Creating a Digital Transformation Plan of Action: A Guide for Leaders

Digital transformation plan

Built on a foundation of guiding principles, a digital transformation plan of action includes nine main initiatives that organizational leaders should take. Beginning with educating themselves to increase their own digital competencies, these initiatives include soliciting input from key stakeholders, revising the organization’s mission, business model, and offerings, leveraging technology to enhance internal processes, and ensuring the digital literacy of their workforce.

In earlier SMART Articles, I discussed the evolutionary phases in becoming a digital organization, described how all business functions are being transformed by social and digital technologies, articulated the primary barriers to digital engagement, and offered a digital transformation framework.

This article extends those pieces by proposing a digital transformation plan of action that will enable organizational leaders to adapt to Digital Era realities and ensure their organizations and employees will not just survive, but thrive.

Guiding Principles for Moving Forward

In developing a digital transformation plan of action, senior executives and other leaders should be guided by notions like the following:

  • Digital transformation is a marathon, not a sprint – it will take a long time to become fully transformed
  • The approach should be strategic and integrated – specific tactics and initiatives should clearly fit into the whole (and with each other) rather than be stand-alone efforts
  • It’s important to proceed with mindful flexibility – having a clear sense of the ultimate objective and letting that guide decisions must be balanced with tolerance for ambiguity and chaos and the willingness and ability to change course when circumstances dictate
  • Keeping long-term goals in mind, shorter-term efforts can be pursued using a crawl-walk-run approach – not being able to do it all doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything
  • Digital transformation requires leadership as well as followership – benchmarking and best practices are both important, but the “answers” are constantly evolving; there is also a need and opportunity to blaze trails, create new markets, and become first movers

For more guiding principles, check out the Digital Era Leadership archive of SMART Articles.

9 Key Initiatives

With principles like the foregoing in mind, senior executives and other leaders should develop a digital transformation plan of action that incorporates initiatives like the following:

Have senior managers and key staff participate in a Digital Transformation Masterclass. The objective of this short, intensive course would be to provide an overview of significant Digital Era trends and their impact on economies, industries, businesses, leadership, organizational functions and dynamics, and individual professions and careers. This course should be mandatory, even those who consider themselves to be digitally savvy. Ideally, senior staff will go through the course together; doing so will create a stronger foundation for future initiatives.

Solicit input from customers, partners, advisors, and employees at all levels. Armed with a general sense of the current and future state of business in the Digital Era, organizational leaders can then engage in rich dialogue with key constituencies about what they see as the biggest challenges, opportunities, threats, and needs, and how the organization can prepare for and address them.

Conduct benchmarking and other market analyses. Focusing on a small set of competitors and aspirational businesses, leaders can identify specific digital transformation efforts and ascertain prevailing best practices. Given that many organizations aren’t very far in their own digital transformation journeys, however, this assessment may require focusing on businesses that are at the leading edge and serving as first movers.

It may also be worthwhile to conduct a comparable analysis for partnering firms, organizations in related but non-competitive industries, and/or those in the organization’s supply and service chains. This analysis will complement the feedback previously received from key constituencies.

Review and revise the organization’s mission, vision, and strategic goals. Using the feedback received from key constituencies along with the benchmarking and market assessment results, leaders should determine whether and how these aspects of their operating mission should be updated to reflect how they want to be perceived as Digital Era leaders, and the corresponding initiatives they want to pursue.

Review and revise business models and product/service offerings. As an extension of their revised strategic commitments, leaders should evaluate their current approaches to generating revenue to determine how they can and should be updated to incorporate the applications and implications of social and digital technologies. In addition to pursuing new markets and generating new revenue streams, it’s critical to fully integrate Digital Era realities into existing offerings in which they’re likely to have an impact, including traditional products and services.

Leverage technology to enhance operational practices, communication and collaboration. Digital transformation doesn’t just involve the top line – it should also impact the bottom line by increasing the efficiency and effectiveness with which employees communicate and collaborate with each other, as well as with business partners and other key external stakeholders. The best way to do this is to implement a private social network to replace email and other sub-optimal communication platforms and channels.

Many organizations already have the tools and platforms in place to enable enhanced digital communication (e.g., Sharepoint, Yammer), but their implementation and utilization efforts have not been very successful to date. Leaders must remember that acquiring and implementing the software is just one step. Effective deployment and change management processes, combined with updated approaches to internal governance, are critical to achieve a return on their financial investment.

Provide ongoing digital literacy training and education. One of the clearest impacts of evolving social and digital technologies is that all employees are becoming tech workers. Digital transformation requires a digitally competent and literate workforce. Business leaders should ensure that both they and their employees have the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to be successful in digitally-redefined roles. Rather than relying on LIY (Learn It Yourself) approaches, which are unreliable and often ineffective, this may require formal training programs and ongoing education.

Update performance management expectations to reflect the emphasis on digital transformation. Recognizing that people focus on the activities for which they get evaluated and rewarded, leadership must revise job descriptions and related performance management practices to reflect new expectations regarding digital expertise and engagement.

Develop a plan for continuous learning and innovation. Not only is digital transformation a marathon, it’s a “race” that never ends. Given that, leaders must ensure that they and their employees maintain a strong commitment to and expertise in relevant social and digital technologies and their impact on markets, customers, products and services, and operations.

Conclusion

Is this a big undertaking? Absolutely. That’s why it’s important to remember that it’s a marathon not a sprint, and to move forward with a crawl-walk-run approach guided by an integrated, holistic strategy.

As always I welcome your thoughts on my proposed digital transformation plan of action. How important do you think it is for organizations to integrate Digital Era realities into their strategies, business models, products and services, and operational practices? What do you consider the most important areas for business leaders to focus on? What other principles should guide their efforts? How critical is it for them to have a plan of action? How soon should they get started?

Send this to friend