Change Comes Hard - Digital Transformation is About Us

Laszlo S. Gonc,   Board Member

Laszlo S. Gonc,

Board Member

GE recently hit the headlines with performance issues in trying to become a "digital industrial" company, its leadership accused of whitewashing the facts. Nike cut back by half its investment in its digital unit, discontinuing its activity tracker and other investments. Lego stopped funding its Digital Designer virtual building program.


What happened? How did experienced leaders take these large companies to a landscape of digital dreams delayed? As Simon Sinek wrote, we "Start with Why".

All change in organizations is about culture change. Technology continues to change at an ever increasing pace while many of our processes start out sound yet become maladapted to satisfy tight and sometimes unreasonable goals or deadlines. At our recent SIM Spring Gala, we heard transformation expert, Steve Salisbury, share his stories and insights on overcoming critical obstacles and creating successful change in organizations large and small

With typical strategic change, leaders are usually clear about what needs to be accomplished and the tactics it takes to get there. Team members understand and invest in the hard work and heavy lift needed, and progress can be measured. When signals and indicators veer off, course corrections are made. However, research indicates there is something different about digital change that causes leaders in large, well-established organizations to misplace their balanced decision making approaches.

Some of the lessons learned from these high profile failures are:

1) Clear messaging. Digital technology should not be viewed by leaders as a salvation. Leaders need to clearly communicate and articulate the vision, mission and goals of the strategic change. Teams told to "go innovate" often times get lost with the direction to take.

2) People create and sustain change. Digital transformation is not plug-and-play. It requires investment in people, skills, plans, infrastructure and re-tooling IT systems. Focusing on the new technology without tightly integrating the human element often times leads to failure.

3) Timing. Digital investments should be tied to consumer and industry readiness. There are many examples of companies who created innovative products and services ahead of their time, only to be re-engineered and released at a later time when the markets were right.

4) Avoid ripping out what works. When things are not working, implementing new and innovative business models can be incredibly appealing. The attraction of something new can cause leaders to forego much needed attention to upgrading and adapting existing processes and empowering people. Finding a balanced approach to something old and something new builds foundational stability for the upcoming challenges.

Changing an organization's culture is not easy. However, the ingredients to the recipe is not a secret either. Foster a culture of sustainable change by sharing stories and insights with your fellow SIM members. An easy way to stay current in this age of acceleration is to get more involved with upcoming SIM events. Join us on Thursday, April 19th at the Union League Club in Chicago for a partnered event by SIM Chicago and Finance Executive International (FEI) for an opportunity to discuss Cybersecurity and network with your IT peers and Finance executives in the Chicagoland area. It will be a great opportunity to network with the SIM and FEI membership as well.