The 5 Biggest Reasons Digital Transformations Fail

2020 made Digital Transformation unavoidable. If you worked in an office and found yourself now working from home, you played your part in your company’s Transformation initiatives. 

Success emboldens us and it is likely that you’ve entered 2021 expecting a further and more rapid overhaul of the processes and technologies of your company.  But some of these efforts may not meet the success to which you aspire. 

How can you increase your odds of success? Start by avoiding these common pitfalls that can stymie transformation efforts. Here are the Top 5 reasons transformation initiatives fail:

  1. “I Have The Best People” (Don’t Assume You Have The Right People)

We agree. You have a wonderful staff and amazing talent. But do you have the right talent? 

Successful companies often have established processes that keyed the companies’ successes. Let’s call this “the way”. The way was a success. And the people that made and enabled the way rightfully had confidence in their collectively capabilities. So, naturally, when it is time to change the way, there is an assumption that the great people that enabled your success in the past will enable it in the future. That confidence can be a fatal transformation mistake. 

Let’s be clear – this is not a call for “Out with the old, in with the new!” Rather, it is recognition that relying solely on your capable people is a common blind spot. 

Transformation requires an infusion of new ideas, new capabilities and new attitudes. Expertise in “the way” is required to change, but so is expertise in “the new way”. If you are seeking a different future, infuse your company with talent that has no ties to past successes and has done transformation before. 

With this recommendation, we may be accused of talking our own book. You’re right. We are. This is why consultants can be incredibly valuable to successful transformation. We provide an infusion of the vision, talents and skills that you may not have in house. 

  1. “I Hired The Most Expensive Consultants” (Don’t Assume Size + Expense = Success)

You listened to the point above and brought in outside talent. Good job! 

Maybe you hired one of the megas in the space – assuming size means experience means excellence. But this is another common pitfall. The best transformation talent often has deep domain expertise. While you may have hired a firm with a history of transformation, you should know the talent to be deployed on your transformation initiative. Have they done it before in an organization like yours? Do they bring a clear playbook that works for your organization?  

There are lots of excellent niche firms with deep domain expertise. Find one to work with you on your initiative and your chances of success multiply. 

  1. “Everyone Knows What We’re Doing” (You Did Not Articulate A Vision)

This goes hand in hand with governance below. Bottom line -- You must document the who, what, where, when, how and why of the transformation. C-suite leaders are multi-year visionaries. They need your vision to emphasize and reinforce its importance. If you don’t have a clear, documented vision from the start, you will find yourself constantly selling and re-selling the importance of your efforts throughout the organization. 

  1. “We don’t need permission…” (Failure to Establish Governance)

This may be true. Your CEO may have established your authority to transform the company. You may have been given a hefty budget and your colleagues across the firm may know you as the company’s transformation leader. All that said, your transformation can’t be successful without the buy-in of the transformed. 

No one wants transformation to be thrust upon them. No one wants to be told their processes and approach by someone without the subject matter expertise they have. They want to be full participants, maybe even “co-owners” of the transformation. You want that too. 

Establishing and maintaining governance is hard and time-consuming, but it’s imperative. You must identify your stakeholders early and sell them on the vision, so they will, in turn, sell your vision to their teams. As the program begins you must then establish shared success criteria, metrics, timelines and project plans so that you have the full participation of the governed. Regular communication is essential as is a mechanism for raising issues and collectively working through roadblocks. 

Nobody said successful change was easy but without good governance it’s simply not possible. 

  1. “If we build it, they will come” (You Underfunded Change Management)

Building new software is not transformation. It’s building new software. Transformation requires not just a change in technology but a transformation of people and processes as well. When I hear a story about a failed transformation, I always ask about the approach to change management. 

  • Was the vision widely shared before any new software appeared?
  • Were change management experts a part of the initiative?
  • Did the organization create training materials to support the new software?
  • Did it create a project plan that included regular training of and communication tothe impacted teams?
  • Was there a mechanism for continued support and feedback

To our surprise, companies repeatedly starve their transformation efforts of change management funding and resource. It’s a colossal error and one that almost guarantees your objectives will not be realized.