Dream Big, Pitch Small: The new rule of thumb for getting digital transformation started

Published 7 October 2019 by Caroline Koktvedgaard

Digital transformation forces companies to consider how to change themselves from the inside out. The process may seem intimidating – but if you start small, it can be tackled in incremental steps.

 

It’s true that the proliferation of new channels and an accompanying explosion of technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality and data mining have presented brands with ways to meet their customers in a personalised manner. 

And it’s also true that brands ignoring such opportunities risk losing relevance to customers whose expectations of faster, better digital experiences are hiked by the day. 

However, since the phrase “digital transformation” was coined, the narrative around it has often strayed beyond persuasive, and instead become intimidating:

“Transform now or risk becoming obsolete...” 

“Don’t get left behind...” 

“Do or die!” 

 

Here’s the problem with intimidating messaging

While this is meant to encourage action, it actually does the opposite. In fact, executives and boardrooms around the world are suffering from digital transformation fatigue

The very phrase “digital transformation” offers much in the way of promise, but little in the way of tangible, instructional next steps. How should an individual (or even a department) even start framing the required process, the timeline or the outcomes of something as broad and all-encompassing as “transforming” an enterprise business? 

 

What even is “digital transformation”?

A survey from Cherwell Software on a pool of 500 businesses with 50 or more employees found that workers (including executives) either don’t know what digital transformation is or think it “has something to do with transforming the office into a paperless environment.” 

So how do you pitch such a large project, and get buy-in and resources, if it’s so notoriously difficult to understand, let alone explain or measure? 

The answer, say those that have succeeded, is to transform what’s meant by digital transformation: from a monstrously large, inexplicably vague and seemingly endless task into small, visible steps that are easy to understand. 

In other words: hold on to your big dreams of full digital transformation, but pitch it in small enough increments for everyone to find valuable and get behind. 

 

KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid

Those of us who are familiar with the old advertising adage, KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid), may already be nodding in agreement.

In fact, a recent CIO article described this not-so-new approach as scaling back “Big Bang change rhetoric” in favour of “a more iterative approach to innovation, a shift to product management, and renewed efforts around operational efficiency.” 

The article also argues that boardroom appetite for practical improvements will trump “corporate inertia” currently caused by over-lofty ambitions for big change in 2019.

Top Gartner analyst Mary Mesaglio agrees: “Your people are feeling transformation fatigue. They can’t handle any more change coming at them, or at least they think they can’t.” Mesaglio advocates transforming in “nudges, prods and hacks” which can be enacted immediately and also have an outsized impact. 

 

How to arm yourself for a digital future

Many leaders in the field are translating what Mesaglio calls “nudges, prods and hacks” as making sure their people are sufficiently equipped to take their business into a digitally transformed future. 

In an interview with Circus Street, Stuart Garvie, CEO of GroupM Canada said: “This phrase digital transformation lives with us every day and we need to be ahead of it. We’re setting up a program to help our people be more equipped to talk across the board with our clients and our suppliers about the new world we live in.” 

In another interview, Matt Pritchard, VP of Digital Marketing at Campbell’s, describes one of the greatest challenges faced by corporations: ensuring the talent base “understands the digital arena”. 

“People capability", says Pritchard, “is a cornerstone of a company’s success but not easy to achieve. With Circus Street we found a partner to help us tailor their product to our audience and develop tools which are right for our needs. Critically we can map our skills gap to ensure we focus our team on the things that will make a difference to them.” 

 

Tackling disruption at a global level

Digital transformation, already a big, borderless and tenuous challenge to get your hands around, becomes harder when you’re trying to affect it across multiple markets. 

Another of our big global clients, Unilever, keeps upskilling at the forefront of their employee agenda. But, asks US Director of Marketing Operations Jennifer Galichon: “How do you continue building marketing capability across a global group of marketers in 80 countries, instilling a learning culture that’s exciting and giving them content that’s meaningful?” 

 

Doing digital transformation right

Galichon and Unilever work with Circus Street to customise digital learning content so it is relevant to people in different functions and across different levels of seniority. 

“The learning environment is engaging,” she said of Circus Street. “It is data driven. As an organisation we know from a management perspective, not only when people have logged in and started their learning process but we can see their progress. It lets us know that people are actually learning and we can see them apply it on the job.” 

Keeping people upskilled and engaged in learning means you’re doing digital transformation even before a big digital transformation project gets started. 

This approach makes digital transformation less daunting, keeps everyone motivated and focused, and means businesses can actually transform – rather than simply talk about it. 

 

Ready to get started?

Circus Street’s courses ensure companies, enterprises and corporates are ready to transform. 

We can help you identify the correct first step for your business: from upgrading the digital capability of your employees, to building their confidence in engaging with customers not just as data, but as human beings with needs. 

To find out how Circus Street has empowered other companies to start their digital transformation process, see our testimonials page. Or sign up for a free trial of our lessons to see how we can help drive the digital capability of your own team.


To find out more, visit www.circusstreet.com.

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