The Three A’s of Digital Transformation: Adaptation, Adoption, and Agility
Leading service companies understand that business as usual is no longer possible. Companies are therefore embracing technology at an ever-increasing rate to enable their business growth and a new way of engaging with customers, employees, and the burgeoning digital ecosystem. People and experiences are what we have always had — automation and efficiency are what most businesses want in this next phase of the service evolution.
As part of that, we hear the buzzwords of digital or business transformation, culture change, and climates of innovation. Often, when it comes to digital transformation, there is a disconnect between those who understand best why the business exists, what the necessary customer intimacy is, and those who best understand the technology. It is much harder to drive value through adaptation when the business and technology stakeholders and customer advocates aren’t all on the same page.
Metrics, Goals, and Strategy
Every company or business has a strategy, whether clearly articulated or not. Unfortunately, often the functions that are essential to achieving a transformation goal — IT, HR, R&D, finance, your service division — aren’t part of developing the strategy or testing whether it is clearly understood.
Lack of a clear and unified strategy or a deficient strategy is an obvious mistake companies often make. Companies also often confuse goals with strategy. For instance, a drive to lower costs or improve customer experience is not in and of itself a strategy; it’s a metric or a goal. If strategies are only set by each department and not aligned across the entire company or business, it’s no wonder that overall business value isn’t achieved or departments are stuck doing small POCs that never get scale. Setting that strategy correctly is a necessary step from which you can focus on these three A’s: adaptation, adoption, and agility.
Avoiding Detrimental Disconnectedness
To create an effective and functional strategy, it must be tied into how your company or business “wins” in its sector with your customers — the “basics” — and then what functions or departments are key to delivering on that strategy. How best to deliver on the strategy then ties into your cash availability, organizational capabilities, competitive benchmarking, and innovation capacity within your respective business or company.
So, let’s assume you have a strategy and are looking at how best to drive execution. I’ve found the most helpful way to think of this is in terms of adaptability — taking what you already know how to do so that your employees and customers have a bridge from what you do today to what you are going to do tomorrow. This isn’t to do away with an innovation curve but rather speaks to an evolution you see in successful companies with how they move early initiatives to the mainstream.
Adaptation – Start with Something People Are Already Good at
What we are really asking of our teams and our companies when we speak to change is something that most humans are very good at — adapting. We learn or refine new skills all the time, so adaptation — versus wholesale change — is more comfortable to us. When new technology or business possibilities present themselves, some more disruptive than others, it helps to frame the conversation around what we already know how to do, which is to adapt.
We are in an era where technology, whether artificial intelligence-powered or not, can improve core activities in a person’s life or his or her business. But we see adoption often lag or plateau because change is forced rather than communicated on building upon the current state and then coaching teams together through an adaption phase to the “new normal.”
It’s Your Success Story – Take it Page by Page
Driving adaptation is much like writing a book. You have a throughline with a digital thread attached, and the book evolves chapter by chapter. In my opinion, it is better to divide up stages or chapters with measured success and key learnings rather than pretending that adaptation isn’t a lifelong initiative for each of us or our businesses. Ultimately, businesses may remake themselves along this path of adaptation, but it’s a journey of a thousand steps.
Taking an approach of adaptation also sets the mindset for companies to set targets for the chapter they are in but also recognize that their story will evolve page by page — and therefore they have the flexibility to learn from data points along the way with regard to talent, culture, customers, organizational design, and technology. There is a willingness to learn from what is working and what isn’t when the mantra is adaptation.
The Value of an Adaptive Approach
By employing an approach of adaptation, you lessen the fear of failure with more digestible goals and strategies for each department or group. This is helpful as often an “innovation” group will end up too siloed from all the core departments it is also adapting alongside, even if at a different pace. This ties in with the need to map the explicit goals and track the implicit ones in each stage or chapter of the journey.
With an adaptation approach to demystify and simplify the transformation journey, the focus moves to driving adoption through partnering, training, acting on feedback, and defining metrics to monitor progress — or lack of it.
Adoption – the Most Critical Metric for Success
Adoption is the No. 1 determinant of success, yet often companies don’t put appropriate measures in place so that they can track it. Companies have great intentions, but often action ends up more limited. It is all too easy to get absorbed in the day-to-day reality of IT project management and forget that adoption is the only way a project can be successful, so it’s ultimately the most critical metric for success.
Remember that the adoption ecosystem not only includes your employees but also your customers and partners. Train the trainer might be efficient, but end-user adoption is the Holy Grail of whether your transformation journey will achieve its desired results or not.
For successful adoption to occur, training can’t be something that is done for a week or two once every three years. Adoption typically has plateaus, so it’s the job of everyone driving strategy execution to continue monitoring this and make adoption a measure of success in your daily focus.
There are tools that can be really helpful to see how new software is being embraced and used. Inspect what you expect and make everyone a partner in how you can get value out of your technology and the expertise in your company. Lastly, be sure to reward adoption, not just hope to get it.
Agility – the Best Practice to Avoid Worst-Case Scenarios
Finally, with a solid strategy in place, an adaptive approach, and a good handle on adoption, consider agility. In today’s competitive landscape, agility is imperative because none of us have a crystal ball.
Be focused on the result but allow the flexibility to be agile in ways that people understand and recognize that agility requires problem-solving skills and at least some creativity in your organization. Make sure you align agility with your change management to be both expeditious and successful in how you incorporate changes to your strategy.
Focus on the Journey Ahead
While your overall strategy should be clearly defined, we all know that most roads to a result are not straight lines. Companies with digital transformation initiatives that succeed do so because the people and leaders involved respond to feedback and inflection points along the journey rather than ignore those data points in an effort to stay focused only on the “end game.” Agility means that you course correct and stay flexible while keeping your eye on the prize of why you are adapting and working with your teams to adopt new technology in the first place.
Successful digital transformation doesn’t need to be elusive. Thinking of it in terms of these three A’s — adaptation, adoption, and agility — can be quite helpful in achieving results.