CIO, Opinion

How Digital Transformation Is Like a Diet

I don’t like to bring too much personal baggage to my writing and this may be a little corny, but one of my current undertakings has some real-world parallels to a modern technology-centric business trend, so here I go…

Big Change Requires Big Commitment

As so many know, losing weight is really hard. Finally making the decision to get my weight under control required me to make some fundamental changes. The very first change was that I had to completely change my mindset. I couldn’t view a “diet” as a temporary activity after which I just resumed my old habits. It has required constant effort and vigilance as well as picking up the pieces when I have a setback and revert to my old ways. My new thinking is not that I’m on a diet, but that I’m changing my diet and building a new relationship with food in a way that helps me achieve my goal of eventually becoming an Adonis… or, at least being back to a healthy weight range.

But I realize that once I hit my target, I can’t just say “Mission Accomplished.” Once I’ve hit my goal weight, things will change, but only insomuch as I will need to shift my permanent diet to maintaining that weight rather than losing more. In short, getting from where I am to where I need to be will require a series of lifestyle changes that are permanent. If I view what I’m doing as a temporary fix, I’ll fail.

A similar line of thinking needs to be applied to organizations seeking to embark on digital transformation. Change is hard, and the word transformation in digital transformation shouldn’t be taken lightly.

These kinds of undertakings are not projects that have a defined beginning and end. Instead, they are a series of activities that require organizations to fundamentally rethink their relationship with technology. Under the old ways, the monolithic IT department was the purveyor of all things technology. Under a new paradigm, technology is infused throughout the fabric of the organization.  Once the initial push is completed, the effort doesn’t stop.  It begins a new era that requires vigilance to maintain.

Get Comfortable With Discomfort

And it’s uncomfortable. It rejects the old matrix in favor of a new one. Many, many organizations fall off the wagon and find themselves reverting to their old ways. A successful digital transformation journey is just that – a journey that has no defined conclusion. Just like that life-changing diet, a digital transformation requires vigilance to ensure success.

For a long time, the changes imposed by digital transformation efforts will be uncomfortable. Such efforts require a steady and consistent hand and constant attention. Much like reorienting a relationship with sustenance, you can’t take your foot off the gas pedal with your transformation efforts. A new diet – a permanent one, not some fad – is uncomfortable, but you have to power through it to make it happen. As setbacks occur, figure it out, fix it, and forge ahead.

All (CEOs) Aboard!

Perhaps the biggest challenge is the need for the organizational culture to adapt to a new mindset. You already know that changing one person is hard. Now, apply that need to an entire organization. If the wrong people either oppose the change or they simply don’t support it, the effort will fail. Successful digital transformations are efforts that are spearheaded by forward-thinking CEOs. At a minimum, CEOs need to be sponsors of these activities, even if they rely on their CIO to carry out the ongoing effort.

Why does the CEO need to be heavily involved? Different people may have different ideas about what success looks like, a scenario which can result in conflict that derails progress and eventual success. Everyone eventually reverts back to their comfortable historical places in the organization, and it’s back to business as usual. If this happens, just like a day of falling off the wagon on a diet, the company needs to pick up the pieces, figure out what caused the derailment, and get back on track.

By the way, this aspect also has parallels to my overall weight loss effort. I needed to get the family on board with my goal and why I need to do it and what we all need to change to make it happen.  I need to keep them focused on the end goal. Of course, in this case, the result is that I’m healthier, but my hope is that they see how that benefits the family as a whole. A side benefit: I’m hoping that my efforts are teaching my kids some positive habits. You can liken this to how people’s perception of how technology and business can come together to create new opportunities for growth.

Consistent Progress Achieves Results

Nothing is more frustrating than stepping on the scale to find that my efforts for the past week have been for naught, resulting in no progress forward. It’s demotivating. It makes me wonder if the effort is worth it. The same goes for digital transformation. Transformation efforts require a deft hand that can demonstrate continuous progress to the organization. Remember, these are efforts that wrangle everyone, and people are motivated by results. If too much time passes between milestones and there isn’t visible progress on an ongoing basis, you risk losing people who step off the scale, wander into the kitchen and binge on a bag of potato chips.

Transformations Are Hard, But Worthwhile

Both weight loss and digital transformation efforts are complex undertakings, fraught with the potential for failure if things are not considered in an appropriate way. Both require a permanent mindset change, a need to power through discomfort, both personally and organizationally, a commitment from the entire organization/family, and progress photos so the entire team can see results. This turns into increasing momentum and brings to life the phrase “success begets success.”