Apparently, ‘two thirds of digital transformation projects fail’. I know that headline may well be both a bit too provocative and rather pessimistic at best, but I guess we can’t deny there are far too many reasons out there as to why that may be happening, as Dion Hinchcliffe himself wrote, quite nicely, over 6 years ago, in a rather insightful article titled: ’14 Reasons Why Enterprise 2.0 Projects Fail’. Even today. When looking into it with a bit more detail though, one can find that perhaps, right at the heart of the matter, one of the most powerful reasons as to why that happens is because most organisations haven’t been able to answer properly the one question that matters: ‘What’s your purpose?’
When talking about Social Business Adaptation (not the same as Adoption, by the way), there are 5 different pillars, over the years, I have considered essential for any successful Digital Transformation programme (not a project either, by the way); and since I mentioned earlier on, in another blog post, that I’d start sharing plenty of the methodologies, strategies, processes and tools I use for my work as an independent adviser, I thought I would get things started with the one single question that, to me, triggers those transformation efforts: figure out the why first, before you dive in to the how.
Throughout all of these years of having been involved in Social Business Adaptation (both while at IBM and nowadays as a freelancer) I have been exposed to a good number of different purposes as to why both people AND organisations embark on that so-called Digital Transformation journey. And time and time again there have been a number of them that typically fall sort of the expectations towards the second year that they have been put in place. Three of them in particular come to the top of the list and I thought I would share them over here in the hopes that, if you bump into them, you may have an early warning, and some pointers, on what you may need to do to shift things a fair bit in a different direction perhaps. On the other hand, there are also plenty of other great purposes for which people/organisations have pretty much nailed their efforts into becoming a Socially Integrated Enterprise. So we will talk about those other three as well in a few minutes (Yes, I know, I like to see things in threes and multiples of threes :-D).
Why Digital Transformation Projects Fail?
I am pretty sure that, by now, your head may be spinning around a fair bit coming up with a good number of different reasons as to why you think Digital Transformation programmes keep failing over and over again over the last few years. To me, it’s all down to figuring out what your purpose is. Why do you want to do what you are about to do? What is it that you expect to happen, once you get started with the Social Business journey? And what are, potentially, some of the expectations you would want to meet up at some point in time?
Now, this is not, at all, at this point in time, about trying to figure out the ROI of Social Business. We already had that conversation a while ago and it didn’t take us anywhere. Total waste of time, really. In fact, if you look around, today, you would hardly see anyone trying to question the return on investment from your digital transformation efforts anymore. It’s just not happening. It’s 2015, it’s considered a given. Why? Well, mainly, because we no longer have a choice (never had, actually!). I mean, look at the alternative(s) of not diving in to the Digital Transformation journey. It’s ugly and it will become uglier over the course of time even more so if we keep ignoring the inevitable: change.
With all of that said, you may be wondering what are the main three purposes I bump into, every now and then, that are bound to create more trouble than help out with those transformation efforts. I am sure you all have your own favourites and I would love to read about them in the comments, but, for me, here are the Top 3 Reasons as to why digital transformation programmes fail, based on what their main purpose may well be:
- Cost savings: Bean counters, and everyone else, dealing with the financials of your organisation would love you lots if this is the main purpose of why you would want to start the Social Business journey. Yet, the reality would be quite different. Justifying the existence of a Digital Transformation programme within your organisation as an opportunity to cut / save costs and become more efficient as a result is bound to fail on the second year of life of the initiative. Why? Well, mainly, because there will always be something out there that would help you cut costs, specially, in the technology space, and that means the moment you find something else to help you cut costs there goes your Social Business effort. Down the drain. To no avail. Efficiency has never been a good friend of Change and Transformation programmes. What you are after is effectiveness. Big difference.
- Competitors driving your agenda: ‘My competitors are all going through this Digital Transformation programme already. We are late into the game!’. That’s typically another popular reason as to why people figure their purpose is just to play catch up with their competition. Don’t worry, you are already late, if you are just getting started now. Why worry then? What you may want to do is shake off that strong feeling that your competitors are driving your agenda, whatever that may will be, and perhaps re-focus on what you really want to do as a business, which, last time around we checked was no other endeavour than delighting your clients through an excelling employee experience. Focus on that. You will be much better off, believe me.
Take a look, for instance, into IT vendors, specially, in the Social Software / Collaboration space. There are plenty of them that will always tell you that they are doing much much better than the competition, so they will flood you with all sorts of information, brochures and marketing speak on features and capabilities on a certain product, etc. etc., almost as if it were a whitewash of sorts, to then match themselves against their competitors for you to see how good they are, when, eventually, they keep failing on meeting up with a clear premise: what business problems are they trying to solve for you? Then there are other vendors that just focus on helping the competition, competing accordingly, and they are doing just fine, because that’s their main focus, both the employee AND the customer. Seriously, if the products you are trying to sell your customers are wonderful and meet their needs, you don’t need to worry about the competition. There isn’t any. Go the extra mile.
