Setting your digital transformation leadership up for success.

Digitisation and an environment of exponential change lays bare the inflexibility of many monolithic organisations that are no longer fit for purpose. Yet they must redefine their strategy, adopt new ways of working right across the organisation at a pace that few could have envisioned in the past.

It’s clear that digital transformation requires fundamental changes that will affect the whole organisation across functions, departments and hierarchies. It is the most complex of change initiatives that doesn’t  have a beginning and an end in the typical linear sense of change initiatives, rather it is an all-encompassing overhaul from within, impacting the entire business. 

Leading it successfully is one of the leadership challenges of our times and with failure rates estimated to be anything from 70 -95% what can businesses do to improve their chance of success ? 

According to research conducted by the IMD Business School one of the key reasons for the failure of transformation efforts is that they are often fragmented, siloed and conducted without a clear strategic objective. 

James Macaulay co Author of Digital Vortex and Orchestrating Transformation has said that digital transformation is inherently cross-functional and in order to achieve the business model shifts necessary for the creation of new value  it is necessary to untangle the assets of often large complex organizations and reconfigure them to execute of the new strategy. 

To lead it successfully requires a mandate from the very top of the organization to empower a transformational leader or CTO (Chief Transformation Officer) to orchestrate the transformation across silos. The CEO and Board should set the direction by: 

  • Establishing a sturdy leadership consensus that starts with the CEO and the board on the direction of digital transformation
  • Communicating this direction consistently across the organization 
  • Defining the future competitive state of the organization and how it’ll  get there

Equipped with a strong mandate from the board which has been clearly communicated across the organization, the person appointed as  CTO must be a modern leader capable of engaging with stakeholders across the business able to win their buy-in to the digital transformation initiative. The will require someone who: 

  • Can drive cross-functional outcomes
  • Can work with stakeholders all over the business 
  • Is able to orchestrate resources that may be distributed all over the company 
  • Has a baseline fluency in technology

To support the CTO,  McCauley recommends the creation of a Transformation Office comprising a small team of people with good knowledge of the business to orchestrate contributions from across the company. 

The aim is to create synergy and align both people and all the business assets (i.e. infrastructure, data, capital, brand, intellectual property)  around the core purpose of transformation and the execution of the new business strategy. To achieve this, the transformation team will need a mix of skills like:

  •  Experience in management consulting, 
  •  Extensive experience of agile development and
  •  Project and programme delivery expertise.  

It will also help if between them they are able to bring a perspective of different functions like 

  • Human capital management 
  • Customer-facing disciplines of sales and marketing

The CTO role is to orchestrate effort and assets so that the results are aligned and synchronized and aligned for maximum impact. To be successful, the Chief Transformation Officer and their team must gain buy-in and collaboration from leaders operating in cross-functional silos. To do this successfully takes a new kind of leader capable of unleashing the power and imagination of your people to reinvent your organization and create new value for your customers. 

Choosing the right one can have a profound effect on the future of your organization so choose wisely and make sure your digital transformation delivers the business impact you’re looking for. 

Book references:

Orchestrating Transformation 

Digital Vortex 




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