What are the characteristics of digitally successful businesses

Earlier this summer, the MIT and Deloitte published a study on the characteristics of the most mature businesses regarding to their digital transformation. As often there’s nothing really new to learn from it but since it comes from the MIT it can weight a lot when it comes to explain one’s C-Suite that they’re doing wrong.

• Strategy, not technology, drives digital transformation

It means that the most mature businesses are working on talents, processes and business models while others tend to have dispersed and inconsistent initiatives with a focus on technology. One obvious reason is the maturity of management : when one does not get what something is about he wants to directly go ton concrete things. And when maturity exists but is very uneven, it’s impossible to have a transverse approach and cover all the dimensions of digital transformation, so people try to tinker on a limited scope.

In other words, a mature organization will start with rethinking the value proposition of a department and re-align operations instead of making youtube videos to improve the employer brand.

• It’s all about scope and goals

Less mature organizations transform at an individual level with an operational focus, most mature ones at a collective level with a systemic approach aiming at transforming their business.

Once again – but it’s quite logical – as long as one is not mature enough he tries to reassure himself by being very concrete while more mature people think globally before they act. By the way the best may to gain maturity is to be very concrete, try, fail and learn.

On the other hand it’s – in my opinion – a real issue in businesses that have a strong culture of “doing”, where taking time to assess the situation, step back, think, unlearn, learn and shape a vision if often seen as a waste of time.

• Skills first

What’s critical in the maturation phase is the capability to understand and conceptualize what technology makes possible in terms of business and operations reinvention.

That’s obviously not innate or not innate for a critical number of employees to make a flying start from day 1. So it makes an acculturation program necessary, which must target everyone in the company (sometimes with profile/role/job based personalization) and must be sustained over a couple of years.

This is not an easy issue to tackle and resistances actually still exist. In some company’s cultures joining a gamified MOOC during the work time will never be seen as an investment for the future. Yet a minimal common base is required to set a company in motion. But the good news is that I see less and less reluctance about this point.

• Employees want to work for digital leaders

Without any surprise, people prefer to join digitally advanced companies. In my opinion thats for two reasons : first beaucause these leaders have achieved a cultural shift that makes them more appealing in terms of work environment, second because employees have understood what’s at stake with digital. Once you know the end of the story of the Titanic before the journey starts, you’re less likely to board.

• A culture of risk becomes the norm

And, as the study says, it’s not only about helping employees to get bolder. As a matter of fact employees tend to mimic their managers regarding to risk tolerance,. So it must start from the top.

• The digital agenda is led from the top

Once again it’s about digital leadership at the C-Suite level and that’s a real matter. The first software to update is the C-Suite’s and that may be the hardest part of the job. Too often we face generations of leaders that are used to make decisions and make others execute. Here, they have to personify. And, for most of them, take the time to be curious, read, listen, put their hands in….what is asking them too much since they’re not used to invest time to question and transform themselves.

There is also the solution of appointing a chief digital officer as a palliative care. But I’m not sure that’s a sustainable one. The CDO can make things move forward faster but, one day or another, the lack of digital culture in the C-Suite will block him. Let’s be realistic : companies where the digital leadership of the CEO is recognized rarely have a CDO. There must be a reason.

In conclusion there’s nothing really new but a couple of points I’d like to highlight. Digital transformation is :

• an individual and collective acculturation process  for everyone in the company

• A try/fail/learn process

• A creative process because it all start by stating what digital means for a given business.

The real risk is misunderstanding. Companies focused on “doing” often refuse to understand the need to become a learning organization first. As a matter of fact that’s what it’s all about : learning to live and think digitally to be able to imagine business initiatives.

I’ll end with these wise words from McKinsey.

Following the leader is a dangerous game. It’s better to focus on building an organization and culture that can realize the strategy that’s right for you.



Bertrand DUPERRINhttps://www.duperrin.com/english
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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