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Digital transformation is about people, not technology

Covid-19 has dramatically accelerated the technology adoption across all industries, with 77 percent of CEOs reporting that the pandemic sped up their companies’ digital transformation plans.

Historically, success rates for digital transformation efforts have been low. As digital transformation involves a complete overhaul of an organisation’s ways of working, it’s no surprise that many transformation projects aren’t completed on time or within budget, or simply fail. And while the standard approach of many organisations would be to boost headcount and budget, for digital transformation to truly succeed, it needs to happen at the very top.

The case for change

Recent research from Accenture shows that in the three years prior to 2018, organisations who led their industry in digital technology adoption grew two times faster than laggards. What’s more, today they are growing five times faster, meaning that the risk is no longer about getting left behind, but being eliminated altogether.

In addition to cutting costs, creating efficiencies and moving faster with greater agility, digital tools can solve complex problems and make a more meaningful impact. But a successful digital transformation can be hard to predict or plan, and if people lack the right mindset to change and the current organisational practices are flawed, digital transformation will simply magnify those flaws.

Digital transformation starts with people. Because even the best technology will go to waste without the right processes, culture, or talent in place. Culture is an important pillar of any change initiative that cannot be neglected, and leaders play an important role in leading an innovative and creative culture that can reinforce technology-driven strategic shifts, because nothing changes unless people’s behaviour changes.

The most digital-ready organisations have a committed leadership team that converts abstract opportunities into specific and measurable business cases with concrete timelines, meaningful KPIs and sufficient resources. Digital transformations often start strong at the top; however, they lose momentum as they cascade to the frontline and it’s the leaders role to convert business cases into an inspirational message that resonates with the entire organisation -- and role model it.

Collaborate to tranform

Without employee advocacy, the digital transformation battle is lost upfront and therefore the first thing that every transformation must confront is resistance. In many cases failure rate can be traced back to a lack of genuine organisation-wide collaboration as one of the biggest challenges of digital transformation is convincing to engage. It’s also not uncommon for the task of implementing change falling to one team and falling flat as a result.

Change leaders can articulate the vision, but it’s often difficult for people to understand the potential enough to overcome their innate bias for loss aversion as many will need to see the idea achieve some success before they are willing to buy in. For digital transformation to succeed, leaders must inspire and empower their teams to reimagine their work environment, customer needs, product offering, and even the purpose of the organisation.

70 percent of digital transformation initiatives fall short of their objectives and often their failure is a direct consequence of poor change leadership. At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills through to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at


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