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How can you drive meaningful change in your organisation?

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Recent innovations in Artificial Intelligence (AI), automation and robotics have the potential to revolutionise business as we know it, with each of these cutting-edge technologies promising to deliver greater productivity, increased efficiency and enhanced decision making.

While most businesses are keen to harness the power of AI and automation, many organisations struggle to drive real change throughout their organisations. To put this into perspective, a staggering 84 percent of businesses fail at digital transformation according to Forbes.

In this blog, we will explore why some companies are able to transform their organisations effectively and highlight why others fail to do so. Drawing on our experience of helping businesses create new value with the very latest technologies, we’ve identified four key actions that business can take to ensure that their transformation initiatives deliver real, measurable and long-lasting results.

1. Avoid transformation fatigue by putting the customer first

When you are reimagining your business to meet the needs of a data-driven tomorrow, it is easy to get caught up in blue sky thinking or to mistake simple system upgrades for full-scale digital transformation initiatives. If you stray too far from your initial ambitions, you run the risk of turning transformation projects into dogged pursuits of ill-defined and ineffective changes.

Vague and unclear initiatives also cause transformation fatigue. You may be familiar with this already, especially if you have seen the eyes of employees glaze over as soon as the words “digital transformation” are uttered in a meeting. This type of fatigue is uniquely pernicious as it is a hotbed for cynicism and doubt—both of which can kill a project dead in its tracks.

Recognising this, successful businesses prefer to take an experience-led and outcome-focused approach to large-scale change. Instead of talking in woolly terms about transformation or digitalisation, leaders at pioneering companies ask, “what experience do we need to deliver for our customers?” Then, they build a clear strategy that will enable them to achieve their goals, realise the value that they want to create and deliver it in phases through an agile led model.

To maximise the chances of success, leading companies also take the time to evaluate their previous transformation initiatives with the aim of replicating the elements that produced positive results and avoiding any dangers. If failure looks likely, thriving organisations aren’t afraid to tweak, amend or even scrap a project. After all, there is no point in stubbornly pursuing plans that will yield few or limited results

2. Always strive to become better

Companies that are able to quickly adapt to market changes and tap into the power of new technologies recognise that change is a continuous process, not a biannual event.

If technology continues to evolve as fast as it has done over the past decade, the processes, procedures and business models of today will not be fit for the markets of tomorrow. Because of this, continuous improvement must be embedded in everyday processes and procedures. Companies that fail to do this will be quickly outrun by competitors who are unencumbered by inflexible and outdated legacy processes. In this sense, continuous improvement is a mindset: a collective desire to always strive to be smarter, faster and more productive.

3. Get the right people on board

Making sure that you pick the right people to lead change initiatives is essential. As well as engaging employees who have excellent knowledge about your day-to-day business processes, it is also important to bring ambitious, visionary leaders to the table who can inspire others to embrace and deliver change.

Having the wrong people working on transformation projects can be costly and destructive. For instance, one business squandered seven billion dollars on a project that ultimately failed because the people leading it were unable to manage change, even though they were experts at keeping the business running as usual.

Strong businesses select diverse, cross-functional teams to spearhead their transformation campaigns. These goal-focused and highly skilled units work most effectively when they break down projects into manageable stages and set key milestones. Doing so helps to focus minds and enables division-specific experts to understand how and when they can play their part in enhancing the business.

Recognising early that you will not be able to get everyone in your business on board is important too. Some people might be naturally more sceptical and others could have unfounded fears that change, especially automation, could threaten their livelihood.

While you might not win the hearts and minds of all your employees, you can limit the damage done by naysayers early on in a project by measuring the current or potential impact of projects as they progress. Proving the impact of your current work will enable you to dispel assumptions of inevitable failure and keep morale high.

As well as measuring projects to prove their impact and win over cynics, you can also inspire people to adopt a culture of continuous improvement by incentivising change. When your teams see that a particular project will benefit them personally, they are much more likely to throw all of their weight and passion behind it, which helps to push initiatives forward.

4. Ask tough questions

Throughout every stage of your business transformation you and your teams must be prepared to ask tough questions. What are you going to do differently day-to-day? Do you really need more data? Or do you actually need a different set of tools? And, most importantly, how will your project make life easier for your customers and your internal users?

While avoiding cynicism is important, maintaining a critical eye will enable you and your teams to keep transformation projects targeted on results. And no question is too tough or too stupid, especially if it helps you and your teams to find more cost-effective, quicker or more logical ways to achieve the same results.

For instance, we recently spent a significant amount of time working to develop models that would enable a utilities provider to predict accurately when manholes are likely to flood. During the project the company realised that this information wouldn’t actually help it to achieve its core business goals. If project leaders had interrogated this idea earlier on they could have avoided wasting time and money on a low-impact initiative.

Ultimately, questioning your ideas, actions and intentions will help you to safeguard the success of your transformation projects.

How IBM can help

IBM can enable your business to become more agile and competitive by helping you to replace data-intensive, manual tasks with seamless, automated processes. By engaging the expertise, toolkits and consultancy services of IBM, you can ensure that you reach your strategic goals and become a leader in your industry.

What can you do next?

If you are interested in discussing any of the topics raised in this blog, or if you’d like to share your story of digital transformation, please do reach out to either Paul Clarke on LinkedIn or via e-mail at paulclarke@uk.ibm.com, or Nihar Trivedi on LinkedIn or via e-mail at nihar.trivedi@uk.ibm.com.

Associate Partner: Technology Strategy & Innovation at IBM

Nihart Trivedi

Digital Strategy and Transformation Lead: Sports, Media & Entertainment at IBM

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