PART 7 | Digital Transformation Strategy: A CEO Perspective

Digital Transformation Strategy: ​A CEO Perspective

Part 7 | Who led ​Digital Transformation ​within ​your Organisation?

Digital Transformation Strategy 5 Key Lessons

"Yes, technology plays an extremely important part, but it is the intent and purpose of the organisation that will drive the associated digital transformation not the technology."

- ​​​Lize Moldenhauer-

We recently hosted a Facebook Live event where we posed the question: Who led your Digital Transformation Strategy?


B: Chief Technology Officer (CTO) or

C: Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

Before I get into the dialogue associated with the question,  I think it is prudent to unpack what is meant by Digital Transformation. From my perspective, ‘it is a foundational shift in how organisations deliver value to its customer or end-user’. This is easier said than done. What shift? What value?

Let’s start with value.

Stephen Covey’s bestselling book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People states: To begin with the end in mind! What is the value you want to create for the customer or end-user, in other words, have the end in mind: who is the person that will utilise the service or solution? And to truly understand this, we need to have an intimate understanding of consumer behaviour and needs. We need to be careful however not to fall into the trap of focusing too closely on being cutting-edge and relevant that we place most of our effort in technology solutions that don’t meet the consumer or end user's needs.

Organisations need to figure out what digital transformation means for their business and what their goals are before they go throwing a bunch of new technologies at poorly defined problems – this is the shift. Herein lies the golden thread of Digital Transformation – it is not so much about technology as it is about strategy. Yes, technology plays an extremely important part, but it is the intent and purpose of the organisation that will drive the associated digital transformation not the technology.

In the Wall Street Journal: Businesses Predict Digital Transformation to be Biggest Risk Factor in 2019, “Organisations need to gear up and align the culture, people, processes and intelligence gathering to embrace this rapidly changing environment.” said Protiviti Managing Director, Jim DeLoach.  I believe that this is still the reality. Businesses are scrambling, globally, to cope with the disruptive effect of COVID-19. The pandemic has far-reaching implications and has resulted in business survival tactics through digital “crisis” transformation.

This brings me back to the initial question: we are finding an extensive amount of businesses seeking survival through alternative strategies and therefore, adapt their services and solutions to a digital platform. This implies that Covid-19 (in some businesses) has led the Digital Transformation agenda and has disrupted business in an unprecedented manner. Business as usual is not working with the new realities that lockdown and social distancing has brought about globally.

Existing operational parameters, legacy technology infrastructure and a sharp decline in revenue forecasts pose a risk to companies. They are struggling to transform fast enough to survive and compete against companies that are “born” digital and/or has Digital Transformation in place. Covid-19 has placed a magnifying glass on Digital Transformation Strategies and businesses ability to adopt and adapt to this transformation. The more complex the organisation the more challenging the shift.

The Harvard Business Review article: Digital Transformation Is Not About Technology, refers to five key lessons of Digital Transformation. As an entrepreneur, business owner, shareholder and leader these lessons resonate with me.

Lesson one, figure out your business strategy before you invest in anything! When asked the question in our event, my answer was decisive and clear – our Digital Transformation Strategy was led by our Transformational Purpose:

  • to provide access to affordable, quality education post-school and,
  • to provide education for employability to eradicate poverty.

All decisions that are made within the context of Omni must support this purpose. Our intent does not change, why we do business does not change – we want to make a difference, but the way in which we do business, might. Therefore, 18-months ago, we established a Digital Transformation Committee whose primary directive was to digitize the entire organisation across our Transformational Purpose and our associated Strategic Objectives. To achieve this, you cannot work in isolation. It might be a visionary leader’s insight that opens the door to the need for digital transformation but occupying the building once the door is open needs a team.

That brings me to the second lesson: Leverage insiders.

The success of Digital Transformation sits in the diversity of the individuals that drive Digital Transformation. It is not about one leader’s influence or directive – it is about a diverse team challenging thought processes, scenario planning and co-accountability that ultimately leads to a sustainable Digital Transformation Strategy. Every proposal needs to support the intent of digitizing the entire organisation. To enable these strategies, we needed to frame our thinking very differently.

