13 tips for leading digital transformation

Written by Daniel Searle, Director - Digital Transformation & Advisory UK & MEMA (Interim) at Hewlett Packard Enterprise

Championing digital transformation, particularly in the public sector, is hard. It takes risk, commitment and the right leadership to see it through. In the UK public sector, the digital shift is already well underway with the Government Digital Service at the helm.

There are many factors that affect the success of a transformation effort; you only have to look at how many change management books have been published in the past decade to see that.

It’s safe to say that every transformation effort is unique and so the factors that influence success vary. However, having led digital transformations for the UK and Australian governments, I can say that there are a handful of things that will increase your chances of success. Here are my top 13 tips for leading the digital revolution:

  1. Be bold: Rene Carayol said ‘If you are bold you might fail. If you are not bold you will fail.’ This rings true with digital transformation. If you don’t take the leap you will never know the reward.
  2. Culture is everything: A good culture makes an organisation great. It can reduce turnover, boost productivity and minimise burnout. If you fail to get the culture right you won’t attract or keep the talent you need to make digital transformation a success.
  3. Get personally involved: There is no substitute for rolling up your sleeves and getting personally involved when the stakes are high. Lead from the front and model the mind-sets and behaviours that you want the organisation to embrace.
  4. Adopt a user-need approach: Always identify what people need from your service, not what your organisation thinks they need. Use that knowledge to shape your transformation effort.
  5. Build the best team: Find talented individuals within your organisation, put them into leadership roles and invest in their development. This is what the CEO of the Digital Transformation Office in Australia did, and why so much progress has been made in just a year.
  6. Get full buy-in: Having the right people championing a transformation effort is crucial to its success and this should span all levels of the organisation. A committed, well-aligned group of influencers should not be taken for granted.
  7. Be consistent: Digital transformation should always adopt an Agile, lean startup, design-thinking approach. The trick is to commit to it. One of the main reasons big projects fail is because teams don’t stick to a single approach.
  8. Practise empowerment: Empower your people to take the initiative and ownership for the success of the transformation. When they are invested in the process it will inevitably lead to a better end result.
  9. Share the end goal: It is vital that people within and outside your team can readily see the link between a transformation’s objectives and the larger organisational mission. When everyone clearly understands what they are working towards, they can help shape the process.
  10. Early wins build momentum: Make sure that you consistently deliver, track, review and celebrate accomplishments of all sizes that demonstrate the success of the transformation.
  11. Remove blockers: Ensure that you remove all obstacles to the transformation that threaten its success, whether that means getting buy-in from higher-ups or re-evaluating the end goal.
  12. Accept the failures: As hard as you try to eliminate every obstacle, you will face failures. It’s important to create a culture of learning, not one of blame, so that failure becomes part of the journey and not a roadblock.
  13. Communicate, communicate, communicate: Engage and energise the organisation through on-going communications and involvement at all levels. Never underestimate the impact effective communication about the transformation can have on its success.

The digital movement

Both in the UK and Australia, I have been a part of governmental success in leading digital transformation. I’ve seen how important it is to start off on the right foot and how pivotal every decision you make is to the end result. Helping to drive the digital movement is not easy, but when the journey is well mapped out it’s an exciting venture to be part of.

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