In 2015, Cisco’s retiring CEO, John Chambers, delivered a dire prediction: 40% of today’s businesses would fail in the next ten years; 70% would attempt to transform themselves digitally, but only 30% would succeed. Recent research by Accenture suggests Chambers was on the money. Of the more than 1,000 global organisations we surveyed, 70% said their traditional approaches to reinventing themselves have become increasingly irrelevant.

It’s sobering news for the incumbent Australian organisations hoping to turn their fortunes around with digital transformation. For most of these industry mainstays, digital transformation is proving to be a tough road. Already, we’re seeing many programs on ‘life support’ – kept alive only by the heroic efforts of exhausted internal teams and increasing numbers of expensive external consultants.

But not everyone is struggling

We’ve noticed that a select group of organisations have begun to crack the code. We call them ‘Living Businesses’ – previously static companies that now operate like digital natives, innovating responsively, designing with customers in mind and adapting really quickly as the world and the market around them changes.

How do they do it?

There’s no silver bullet to making transformation work, but we have recorded clear patterns of behaviour that remove barriers to success. At Fjord, we’ve taken these patterns and codified them into what we call the ‘8 doors of transformation’ – proven ideas to help organisations on the path to digital transformation learn from those who didn’t just survive the process, but emerged from it better, faster and more agile.

Notably, none of the doors hinges on technology. Technology changes fast. People don’t. If your transformation is failing, it’s almost certainly because it’s not accommodating the needs and wants of your colleagues, customers and partners.

Here are 8 doors you can open to put the right people, in the right place, doing the right thing as you rewire your organisation:

  1. Spark the Change – To get people to want to change, you need an intervention – something that will mobilise disparate parts of your business around a single focus. Sometimes it's becoming obsessed with a really simple and specific metric: Net Promoter Score improvement or conversion increases. Sometimes it’s picking a challenging deadline or a key intervention. It actually doesn't matter what it is. You just need a real and tangible focus to activate change.

  2. Split the Transformation – divide the challenge into two camps along cultural lines.

    Hygiene – The planned and predictable stuff you have to do to stay alive. It's likely not going to disrupt or differentiate you in the market, but it is going to provide a fundamental foundation for the future.

    Flair – The exploratory innovations that are much less predictable, but might allow you to make a step change in impact or invent entirely new experiences altogether. This is the camp that should embrace Agile design, sprints and failing fast.

  3. Reflect from a People Perspective – This is a big one. Look at the customer journey. How do your customers, colleagues or partners experience your business? Where are there pain points? What are the metrics telling you? Sometimes what you find isn’t pretty. No one wants to hear that despite the millions invested in a new platform, most customers aren't getting past the first page. But it's this humility in understanding transformation from a people perspective that sets leaders apart.

  4. Illustrate the Vision – Make sure you’ve articulated the ‘Why’ in a visual, memorable, repeatable form. Your 250-page business case is great – but it’s not inspirational. You need something on one-page that works at both the emotional and rational levels.

  5. Sprint at a Digital Pace – Transformation requires you to respond to ideas or changing conditions at speed. So, you need a space – from a full-blown incubator to small, 100-day project team – where a blend of internal and external talent can rapidly rethink the way your organisation works. Here the task is to quickly prove or disprove new ideas and, critically, to demonstrate to the rest of the business they can actually be done!

  6. Partner with Open Arms – Successful transformation projects use a constellation of supporting partners who bring in new technologies and capabilities to spark change. You may need a dedicated team to scout out potential partners, have exploratory conversations and score them against some pre-agreed criteria.

  7. Nurture an Engaged Culture – The quality of the culture that surrounds your transformation program is one of the biggest signals of success. Cultivating a new and effective culture requires leadership to give permission for – and strongly encourage! – the breaking of organisational norms and dogmas. I can’t stress the importance of this door. A great culture can beat a great product.

  8. Infect the Organisation – You won’t transform on the outside unless you transform on the inside. Use your incubator space to train and educate other parts of the business in the new ways of thinking and working. This ‘rewiring’ is essential to becoming a Living Business.

Which one do you need to open?

We call these transformational kick-starters ‘8 doors’ because there’s no set route or single path. You might only need to open a few of them to get the momentum you need to pump life into your transformation programs.

The point is, to prove Chambers wrong, you’re going to have to open at least one of them.

Bronwyn van der Merwe

General Manager – Fjord, Design & Innovation from Accenture Interactive

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