- Change for the sake of changing: It’s not a good idea. It’s never been. On the contrary, it would just show that you are not ready for the change itself, nor the (digital) transformation process. Whether we like it or not, we just can’t change organisations, nor can we change people, for that matter; we can only provide the (right) conditions for knowledge workers to be self-empowered to come forward and change themselves leaving it all up to them. So thinking that we need to change because we don’t have a choice anymore will only create even more trouble. If only, it would work out as adding another layer of (social) tools and think we have changed. When we have only put but more lipstick on the pig. Still a pig.
Yes, I can see the urge from most organisations to want to hang out with the cool kids who have already gotten started with their own transformation journey. I realise how plenty of businesses would want to jump the shark and join those very same cool kids on the open Social Web, interacting with their customers, business partners, even their competitors, but then again still operating, pretty much, as v1.0 on the inside. Frankly, to be 2.0 on the outside, requires that you may well be 2.0 on the inside, because otherwise you are off to a massive wake-up call when things go messy. And they will.
The Journey of Becoming a Socially Integrated Enterprise
Like I said earlier on, I am pretty sure there are tons of other reasons as to why organisations have decided to embark on the so-called Digital Transformation journey, that may well not have worked out as planned, while trying to answer as well the key question ’What’s your purpose?’ I bet you all know, or have, quite a few and I would certainly love to hear them in the comments, if you would have a minute to share them with the rest of us, but for now, let’s go ahead and focus on the Top 3 Reasons as to why digital transformation programmes are a wonderful success within (some) organisations:
- Transform how the entire organisation works: Through a co-creative process, where no-one and everyone owns it, the social business and digital transformation journey is mostly focused on transforming how the entire business works. The focus moves on from being on either technology and business processes and, instead, it’s all about the people, about self-empowering them to become more accountable and responsible for what they do, how they work, connect, collaborate, share their knowledge more in the open, transparently, and, eventually, get work done in a much more democratic, egalitarian, wirearchical, engaged manner. The change process begins when the organisation realises they need to relinquish control, become less risk averse, more open and transparent, to then re-gain it back through how they nurture and build healthy networks and communities as the new operating model. The wake-up call? That these conditions of operating through social networks are not going to go away any time soon, so we better adapt to them and act accordingly. Or we are in trouble. Big trouble.
- Address business pain points: Perhaps the toughest of reasons. I mean, no-one wants to air out, even internally, what doesn’t work, whether it’s related to technology, processes or people. We all want to keep drinking the kool-aid, to control the message, to continue distrusting our peers, because, after all, we never did, so why start now, right? Alas, it doesn’t work out that well in reality, so if you take those business pain points and turn them into business opportunities through both some bravery and courage admitting not all things are working all right, there is a great chance you will find the right purpose to correct your due course.
And if you are brave, again, one more time, to involve your entire workforce to help you not only surface what doesn’t work, but also try to provide different solutions to each and everyone of those issues, there is a great chance that you will be on the mend sooner than you think. Both the change and transformation processes will kick off by themselves, without even needing to have a certain strategy. Biggest leap of faith to come across? Understand we are not the experts we all think we are; we are all weak, vulnerable, constantly making mistakes (and learning from them!), and it’s our relying on building those strong networks across the organisation that will only help us, collectively, address those pain points and venture to suggest some potential solutions. And initiate that process of self-healing that’s so very much needed in each and every single business today, in each and every single individual knowledge (Web) worker.
- Finally, identify new business opportunities: Indeed, create new markets. I know, I know, easier said than done, but what’s stopping us? What’s stopping us from thinking we can, collectively, change the (business) world for the better? The realisation that it’s going to be impossible? Or perhaps the itch that we can’t attempt to realise the impossible, because, you know, it’s the impossible, after all. How could we? That’s exactly why we need to venture into creating those new markets. New frontiers and I’m not necessarily just talking about technology in general. Think about the world we would all want to live in, say, 15 to 30 years from now. 2030 and 2045. What’s the world going to look like? Most importantly, what’s your dent in this universe for which you would want to be remembered when you are gone. How would you like your offspring to remember you? As those folks who had the chance to change the world and failed because they were not courageous enough to explore and create new markets? Or those folks who didn’t have a clue about what they wanted to do down the line, but there was a very clear premise in the air: leave behind a better (business) world than they themselves experienced throughout their (working) lifetime. And perhaps start working towards achieving that goal. Why not?
My goodness! Talking about having a meaningful and rather impactful purpose for us all! How does that sound to you folks in the long run? Please do tell me you are, with me, in the second group. Please do tell me that, when you are pondering to embark on this so-called Digital Transformation journey within your own business you are thinking about potentially answering ‘What’s your purpose’ with this particular mindset: what kind of world do I want to leave behind me / us when we are all long gone? Something tells me that if we shift focus on that short term purpose, gains, and think more into the near future, into the long run, we would all be so much better of, collectively. Not just for our own mere survival, but for all of those who come after us pushing harder, stronger, higher than whatever we all attempted to do in the past.
Yes, exactly, ‘What’s Your Purpose?’ starts with you asking yourself every single morning, when you come to work, what you would want to achieve that day to make this world a better place. After all, it’s our chance to make a dent in this universe while we change and transform not only the way we work, but also the way we live our lives. Not just for ourselves, but for them, whomever they may well be …
Signing off, sincerely, your #hippie2.0.