Digital Transformation Fails: Why Your Leader Could be The Problem
August 16, 2019 | Design Thinking
by ExperiencePoint

Digital Transformation Fails: Why Your Leader Could be The Problem

If your digital transformation effort is floundering, it could be because you put the wrong person in charge. According to a Harvard Business Review article published in August, the obvious choice for these roles isn’t always the best choice.

The authors — two professors from global business school INSEAD, and a digital consultant — explain how you might be doing it wrong.

In the article, they lay out a real-world case study of a company launching a digital transformation and consider three candidates to lead it: a business insider who is not digitally savvy; a digital guru who led a recent successful expansion project at another big tech firm; a former Big Four consultant with digital experience.

Get Back to Business

Like most business leaders, the company chose candidate #2, the digital guru with a history of success in related efforts. It’s an obvious choice, and looks good in the beginning. She does a great job of winning over engineers, building dedicated teams and reinventing workflows. But she fails to address the big unnamed obstacles — executives who aren’t willing to abandon their old business models or to align digital activities with the rest of the business.

The result: she fails miserably — outraging existing customers and causing digital sales to fall flat.

Instead, the authors suggest that the business leader would be the most successful of the three candidates. The company should have chosen the business insider whose digital knowledge is limited.

Why is she the right choice? Because, in the end, a digital transformation isn’t about the technology; it’s about change. When the unnamed company tried again with the business insider (who initially declined the offer but eventually agreed), she had a much higher success rate.

A Design Thinking Approach

One of the major differences in her approach was that she used design thinking to transform. She began by spending time with senior executives and retail partners to understand and empathize with their needs, pricing strategies and distribution channels. Using those insights, she redesigned the digital strategy, introduced training for sales staff and leadership on  digital initiatives as a means to achieve business goals and met with retailers to identify unique strategies that would benefit them all.

This story isn’t an anomaly. The authors note that choosing insiders with little digital experience to lead digital initiatives succeeded about 80-percent of the time in the 50 cases they studied because “digital transformation is often less about a radical rethinking of the business than about learning how to use digital tools to better serve customers.”

Remember, you can always hire digital experts to build the right solutions, but first you need someone with the business savvy to know which solutions to build.


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