Digital transformation represents the future of business constructs. But even after all of these years, there is no single blueprint to follow. Companies are actively investing in disruptive technologies while also trying to understand how these and emerging technologies are impacting markets and customer/employee behaviors, expectations, and trends. According to recent research, companies report that one of the biggest challenges in digital transformation is the lack of digital expertise needed to lead purposeful, swift, and successful change across the enterprise.
Sometimes the innovators of tomorrow are the disenchanted, the rebels, the introverts and other reluctant leaders who rise up in the absence of traditional leadership.
Enter the “digital change agent.” These executives are already working on modern digital strategies and doing their best to convince their peers in other groups to follow suit. These digital change agents are the unrecognized heroes of modern business.
The Digital Hero’s Journey
In 1949, American mythologist Joseph Campbell released “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” a monumental book in which Campbell introduces the journey of the archetypal hero found in world mythologies. The book has famously inspired many storytellers to adopt Campbell’s “Monomyth,” a.k.a. the “Hero’s Journey,” a series of important stages a hero follows in his or her journey. Most notably, George Lucas was influenced by Campbell in the development of the Star Wars trilogy, as were the Wachowskis, who based The Matrix trilogy on the Hero’s Journey.
When it comes to digital transformation, businesses have their own archetypal heroes. The challenge is that many executives don’t formally recognize the significance of their change agents. In my research over the years, I found that those who are compelled to drive digital transformation must undergo their own version of the Monomyth. I refer to their shared odyssey as ” The Change Agent’s Journey,” and it serves as the foundation for a new research report written to help change agents in every organization excel at driving digital transformation.
The Change Agent’s Journey documents the common elements that help earn credibility, influence and success in driving transformation. The report provides executives insight into who these change agents are and how they think, the hurdles they experience, and how they can benefit the organization when they are properly supported.
1: Embrace Being A Catalyst
(or Embrace Your Catalysts) 2: Organize With Other Change Agents
Effective change agents must become bridge-builders, guiding and empowering others to change. To do that, they must learn to navigate the human dynamics involved in helping people see and do things differently. They must understand their colleagues’ perspectives, beliefs and realities to find common ground with them.
3: Learn To Speak The Language Of The C-Suite
It’s important for digital change agents to seek out others like them: to form groups of self-support and mount a coordinated case for a unified digital transformation strategy.
4: Make Allies
It’s not enough for digital change agents to talk about the technological side of digital transformation. Digital innovations must be translated into the context of everyday work, accountabilities and value to the organization. It’s also difficult to get people to jump on board digital transformation efforts if they can’t see or feel tangibly how it benefits them and their work.
5: Spread Digital Literacy
Change agents must make allies across departments and form cross-functional working groups and steering committees to champion change across the enterprise.
6: Create A Digital Transformation Roadmap
Change agents must help their colleagues identify the new skillsets needed to succeed in a digital economy, audit the expertise that is available internally and externally, and introduce new training programs to ensure everyone in the organization can help advance digital transformation.
7: Link Digital Transformation Efforts To Business And Individuals’ Goals
The key to helping their organizations constantly innovate is for change agents to work on local pilots and on a longer-term, enterprise-wide digital transformation roadmap that everyone can work against. By focusing on local digital transformation initiatives, change agents can use their incremental, quick wins to prove concepts and garner support for larger efforts.
8: Set Metrics And Milestones
When designing a digital transformation roadmap, change agents must also have a clear business objective in mind. A strong digital transformation roadmap must state a specific and clear business end goal and the key milestones necessary to achieve it.
9: Democratize Ideation
All digital transformation efforts must be tied to ROI. As they form cross-functional workgroups and collaborate on digital transformation initiatives, they are able to establish more clear milestones, KPIs, and metrics to measure progress. Change agents need to define metrics for their initiatives that substantiate their personal and team efforts. When they don’t, there’s a tendency for them to focus on the long list of tasks that stretch ahead without acknowledging the steps they’ve taken and accomplishments they’ve made thus far.
10: Capitalize On Their Own Inherent “Super Powers”
Digital change agents must play a role in democratizing idea generation so that as many ideas for digital transformation as possible can be heard and considered, regardless of where these might come from. More important, change agents must bring executives to the table so that the best ideas can be implemented into official pilot programs.
Change Agents Are Needed More Than Ever
Change agents possess qualities that help them learn and experiment in areas where there isn’t much clarity. Their DNA-their core personality, beliefs, and ambition-is uniquely suited to digital transformation, which involves high doses of uncertainty. Change agents must capitalize on these “super powers,” which allow them to remain strong in the face of criticism and resistance to change-and even when they themselves are reluctant leaders or are scared.
“Can I effect change here?” That’s the number one answer we received when we asked interviewees whether they were committed to staying at their current employers versus moving to a new company where the proverbial grass may be greener. They wanted to believe that their work would have an impact on transformation.
Being a change agent is in their DNA. It’s something that you can’t teach, but you can teach digital literacy and new ways to work to help others in the organization become part of a bigger effort. Relish in the opportunity and don’t focus on getting stuck. Change agents are more important to digital transformation and corporate innovation than is widely appreciated today. It’s time to change that.
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