The Struggle of the Digital Transformation

The Struggle of the Digital Transformation

It’s a strategic focus in any organization: The Digital Transformation. But it’s a struggle. How come this proves to be so difficult? In this article three main mistakes and three challenges to get it right.

Mistake number one: A Chief Digital Officer

One of the ways organizations try to ensure progress is to appoint a Chief Digital Officer. Someone with a lot of power, at a high level in the organization, to make it happen. But how can one person – surely with a team – bring the organisation in the right position, when a Digital Transformation impacts everyone. Yes… everyone in the organization. And everything. The transformation should not be the responsibility of one person or team. But it should be a shared responsibility throughout the organisation.

Mistake number two: Tech is just a tactic

I have said it before, and I will say it again, and again, until you get it. Tech is just a tactic. A huge problem with the approach of a Digital Transformation is to focus on the tech. With having the tech in place nothing will change. I guess tech is a tangible thing and thus easy to focus on. Also the phrase Digital Transformation implies that it’s all about digital stuff. But don’t be fooled. Tech is an enabler. It’s part of the transformation. But it’s not the hard part…

Mistake number three: Outsource the approach

As many organizations struggle to understand what is required, they get a consultancy firm on board to help them out. This firms sets up a team, and then – with military precision & high pressure on timelines – the organization is taken through a step-by-step transformation. But as soon as the consultants leave the premises, the transformation bounces back to where you started. Or worse .. leaves you in chaos, because the organization doesn’t own the process. You left that to the consultants…

These are just three big things I see. So how to quit the struggle and start doing things that work. Here are some key points. 

Challenge number one: Understand what it’s about

It’s so obvious, it’s often forgotten. Get to understand what it’s about. Truly understand what a Digital Transformation is about, and why it is necessary. Digital technology offers many opportunities. But it’s not a free ride. You have to get on board, or you will be out of business. 

Basically this is the story: you digitize anything that is possible, to free up the people to do the great stuff. 

People should not compete with computers. If we try to be as good as a computer, we will be defeated. The clue is that we – as humans – have unique qualities which a computer does not have. We have the power to link the head with the heart. To truly connect with people. Do things from guts, instead of ratio. That’s were innovation comes from. Digital Transformation means that you free up the human potential in your organization to do what computers cannot do. That’s where your competitive advantage is. So it’s not about understanding the bits & bytes, but about the difference and complementary way of working with artificial and human intelligence. Get the big picture. And then you will see how you can go from a to b to c. Also keep in mind that for every organization the path will be different, because the starting point is different.

Challenge number two: Love processes 

I know that most people hate processes. And then there are the very few who love them. People who are so passionate about fitting work that happens within an organization into tight processes. I’m sure you can recollect one or two colleagues who fit this description. These colleagues should be your best friends! In order to digitize what can be digitized, first it needs to be identified, standardized, with a clear process and then the step to digitization can be made.

Doing all the work in the way we want, is not the way forward. Now I realize that this will put a lot of people off. Most of us don’t want to be told how to do our work. We want to decide for ourselves. But try and look at it differently. Standardizing and digitizing our work, means that we free ourselves from the dreary stuff and get time to do where we can make a difference. The work that can not be digitized. The part where we add value! 

Challenge number three: It’s all about people

Reading challenge number one and two, I hope you already got the main message. It’s not about tech, it’s about people. First: to help the people in the organization to understand the bigger picture. To see the challenge, but more important the potential of where we are heading. Second: to help people to reshape work. To shift work that can be digitized, by standardizing and digitizing. And make the people who love processes your heroes. You need to work together on this big thing to make the shift. And third: know your people and their potential. Help them to further develop themselves to really add value in the area’s where a human touch is essential. 

If we are to have a happy future where we fully use the potential of artificial intelligence (anything a computer can do) we need to understand our own potential. Human potential is your biggest asset. That is where you should invest. To make it grow and make it stand out!

Urgent message for CEO’s: put your people first, not your customers

Urgent message for CEO’s: put your people first, not your customers


Dear CEO,

I would have preferred to talk with you about this in person. But time is running out. And I felt it’s important to get this message to you rather sooner than later. Talent is being wasted. People are getting hurt and the continuity of your organisation is at stake. That’s why I decided to send you this message.

I acknowledge the huge responsibility you have. Facing the judgement of your shareholders quarter by quarter. And simultaneously ensuring the continuity of the organisation on the long run. Not an easy task.

Putting customers first has been the holy grail. Everything for the customer. Focussing on the needs of your customers while keeping costs to the lowest possible level, to ensure a competitive position.

For the sake of high performance McKinseys and the likes show up to guide the organisation through transformation, to fit – or rather outperform the benchmark. And preferrably speed-up the transformation. Quick fixes that show results to please the shareholders in the next quarter.

People, Planet, Profit…. Yes, the planet has been given a fair share in the responsibility of companies, and for sure profitability. But what are you doing to respect and prosper the power of your people? People are no more than numbers. They are regarded as costs rather than assets. 

Do you realize what’s happening? People are being sacrificed for the sake of profitability. The one thing that makes things happen for your customers every day, the workforce, is sadly worn out in the process.

It is not your customers that should be your focus. It’s your people. That is what makes your organisation stand out. The employees that choose to work for your organisation. To serve the customers. Without these people you are nothing. 

The snake is biting it’s own tail. You may not know it, but one day you will see. This focus on costs, revenue and cashflow. So wake up, cause time is running out. Talent is walking out the door. And will do so with more speed than you can get new hires in. And the CEO’s that put their people first, those will be the ones people will love working for. And I’ll tell you a secret, if the people love their work, they will put the customer first, and then all will work out. 

It’s not too late. You are the one in charge, so you need to step up as a leader.

A leader takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and has the courage to develop that potential. (Brené Brown)

People are not numbers, they are your greatest asset. It is your job to provide a working climate where your people can prosper. 

If you don’t have the people, then it’s no use having customers. Cause there will be no one to serve them. So please take a moment to reflect. Start listening to your people. They can tell you what they need to put customers first. They can tell you what they need to step up the game. And show the leaders in your organisation what it means to lead. To empower your people, in stead of suffocating them with ever increasing demands to do more, more, more. It’s not about doing more, it’s about doing the right thing.

Empowered people can lift the world. It’s your job to set the stage for that to happen.

Kind regards,

Margot van Brakel