People (not tech) are key to digital transformation

UK business leaders are urged to focus on people – not technology – when driving digital change; the consensus at the recent Digital Leader Summit, from digital transformation consultancy, Purple.

Experts and delegates from all organisation types and digital sectors looked to how business leaders could drive meaningful change and found themselves challenging conventional perceptions commonly associated with digital transformation.

Alistair Sergeant, CEO of Purple Consultancy and founder of the Digital Leader’s Summit, said: “According to the latest statistics, a concerning 88% of digital transformation projects fail. We believe this is because those implementing the strategy haven’t taken the time to understand what needs to be changed, what the strategy should aim to deliver and when, and more importantly how to correctly communicate change with staff or other company stakeholders.”

“The Digital Leader’s Summit was created to provide true insight into how leaders should create, implement and drive an effective digital transformation strategy that delivers positive change with tangible results. As a result, over 150 delegates have now left the event with a blueprint that will actually work for them and their business and this is something we are incredibly excited about.”

The conference considered, as Paul Forrest, transformation consultant, board adviser for Purple highlighted “how over the past ten years people who have thought they have done digitally well have in fact been abstract failures.”

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A typical example was an IFA network which attempted to redesign the online system for its advisers to make something utterly unique but had to throw it all away and get something off the shelf.

“When people treat digital as something completely different to the customer experience and look to another group of people to look after the customer experience – an insurance client of mine, you cannot easily update your change of address for your home insurance online,” said change catalyst and author Campbell Macpherson.

When things go wrong in digital transformation invariably, the key reason is getting the strategy wrong.

Kelly Teasdale, business growth expert, said: “Make sure you have a strategy in place and operate – so many business even big ones are not operating a best strategy on a day to day operational level. It is no good having a strategy and shelving it – you have to live it day to day.”

Constantly reviewing and revisiting one’s strategy is key, Neil Leith, CEO of the Early Years Alliance, agreed: “I think the issue is that often a three or five-year strategy gets shelved when it needs to be a living breathing strategy. However, if you know what your customer needs three years ahead, you are probably wrong! If you can’t explain it on one page, then you don’t know what your strategy is in the first place.”

Forrest expounded the notion of the firm white challenge.

“This is about engaging everyone within the business or enterprise and making sure everyone has a voice in that process, that it is a two-way dialogue – a lot about the strategy is about properly engaging. And if you have that you achieve two things – your one-pager becomes internalised very rapidly, and you start to get some pretty nifty challenge, and that challenge will keep you on your toes. One thing to remember is that a lot of your workforce will also be your customer base.”

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Teasdale agreed telling delegates: “Don’t develop a strategy on your own in the boardroom and then go to staff and get feedback – have them in the room and workshop it with them. That’s when you get real connect – They will know things you don’t for sure.”

For a strategy to translate into action so people know exactly what they are going to do on a daily basis, Forrest advised that it needs: “A level of detail so if the strategist goes under a bus someone else can work with it. That is typically missing in a lot of strategies, in that organisations get to a stage where they think they brief people in but those people don’t necessarily have that proper insight or understanding of what they are expected to do. If the strategy is not written down in such a way that anyone can pick it up, it just falls back on itself.”

One reason for failure could be that organisations develop a strategy and then work on the implementation, reasoned Macpherson: “Implementation is part of the strategy,” he said, “The four key elements are; analysis, strategic direction, market strategy and implementation.”

Ultimately it is also all about values.

“Real values are in your personality, what you do, what you deliver,” said Leith, “You will struggle to get through really difficult times without really strong values. It is not about the logo or the name of the organisation but what you stood for and delivered. Values are at the heart of what you do.”

Purple has launched the new Digital Leader’s Community, to address and support the serious skills shortage within UK businesses to deliver successful transformation. This is a new community created via LinkedIn that allows leaders to share challenges and ideas openly with peers and experts.

Written by Stephanie Spicer, an editor at Bonhill Group

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