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3 Behaviors That Spark Innovation and Drive Digital Transformation

September 6, 2017

Digital transformation

Most businesses want to deliver innovative solutions to customers, and many identify innovation as a strategic goal. In a recent PwC survey, over 60% of companies viewed employees as their most important partners for innovation. In a Gartner survey, 42% of CEOs had begun digital business transformations.

This begs the question of how leaders across the organization can elicit the behaviors, practice changes, and delivery of innovative products and services that will enable the transition from legacy business models to ones that are competitive in a digital world.

In my experience, transformations should start with small innovative teams that can develop new practices like market research, digital product development, agile management, and data science that are the foundations for both innovation and transformation. Eventually, these programs hit all departments when sales teams must sell new digitally backed products, marketing teams must reach new prospects through omni-channel programs, and businesses must deliver digitally competitive customer experiences.

Most organizations can bring on their best and brightest to be these early participants, but bringing on a larger part of the organization requires leaders to drive behavior changes. Here are three ways to enable more employees to participate in digital programs.

Behavior 1: Encourage people to ask questions

All businesses that are feeling competitive pressure should challenge the underlying assumptions that make their legacy products, services, and operations successful. Getting people comfortable with asking questions enables them to move away from “the way we always do it” to a dialogue around what makes better sense in a faster, digital world.

Maybe the sales team is visiting prospects too often. Someone might ask, “How can we have more frequent discussions with prospects without traveling to them or emailing them individually?” That question opens options for the marketing department to leverage marketing automation tools to nurture prospects. Maybe your operations team wants to explore using automation to eliminate repetitive tasks. Someone asks, “How can we learn to be product owners in IT’s agile development process?”

In these examples, there are likely some people in the organization that still harbor doing things the old way. Asking questions is a nonconfrontational approach to challenging the sacred cows and opening a dialogue about new solutions.

Behavior 2: Get out of the office and meet customers and prospects

The world is changing fast, and your customers have higher expectations and greater options to select products and services that deliver convenience, intelligence, and value. Startups and market leaders in other categories are looking to steal market share from slow competitors that are out of touch with customer needs. But you also have opportunities to develop new services and to branch into new areas if you can identify optimal customer segments to deliver services on digital capabilities.

In today’s world, leaders from across the organization must get out of the office, learn from customers and prospects about their needs, and develop a perspective on how to deliver new experiences. Marketing specialists should learn how to best message and target prospects. Sales should be learning who their new competitors are and how to defend against sales objections. Technologists should learn about the underlying technical capabilities required to fulfill value propositions.

Behavior 3: Ask for data, then insights, then opinions

A most important element of digital transformation is to evolve the data-driven organization. These changes can be profound, especially in businesses with top-down decision making driven by experienced but opinionated leaders that may be out to benefit themselves as much as their business. A data-driven organization provides governance, practices, and tools for people to present a thesis—by first presenting data that backs it, then insights they’ve inferred, and lastly their opinions and conclusions.

This process enables calculated risk taking. If you believe that reaching prospects can be done economically through social media, then run experiments, capture the results, analyze user behavior, and provide a forecast that backs whether a larger investment will yield acceptable returns. Want to shut down a legacy system? Measure the actual usage of the system, identify the power users and their key functions, develop insights on the business value delivered by these processes, and produce a business case on whether or how to replace the legacy system with a more optimal solution.

Behaviors drive organizational change

At the heart of delivering innovative solutions and transforming products and services is organizational change. Employees’ roles in the organization, their job functions, and how they deliver business value are all subject to reinvention as business models and products evolve. To get more people aligned around the business and digital strategy, you must ask employees to challenge the status quo, learn what customers need today, and leverage data to drive bottom-up and top-down decisions.

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About The Author

Isaac Sacolick is the author of Driving Digital: The Leader’s Guide to Business Transformation Through Technology, which covers many practices such as product development, agile management, and data science that are all critical to successful digital transformation programs. He is a recognized top social transformational CIO, a longtime blogger at Social, Agile and Transformation and CIO.com, and is now president of StarCIO.

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