Aligning Your Company in the Age of Digital Transformation

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As if it weren’t already a tough enough task to strategically align a company, the technological landscape wrought by digital transformation forces leadership to dramatically rethink what a company looks like today.

In a recent article from Harvard Business Review, Jonathan Trevor, an associate professor of management practice, observed the following:

Multiple different individuals and groups are responsible for different components of the value chain that makes up their company’s design, and they are often not as joined up as they should be. All too often, individual leaders seek—indeed are incentivized—to protect and optimize their own domains, and find themselves locked in energy-sapping internal turf wars, rather than working with peers to align and improve across the entire enterprise.

Whether or not company leaders are as protective as Trevor posits in his article, there are several factors in the preceding paragraph that anyone has encountered at least once. The idea behind turf wars, domain protection, and siloed leadership is that, fundamentally, businesses have a bottom line, and if that bottom line is not met, leaders are scrutinized to find the weak link. It’s a symptom of fear, and it’s an active barrier to strategic alignment.

Adding to the already existing difficulty of achieving alignment is the encroaching pressure of digital transformation on industries that have traditionally been able to function without modernizing their tech. For many companies, digital transformation can exacerbate the very issues that Trevor points out above. In fact, fear of the unknown (digital transformation) can cause some leaders to double down on the turf protection. This can lead to headaches, finger-pointing, poor execution and a generally dismal effect on business.

It doesn’t need to be like that.

Digital transformation, while a bit nebulous in definition, has its roots in the simple digitization of business processes. Whether that is something as simple as creating a database or using RF tracking technology, or as complex as machine learning and predictive analytics, the act of using technology and data to create business value is digital transformation.

Fundamentally, if a business strays too far from its identity, or is unsure of its identity to begin with, digital transformation will be a disruptiveand potentially destructivealien force. Good leaders understand that the potential for internal disruption is the opportune moment to pull together and forge an even stronger identity.

To do this, leaders must understand that the goal of digital transformation is not to create more services. Unless it is a truly leading-edge company, the chances are that there are already several competitors doing the same thing. This is a sure death-by-features-and-functions endeavor: no one wants to talk about that. The goal of digital transformation is to create better business value in the modern market. That comes with elements of customization, efficiency, data, and analytics, among other things.

No matter the size of the company, strategically aligning all facets is as simple as laying down the edict: we are creating better value for our users/customers, and all our transformative actions will be directed accordingly.

It can, and will, feel daunting at times. We read constantly, that the “tech space is rapidly changing,” but in that cliché lies truth. We’re right on the cusp of massive changes, and digital transformation is the first step. Companies need to question everything about the status quo:

  • If someone offers you something big and inflexible, ask: Why is it big and inflexible?
  • If someone offers you a solution that isn’t scalable, ask: Why isn’t this scalable?
  • If someone offers you software that doesn’t have an API, ask: How do I get my data, and, more importantly, how do I customize it?

Transformation is a chance to find stronger strategic, internal alignment in the process. Don’t settle for anything less than what you need not only now, but in the future.