Is there such a thing as Digital Transformation…really?

You have a kick ‘A’ digital strategy, you are noted as being a digital leader, you have a budget, a digital hub, some awesome tech being installed…but are you really happy with the results so far…?

Digital Transformation is touted as the solution to a burning platform – the maturity of technology against the painful inability of businesses to keep up with and take advantage of this constant maturity of technology.

In a previous blog I spoke about the different types of digital transformation as seen by ourselves and colleagues in the field. In addition to this, vendor type content abounds talking to digital transformation all focusing on their area of business.

But what does Digital Transformation really mean in terms of delivery and outputs? It’s safe to say that for the most part Digital Transformation has the output of updated technology within an organisation that ranges from a complete technology redesign to a move from legacy to cloud, to a specific new technology implementation (CRM for example) all the way through to perhaps a move to provide mobile devices to the workforce. Each one of these examples can and does get described as Digital Transformation – it’s just really transformation. In terms of delivery there is process redesign that is often included, some change management that is sometimes included, some skills training that is sometimes included and of course the technology change programme that is implemented.

The other, most written about aspect of Digital Transformation is that which involved service or product shift or redesign: shifting what you already do or have to a new technology channel or platform – redesigning what you are doing to achieve a better outcome. This type of Digital Transformation in terms of delivery includes customer/service redesign, technology implementation.

Digital Transformation can be whatever you want it to be, from building a website to complete business wide Digital Transformation that is an inside-out approach. People will tell you that you are right, people will tell you that you are wrong, but who cares. Just get change happening and you’ll be moving in the right direction, building a business case to do more and be bolder over time.

But still customers feel unfulfilled, engagement levels are usually lower than anticipated, change continues to be a hard slog, projects and programmes continue to fail. WHY?

Because we got it all wrong. Thinking that Digital was all about technology and process we’ve built up the global market of digital transformation around these two key elements, with one glaringly obvious omission – the people. Yeah a few skills here and there and a change management programme to support your shiny new tech or redesigned process might not go a miss – but still, that niggling feeling of something else being missing just keeps rearing its ugly head.

People? Mindset? Culture? – isn’t that about being human beings, emotions, feelings, ideas? That’s not got anything to do with business right?


So, our direction as a company has led us to understand that we are not in the business of digital transformation, we are indeed in the business of people centred transformation.

Realising that what people think, how people behave and the skills and competencies they possess are far more important to any successful transformation programme – digital or otherwise. Yet time and time again, any focus on people as thinking, feeling, reacting human beings gets lost in a shroud of mystery and considerations that belong in the world of 60s psychedelic liberation not in the world of process-driven businesses.

We believe that people-centred transformation is the only transformation that is needed. But it needs to remain being people-centred from start to finish and not start with a people focus then revert to process and technology projects as a result.

If we understand what people think, how they behave and the skills they possess we can add context and relevance to why our business is in the situation it is in. why our shiny new technology doesn’t have much engagement or why our amazing new product isn’t liked by anyone.

People-centred transformation is the focus on behaviours and mindset first. Understanding, fostering and supporting the right behaviours and mindset (across worker, leader, customer, partner, supplier and crowd) will give you everything you need to start to move your business whether it’s a speedboat or a Titanic – it will shift, I promise you.

So, do we ditch the process re-engineering, change management, technology transformation efforts and expertise – of course not, I’m not an idiot! People-centred transformation is your mandated parallel to anything that involves change or transformation. However, if you want to start what you think is a digital transformation don’t. Build a people centred transformation programme and do it right.

Back in 2014 we talked about the importance of people, culture and connectedness when making organisations adaptive and transformative. Our message is still the same and even stronger today than ever before: people must be at the centre of all change and transformation. For just as we noted back then, even Andy Warhol said that it’s not time that changes things it’s people…