As a team we focused on creative, anything is possible, innovative, disruptive thinking. Mindsets must change; we need to think differently when engineering solutions. Remember the concept of starting with the end in mind?  That is exactly what we did – and that brings me to the next lesson.

Lesson three: Design customer experience from the outside in. It was not about our need for automation and convenience, we wanted to design and engineer experiences that made sense to our customers/ end-users.  

Think about all the noise that consumers are exposed to. One has to find a meaningful and authentic way to connect with your customer/ end-user. Solutions and services must be framed to help and serve. Personally, I don’t believe we can continue to sell. I know some of you might find this statement challenging.  We need to start framing our services and solutions in a way that helps people and supports people. If this unprecedented time of uncertainty and disruption is teaching us anything; it is that the currency for success is leadership and the demand is for authentic and individualized solutions.

I want to skip lesson four and first focus on lesson five: Bring Silicon Valley start-up culture inside. This is critical!

Lean and flat structures, rapid deployment of minimal viable products (MVP), agility, speed, quick decision making, and exponential change management strategies are needed to drive effective Digital Transformation. I believe that a major success factor for Omni has been the way in which we have deployed the start-up culture. From the diverse committee that strategically drives Digital Transformation to the various sub-committees that drive the operational and tactical aspects of the strategy.

The “sub-committees” are designed to be lean, agile and autonomous. It is about the end result, the customer /end-user experience and not micro-management and task-focused reporting. Understanding that in the current construct of business operations, nothing is ever finite or finished and this has helped us adopt a mindset of continuous professional development. It has enabled us to adapt fast and not be afraid of testing services and solutions that are still in the development phase. Technology and environmental aspects evolve way too fast to wait for perfection. Perfection - authentic individualized solutions – are achieved through testing and retesting with a mindset of evolvement, not arrival.

Lastly,  lesson four:  recognize employees’ fear of being replaced.

Within Digital Transformation, the change and adaption curve that employees experience are unprecedented. Covid-19 has aided this fear. The reality of global recession and associated job losses are the stark reality of what most of our employees read in the news and on social media. In addition, the global disruption of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the associated technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D-printing, Genetic engineering, Quantum computing, Blockchain and other disruptive technologies are a huge contributor to how employees feel about Digital Transformation. Here, our leadership currency is a real differentiator. We need an ethical approach to how we support our employees to remain current. We need to work on un-skilling, re-skilling and up-skilling our staff so that they remain relevant. A higher level of skill will be required. We will not be able to compete with technology, but we need to find a way to work effectively with technology to leverage human capabilities. Some of the skills that will be required from our employees are:

  • Complex Problem Solving (Use data to solve a problem which is complicated or intricate)
  • Critical & Computational Thinking (Interpret and manage massive amounts of data through the use of statistics)
  • Creativity (The ability to generate inventive ideas using blue-sky thinking and out of the box disciplines)
  • People Management (Manage, lead and influence people through a servant and situational leadership framework)
  • Collaborative Management (Collaborate as a cross-functional team in complex situations to solve problems with speed and agility)
  • Emotional Intelligence (To manage one’s emotional framework through self-awareness and develop empathy and social skills)
  • Judgement and Decision Making (To deploy thinking and cognitive processes that leads to making a decision)
  • Service Orientation (The ability to recognise and meet customer needs)
  • Negotiation Skills (The ability to find common ground & reach an agreement in complex and disruptive situations)
  • Cognitive Flexibility (Adapt strategies with ease in an evolving environment)

It should be our mission to provide our employees with opportunities for growth to enable Skills Devolvement that is relevant for the future world-of-work. It will require us as leaders to craft an integrated plan of Human Capital and Digital needs. In doing so, we will not only construct the organisational Digital Transformation Strategy but also the associated Human Capital needs that will be instrumental to support the strategy.

In closing, a Digital Transformation Strategy of any organisation should not be crisis or technology-driven. It should be driven by a strong organisational purpose and the associated desire to create value for its people,  customer and end-user.

Contributor: Lize Moldenhauer
Managing Director at Omni HR Consulting

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