Why is it that most digital transformations fail?

November 10, 2021

Why is it that most digital transformations fail? Much is written about it. This piece by Mikhala Roy at Search CIO/TechTarget points to six reasons, https://searchcio.techtarget.com/tip/Top-6-reasons-why-digital-transformation-failures-happen

From my experience in not-for-profit, small business, and Fortune 500, I have a bit of a different take on the matter than Mekhala. I agree with the points made in the article. It is more of a both/and. Even more organizational fundamentals are not paid attention to, leading to the inevitability of failure at worst and mediocrity in both the implementation and ongoing effective utilization at best.

I argue that the following fundamentals must exist in any business-impact technology project. When they do, the odds of ongoing success vastly improve:

  1. Executive leadership engagement in the success of the implementation, providing the vision helping to keep the opportunity for intrinsic motivation of staff as high as possible.
  2. Organizational alignment is present and cared for from the top, with effective feedback loops from the bottom to ensure the vision from the top translates into action aligning the company with that vision.
  3. A culture that promotes effective collaboration and engagement. The percentage of digital transformations that fail (~70%)1 is slightly more than that of disengaged employees at work in the United States (~66%)2. Disengaged employees gum up the organization’s ability to change, and actively disengaged employees will ensure change fails. Disengagement is organizational kryptonite that seeks and destroys change initiatives, especially digital transformation ones.
  4. Be agile and be a learning organization. You don’t know what you don’t know until you do. Apply that learning during thetransformation. To reduce failure, integrate continuous learning into the process.
  5. A cross-section of individual contributors engage throughout the planning, development, implementation phases, and after to enable agility.
  6. Allocate resources and focus to the transformation post project. Too often, the transformation only includes frontend training on the new system. What is continually missed is understanding how individuals and groups are being impacted day-to-day during and after the “transformation.” It is time to get past how things are supposed to work and get clarity on how they are actually working “in the wild” of the company’s day-to-day operations.

These fundamentals are not quick fixes. I have no silver bullet for you. Please take my advice and stear clear from anyone that offers silver bullets to you about digital transformation, or any business-impacting project, for that matter.

(1) Why do most transformations fail? A conversation with Harry Robinson. Retrieved from: https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Business%20Functions/Transformation/Our%20Insights/Why%20do%20most%20transformations%20fail%20A%20conversation%20with%20Harry%20Robinson/Why-do-most-transformations-fail-a-conversation-with-Harry-Robinson.pdf
(2) State of the Global Workplace: 2021 Report. Retrieved from: https://www.gallup.com/workplace/349484/state-of-the-global-workplace.aspx?thank-you-report-form=1

Christian Grieco


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