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Author: Meaghan Shaffer

I recently came across an article outlining the tenants of Digital Transformation (DX) and it stated that Digital Transformation should lead to metamorphic change.  Wow. That sounds intense.  No wonder the mere mention of this phrase causes people to either shut down or run.   

Here we are, once again, distilling down to its most pure intent, a technology buzzword, and in this particular case, arguably the most pervasive one in the industry. We previously tackled the phrase Modern Technology Strategy and explained buzzwords in general as a way to allow for evergreen content that is applicable to the masses; a way to simplify the complex into soundbites and good quotes.   

The question raised nearly as often as the phrase Digital Transformation is uttered, however, is…what does digital transformation mean?  I think that’s the wrong question.   

What does Digital Transformation mean to you?   

WHAT is Digital Transformation? 

Let’s jump right into the breakdown:  Transformation is defined as, “a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance.”  Metamorphic is defined as, “pertaining to or characterized by change of form.” So, if I may interpret this in a less daunting way, we are talking about a significant or noteworthy or noticeable change in form

I’m expressly reducing this phrase because so often we only acknowledge change when it happens on a large scale and that is rarely how sustainable change happens.  Grand, sudden, and immediate innovation is the unicorn of change, while lasting, digestible advancements happen incrementally. 

That kind of real-world, functional idea doesn’t make headlines, however. We live in this all or nothing space where everything must be done yesterday or we’ll be left behind – at least that has been the media message around DX over the last 5 years.  And we know this isn’t true.    Furthermore, the popular messaging implies that simply adding digital elements to your operations or re-ordering your operations to make way for new technology is digital transformation.  

However, according to Dr. Linda Hill, when interviewed by Brene Brown on her Dare to Lead Podcast, “Anything that has to do with digital tools and data – that is digital technology.  Now the transformation is when you go to implement it.”  Again, the transformation is when you go to implement it.  Let’s put a pin in that for a minute.  We’ll come back to it, though.  I promise. 

WHY Digital Transformation? 

What is the why behind Digital Transformation?  What is the actual goal?  What keeps us from going off the rails and sliding into a technology-for-the-sake-of-technology-mindset (read: buying all the shiny new toys)?   

Digital Transformation is all about client experience.  Essentially, we are working toward increased customer centricity. 

Digital Transformation is the ultimate working-with-the-end-in-mind undertaking.  To the questions above, you might have answered: to save money,  move faster and more efficiently, a better product, a more straightforward process…  All of which can be true and likely are, but what do those things have in common?  They lead to an enhanced client experience.  Client experience also includes, but is not limited to, security, communication, support, and the ability to rate and express satisfaction.  It may also be fair, depending on your industry or business model, to view your employees as customers, employee satisfaction and retention being paramount. 

Today’s consumer expects choice, immediacy, customization, and simplicity — exactly what digital tools and technology enable. 

HOW do we get there? 

If I were to ask you: What do you want your client experience to look like?  Working backwards, what is the initial change – the first building block, if you will – you can introduce to reach that experience? And is that a change your employees will also embrace?  You may feel a little bit paralyzed.  You may feel like you already need to know the answer. Not necessarily, though.  In the Dare to Lead podcast I mentioned earlier, Hill talks about the difference between leading change and leading innovation.  Leading change is already having the answer, a clear roadmap identified and defined steps. 

With innovation, however, there is no vision.  Hill visited Pixar (If ever there were a gold standard for innovation…), which follows the idea of purpose rather than vision.  You must lean into the problem to be solved without preconceived notions about how that will happen.  You start with the why, long before the how ever emerges.   

Our purpose is to solve the problem and collaboration is the method by which we will both come up with solutions as well as overall buy in. Allow the people involved directly in dealing with the problem to be part of the solutioning process.  

Gather ideas.  Ideas…ideas…ideas; some will be great, others will be not so great, but a safe environment where people feel open to sharing is crucial.  This process may take 5 minutes, or it may take 5 months depending on the complexity of the issue, possible outcomes and potential solutions.   

This takes us directly back to the implementation piece of this process.  The name of the game is authentic adoption.  You can vet everything, you can pay a premium for the best, you can test and check and be 100% correct that the digital tool or solution you purchased is the right one. And, if your employees are not bought in.  It will not work.  Harvard Business Review states, research shows when people feel agency over change, they are significantly more likely to embrace it.   

Key elements: 

– Give everyone a voice and a safe place to put forth ideas 

– Ensure your entire organization is on board with consistent communication  

– Empower your team to recommend changes and improvements 

– Foster an environment where change is embraced 

WHEN do we implement? 

Now, tomorrow and always.  Staying ahead of the curve is ideal, to be proactive, to anticipate.  That said, we know for most organizations implementation occurs when the perceived pain and risk of change becomes less than the perceived pain and risk of loss.   

For so long small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) have thought Digital Transformation only applied to the enterprise level organizations.  And why wouldn’t they? A metamorphic transformation (which we’ve hopefully debunked at this point) sounds like it requires an immense amount of resources.   

That isn’t the reality of today.  In order to stay competitive, SMBs have to keep up for two main reasons: First, today’s consumer has high expectations; if you aren’t making things more transparent, easier, and faster for them, your competitors are.  Second, if you are not protected you will be hit by a cyber-attack.  Whether you are attuned to it or not, the risk of loss in this particular area is tremendous and real.  Ransomware attacks happen every 11 seconds and 50% of small businesses impacted by a ransomware attack were not profitable within one month


Small changes create lasting, sustainable change. 

DX is equal parts technology + implementation. 

The primary driver is a better client experience. 

Aim for purpose driven leadership + collaboration. 

Be proactive – especially as it relates to cybersecurity 

So, if we make small changes, does that still count as transformation?  Yes!  In fact, often this is the only way to make a complex change of any magnitude; breaking it down into smaller tasks or stages, making it digestible and manageable.  I love the Alan Weiss quote that says, “We improve by 1% every day.  In just 70 days, you’re twice as good.” 

Again, buzzwords and phrases have intentionally ambiguous definitions.  You must determine what digital transformation means to you and your organization.  And if the idea of digital transformation continues to be off-putting or paralyzing, keep in mind, it’s possible to transition to cloud hosting, uplevel your digital tools and develop a robust cybersecurity posture, while just describing it as the evolution of the way business is done or even simply…progress. 

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