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Digital Transformation is a Leadership Issue, Not a Technology Issue

For over a decade, the focus of my consulting in our industry has been helping businesses punch through and transform their companies digitally. While this is often thought of as some kind of top-down push from investors, the board, or the Chief Executive Officer, you might be surprised to find that the company leadership lacks the experience and skill to push digital transformation. I’m often hired by leadership to assist a company digitally transform – and it just happens to start with sales and marketing opportunities because that’s where incredible results can be realized quickly.

As declines in traditional channels continue and a plethora of affordable digital media strategies have risen, companies often struggle to make the shift. Legacy mindsets and legacy systems prevail, with analytics and direction lacking. By utilizing an agile process, I’m able to present leaders with their digital marketing maturity within their industry, among their competitors, and with respect to their customers. That evidence provides clarity that we need to transform the business. Once we have buy-in, we head out on a journey to transform their business.

I’m consistently surprised that the employees are ready to learn and charge… but it’s often management and leadership that keep hitting the breaks. Even when they realize that the alternative to digital transformation and agility is extinction, they push back for fear of change.

Poor top-down communication and a lack of transformation leadership are significant problems that inhibit progress toward transformation.

According to the latest study from Nintex, digital transformation isn’t as much a technology issue as it is a talent issue. It’s why consultants like myself are in high demand right now. While companies have incredible talent internal, that talent isn’t often exposed to new methods, platforms, media and methodology. Static processes often settle in with layers of management ensuring its stability… which may very well be hindering what’s actually needed.

  • Only 47% of line of business employees are even aware of what digital transformation is – let alone whether their company
    has a plan to address/achieve digital transformation.
  • 67% of managers know what digital transformation is compared to only 27% of non-managers.
  • Despite 89% of decision-makers saying they have a designated transformation lead, there’s no one person who emerges as the clear leader across companies.
  • The significant exception to the awareness gap is IT line of business workers, 89% of whom know what digital transformation is.

In our discussions with IT leaders on our Dell Luminaries podcast, we see the difference strong leadership is making to organizations. These organizations never settle for stability. The operating culture of these organizations – many of them international companies with tens of thousands of employees – is that continuous change is the norm.

The study Nintex study supports this. Specific to sales organization, the study reveals:

  • 60% of sales pros have no idea what digital transformation even is
  • 40% of sales professionals believe more than one-fifth of their job can be automated
  • 74% believe some aspect of their job can be automated.

The organizations they work for lack the leadership on how to effect transformation by implementing artificial intelligence and automation to bridge the gap. Sadly, the study also reveals that 17% of sales pros aren’t even involved in digital transformation discussions with 12 percent having limited involvement.

Digital Transformation is No Longer Risky

Today’s digital transformation isn’t even risky compared to a decade ago. With consumer’s digital behavior becoming more predictable and the number of affordable platforms expanding, companies don’t have to make the enormous capital investments they used to have to make just a few years go.

Case in point is a company I’m assisting with digital signage. A vendor came in with an enormous quote that would have taken months to recoup, if they even could. It required a proprietary system that was owned and maintained by the vendor, requiring both a subscription to their platform and purchase of their proprietary hardware. The company contacted me and asked me for assistance so I reached out to my network.

Recommended by a partner, I found a solution that utilized AppleTVs and HDTVs off the shelf and then ran an application that cost just $14/mo per screen – Kitcast. By not having to make enormous capital investments and utilizing off-the-shelf solutions, the company is going to recoup the costs almost as soon as the system is live. And that’s including my consultation fees!

In reviewing the case of Sears’ recent bankruptcy, I think this is absolutely what happened. Everyone internal understood that the company needed transformed, but they lacked the leadership to make it happen. Stability and status-quo had set in over the decades and middle management feared change. That fear and inability to adapt led to their inevitable demise.

Digital Transformation Is Unnecessarily Feared By Employees

The reason line of business employees aren’t getting the memo about transformation efforts – and have unfounded job fears as a result – is that there’s no clear leader behind transformation efforts. Nintex found a lack of consensus about who should lead digital transformation efforts within an organization.

As a result of their lack of awareness, line of business employees are more likely to view their company’s transformation and automation efforts as endangering their jobs, even though this is not the case. Nearly one-third of employees are worried the use of intelligent capabilities will endanger their jobs. Yet, the vast majority of jobs won’t go away as a result of intelligent process automation.

Within the marketing and sales departments I work with, companies have already shaved down their resources to a minimum. By investing in digital transformation, there’s not a risk of elimination, there’s the opportunity to utilize your talent more effectively. Unleashing the creativity and ingenuity of your sales and marketing teams is ultimately the top benefit of digital transformation!

Download The State of Intelligent Process Automation Study

Douglas Karr

Douglas Karr is the founder of the Martech Zone and a recognized expert on digital transformation. Douglas has helped start several successful MarTech startups, has assisted in the due diligence of over $5 bil in Martech acquisitions and investments, and continues to launch his own platforms and services. He's a co-founder of Highbridge, a digital transformation consulting firm. Douglas is also a published author of a Dummie's guide and a business leadership book.

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