I had to step away from my role for a period of time and as such did more reading than I have in a while and realised that businesses are going through the hardest changes and decisions that they have seen in a long time. Most businesses have realised they need to change, in fact in a recent survey by BCG it was shown that 89% of Managers globally are involved in digital transformation. The challenge we face is transformations are often compared with any other business decision we take, linear, a or b, left or right. A true transformation is just that, ceasing to be what you were before to become something new. Think about the Caterpillar who becomes a butterfly, this is what business leaders should have in mind when they are seeking to transform, at the end of the initial transformation (because once you start to evolve, your team should continue to keep looking at how that journey can continue), you should be able to see the marked differences from how you operated before to what you are doing now.
Lets stay with that Caterpillar analogy, if a business decided to glue wings on the caterpillar, change its colour, it would not be a transformation, it would still do what it did before, it might look interesting, but actually we would have just made things harder by bringing new complexity to an organism that was built to do what it does (crawl and eat). Many businesses are stuck in this pattern, looking at new technologies, bringing in exciting consultants, however the way of working and the processes and roles and responsibilities all remain exactly the same. Whether there is a new app or website, without these broader changes those businesses – like it or not – will remain a caterpillar. A caterpillar who spends a significant amount of money and whose Board, Senior leaders start asking why are they not becoming a Butterfly.
This brings me to my question – “To be or not to be digital”. Many people will say that being digital is having digital channels to engage with your customers, or having an app to support your employees, these in all honesty are the cosmetics. Imagine a butterfly racing a caterpillar to get to the next branch above, now the caterpillar can eat more but how long will it take to get there and is it worth eating when it does? When we look at Digital native businesses – i.e. those who were born digital, the way they work, they way they create and continue to evolve, just think about some of the apps you use. How many of those are the same as they were a year ago, or even 3 months ago?
Being Digital requires the thinking within an organisation to change, a rewiring if you will, its really hard, but hard things done well is what will effect real change going forward for an organisation. If the organisation can go digital, then the technology can follow. Its amazing in fact there are so many technology options that if a business can transform itself it will realise that it can test ideas, and then decide what works or doesn’t as they continually evolve with low risk and high reward through a fail fast and continually learn approach.
The caterpillar puts in a lot of energy to first builds its cocoon then expends so much energy through its transformation that it loses nearly half of its weight in the process. The same is for businesses, when you are truly transforming you need to ensure it has everyone’s focus and commitment to make the change, if one part of a cocoon wasn’t ready then perhaps the transformation might not look complete or could be eaten by predators crawling in.
Ok I know enough about the caterpillar, but it is a great example for us to consider as we all seek to “Be Digital”. Use it as a measure of how much is actually changing within your organisation, are people taking on new roles, are teams working in different ways? Are outcomes being realised incrementally faster? It isn’t easy, but big changes should never be easy, choosing to be digital brings with it, risks, challenges, emotions, learnings and a commitment that many won’t have experienced before. Hence when you are thinking about embarking on your transformation, think about what it will look like on the other side for your people, your customers and yourself. How bold will your transformation be, because at the end of your journey only you can decide whether you will choose to be or not to be digital – as likewise for any transformation that remains the ultimate question.