Tim Ellis
Tim Ellis 11 February 2020

How To Get Started with Digital Transformation: A Look At Change Agents and Leadership

If you are considering digital transformation you may be wondering how to get started. Digital transformation has become a key topic of conversation in the boardroom; businesses are feeling the pressure of more agile competitors who are further along the curve of digital adoption and can now deliver the customer experience (CX) the modern consumer demands.

In fact, according to research conducted by Altimeter, it’s changing customer expectations that are the main driver for digital transformation in 65% of cases, followed closely by competitive pressure at 54%.  This combined with the ever-present threat of disruption by the emerging platform business models means now is the time to act.  And making that decision to embark upon digital transformation is the first step.

Firstly, some good news.  Whilst the advances in new digital technologies may be the catalyst for change, your response to it must now be about the people. Those organisations that have created a competitive edge through digitisation alone may enjoy an advantage in the short term but their gain will be short-lived if they haven’t also undergone a digital transformation.

This is because a digital transformation is more than just a programme designed to digitise your existing business processes, it’s about transforming it to a state where it’s able to continually adapt to the demands and expectations of both your customers and the key creators of value in the business; your employees. Completing a programme of digital deployment without undergoing transformation as well runs the risk of *merely* creating the legacy systems of tomorrow.

As Lindsay Herbert, author of "Digital Transformation" says; “The real challenge of digital transformation is about putting new ways of working in place that ensure a process of continuous change and improvement, is at your company’s core.” and that is all about the people.

Now you’ve decided to get started with a digital transformation and you know that the people will be the critical part, it’s time to think about some of the people you’ll need to be successful.

If you look at your own organisation, you’ll likely discover that pockets of digital innovation are already taking place. Employees and department heads who can see what’s happening on the outside and the potential for digital technologies to deliver value to their department and to your customers are already making changes.  

Looking especially in areas of the business that have been early to invest in digital innovation like IT and Marketing you may find advocates of digital technologies who bring both passion and digital capability to your business.  Referred to as ‘change agents’ these are the people who, if they are nurtured and empowered, have the potential to trigger and become a driving force for digital transformation in your organisation.

So it is probable that the first steps of digital transformation are already taking place and that your role now is to discover and nurture these pockets of innovation and to give support to the digital change agents who have instigated them. These are the people whom Brian Solis refers to as “the unrecogniSed heroes of modern business” and whose role will become more crucial as the impetus for digital transformation accelerates.

“All digital transformation programmes are actually many different concurrently running smaller projects, tied together with a shared digital transformation vision and guided by an overseeing leadership group.” (Lindsay Herbert)

In order to bring alignment and collaboration across functional areas in the business, it is necessary to define the leadership team responsible for delivering digital transformation. Often referred to as the digital transformation steering committee, digital leadership team or workgroup. It is important that this team has executive sponsorship and access to the financial and human resources required to deliver on the task.

Indeed, as Lindsay goes on to say; “It is rare for a digital transformation to start from the top….  any progress made will not be sustainable if it is not adopted across the company… something that takes the power, resources and influence held only by the person or people ultimately in charge”.

This authority is conferred by the board to the digital transformation team who may collectively or as led by a sole change agent, programme director or head of transformation be responsible for driving forward the digital transformation. Whether this leadership is provided by a CMO, CDO or as is increasingly the case the CIO (Brian Solis) this pivotal role requires some very special attributes to be successful.

Lindsay describes them as the five Cs of successful change agents. They are:

Compelling – this is a leadership and consensus-building role that requires presence, gravitas and the ability to inspire others.

Connected – to get things done it’s important to know the right experts, stakeholders and influencers both outside and inside the organisation.

Current – they must understand the competitive environment, the tools available to them and user cases they can evidence to drive change within the company.

Creative – they should be able to think creatively to solve big problems, overcome barriers and objections and be able to devise brand new solutions.

Committed – digital transformation is a process for discovering better ways of doing things validated by continual iteration, trial and error and all in an environment of constant change both internally and externally. It will take years to succeed and so it’s important to commit to seeing the change through to completion.

It is vital to the success of the digital transformation of your business that you have the right people in your leadership team who are able to understand and deliver it for the long term. Certain aspects and expertise can be brought in by consultants and external suppliers but if you don’t have someone already on the team then you’ll need to make an external hire.

It is an eclectic mix of skills that are required to do something that is entirely new so choose your people well, pay handsomely and provide all of the support you can to help drive the changes through. Digital transformation is a portfolio of change right across the business that will, through innovation, trial and error and continual iterations see it emerge with the agility required to survive in this new era of exponential change.


Digital Transformation: Build your Organization’s Future for the Innovation Age ~ Lindsay Herbert, Bloomsbury
The 2017 State of Digital Transformation – Brian Solis – Altimeter
The Digital Change Agent’s Manifesto – Brian Solis – Altimeter

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