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1. Be clear about your organisation’s purpose

Digital transformation challenges the essence of every organisation and its ability to compete in a market that is being profoundly changed by rapidly evolving societal expectations, enabled by advances in digital technology. This creates many challenges for incumbent leadership teams. Leaders must be clear about their organisation’s purpose. Without this clarity, the result is often a series of digitally enabled, small change initiatives that are not integrated, joined nor delivering against an overarching strategy. In this context , it is widely reported that 70% of digital transformations fail.

Key takeaway: Organisations with a strong sense of purpose are more effective at digital transformation.

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1.	Be clear about your organisation’s purpose

2. Assess your digital maturity

Every organisation should define what it means by digital transformation. Armed with a common language and understanding of digital transformation, leaders should assess their organisation’s digital maturity. In addition to the traditional change areas of people, process and technology, leaders should also measure digital maturity across strategy and customer experience. It is also pivotal to understand the organisation’s digital maturity relative to customers, existing competitors and would-be market disruptors. If your existing and would-be competitors are more digitally mature, and are providing the experience your customers expect, your organisation is living on borrowed time. Leaders should be realistic about their starting point.

Key takeaway: Understanding digital maturity enables organisations to improve their competitiveness.

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2.	Assess your digital maturity

3. Focus on the how to transform your organisation

Digital transformation is as much about culture and mindset as it is about technology. Effective communication, understanding of customer journeys, designing end-to-end processes, encouraging employee collaboration, stimulating innovation, and creating insights from existing data are all in the scope of leadership. While digitalisation can create new value, with digital transformation we are looking to strategically reinvent our organisations for the future. Our focus must be on how to transform. This requires clarity of purpose, coupled with an understanding of current and future customer needs. With this, leadership can determine the organisation’s future business model, requisite skillsets and overall transformation plan. This will inform the organisation of its technology requirements, not the other way around.

Key takeaway: Future-focused leaders focus on the 'how' to enact transformation projects.

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3.	Focus on the how to transform your organisation

4. Ensure alignment and buy-in at every level

Leaders should collectively own and proactively show evidence of their collective commitment to the organisation’s vision and digital transformation plan. For digital transformation to succeed, everyone should understand what is required and what the proposed digital transformation will mean for customers, other stakeholders and employees alike. Digital transformation is not a one-off presentation to all employees. It requires effective and continuous communication and genuine engagement and involvement. Increasingly, it requires providing opportunities for re-skilling to equip employees to both embrace change and contribute effectively.

Key takeaway: Leadership sets the tone and advocates commitment to the organisation’s future vision.

Listen to 'Developing a Strategic HR Vision with Jon Ingham' podcast
4. Ensure alignment and buy-in at every level

5. Stay the course: Change starts at the top

Leaders must embrace responsibility for digital transformation and demonstrate through their collective actions that they are committed to its success. This necessitates re-thinking how they act and govern, including demonstrating that digital transformation is front and centre in terms of priorities. Leaders should have clarity on their digital transformation roadmap. They should also revisit key performance indicators and metrics to create visibility of momentum. For digital transformation to flourish, a growth mindset, coupled with an open culture, is needed. It also requires a commitment from leadership to develop their own skills, and learn from younger digital native employees, to successfully lead their organisations digital transformation.

Key takeaway: Leadership should demonstrate, through their actions, that digital transformation matters.

Read 'Finding the winning mix for hybrid work' by Ian Kierans
5.	Stay the course: Change starts at the top

About the Author

Tony Moroney is a digital transformation consultant, a member of the Associate Faculty at the IMI and a co-founder of the Digital Transformation Lab @UCC. He is the Programme Director for the Professional Diploma in Digital Leadership. 

Tim O'Reilly
"Every industry and every organisation will have to transform itself in the next few years. What is coming at us is bigger than the original internet and you need to understand it, get on board with it and figure out how to transform your business." - Tim O'Reilly, Founder and CEO, O'Reilly Media
Tim O'Reilly
Founder and CEO, O'Reilly Media

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If you're interested in purpose-led leadership, you may also be interested in our 'Executive Series' of programmes for senior leaders.