformation agenda, and you’ll be on the path to real change.

  1. Speak like a human being. We’ve just been through a global pandemic. Cut the happy-talk and start by publicly admitting what has become difficult or unmanageable in your organization. Use your own words, not copy from Corporate Communications. Your employees and customers will appreciate hearing the truth—and start turning to you for guidance.
  2. Start by engaging your employees and customers on your path to change. Accept that at the end of the day, they hold the key to your relevance and give you a reason to exist.
  3. Be up front about the negative externalities your organization is at risk of or currently contributing to. Your employees and customers already know what those things are. They’ll be more inclined to support your transformation if they feel you are addressing these externalities in your program.
  4. Don’t stop at transforming what happens inside your four walls. Imagine how a network of businesses could interoperate to better serve the needs of your customers. That’s the heart of “big T” Transformation. A brand should evoke a need fulfilled, not an assertion of performance, and partners can amplify each other’s efforts in fulfilling those needs. Start thinking about an efficient ecosystem, rather than an efficient organization. Your employees and customers will benefit directly.
  5. Finally, and most importantly: Declare what you stand for and measure it publicly. Define your overarching purpose and show how you are achieving it. Compared to that level of accountability, CSR programs are just window-dressing.

Now is the time for real reflection. For bolder steps and truly expansive digital transformation strategies. The world is in shock, yes. But this is also a time where lessons are being learned. New habits are being formed and new expectations are being normalized. The world is looking to the business community to make a valuable contribution, one that shows clearer commitment to measurable change in how we work—and to what end.

Organizations who take steps to exhibit greater accountability and demonstrate better responsiveness to their employees and customers will find themselves setting the pace and being the change we all surely seek. Let’s rise to the occasion. Our friends, our neighbors and the world are watching closely.

Talk to Trent and our UST experts about how to adjust your approach to transformation during COVID.

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