Digital transformation is about mindset as much as it is about technology – probably more so

Myles Runham, leader of digital mindset course

Written by Myles Runham, Consultant at Myles Runham Digital & Learning

There are many fascinating and beguiling themes about digital transformation (this is why we read and debate it so much). One characteristic that can make it hard to grasp is that it offers both damnation and salvation. Every category of activity is being upended by digital forces. Equally, all organisations across these categories need to survive (and seek to thrive) by applying the methods and approaches of digital transformation. Digital represents an opportunity as much as threat. For incumbent organisations, the threat rises as time passes and rises more rapidly. Doing nothing is a pretty certain route to irrelevance.

For many leaders, the most frightening feature of digital change is the seemingly relentless rise in expectations of customers and consumers. As our digital experience grows, we demand ever more speed, relevance, access, control and connection. Resting on laurels is historically foolish, of course, but it seems now that even the briefest pause can undermine our positions. Embracing a digital mindset needs the embrace of a constant focus on heightened user expectations. This is not a change programme with an end point it is an ongoing and ‘always on’ response to a changing landscape.

Digital technology is clearly the great enabler in this revolution. It has allowed an ease of connection to people, content and services at an unprecedented scale. It has also provided an unparalleled opportunity in the application of data to decision making. Every click, swipe and scroll can indicate potential value. This coupling of connection and data are fundamentals of the digital revolution and what makes it different from other upheavals.

Increasingly, and rightly, organisations are starting to consider responses to digital change as mindset and cultural factors more than technological, or as requiring cultural change with the technology developments. To be sure, technology is a necessary condition of a digital transformation but implementation of technology is not sufficient alone. The keys to unlocking the value of digital are in the combination of leadership, organisation and behaviours to solve the problems of customers and users. Digital ways of working rely on the mindset of the teams and their leaders to develop and apply technology.

Similarly, the introduction of technology skills alone will not make the most of the opportunities of the digital revolution. Software engineering and the related disciplines of the web era continually demonstrate why they are so valued in employment markets. Successful digital businesses harness these skills and their owners through a clear sense of purpose, principles by which products are created and a clear focus on user needs. These product management fundamentals are crucial to unlocking the value of those engineers. Recent developments in silicon valley might indicate that engineering culture also poses risks in understanding the consequences of development choices. Solving an engineering problem can create unforeseen social problems. The right mindset is vital.

So, what does a digital mindset look like? In no ranked order, a digital team will exhibit these features:

  • Put user needs and motivations above other concerns in their designing and making.
  • Seek evidence in decision making and feel discomfort in a lack of evidence.
  • A focus on evidence and demonstrable evidence encourages honesty.
  • Be empowered and will probably expect empowerment in developing and managing products and services.
  • A digital mindset will tend to be open – or tend towards openness:
    • Information is shared freely
    • Access to information is therefore expected by the workforce
    • Expectations of sharing are prevalent – hence the prevalence of Slack
    • Product performance is open too: KPI’s are easy to find
  • This is important as it is relevant to a culture of accountability in delivering results.
  • An accountable team tends to be urgent and oriented to action.
  • Another lens on urgency is a desire to act at speed. For many digital teams being slow (or feeling slow) is by nature a poor quality output.
  • Digital teams have a strong learning culture – perhaps the strongest.
    • Review and improve is an expectation of digital workplaces.
    • Test and learn equally drives the product focus.
    • Each one teach one.
  • All these cultural elements need a certain flavour of leadership to thrive:
    • Present and active –
    • An atmosphere of trust from leaders and managers who have clearly set expectations
    • I hesitate to use the ‘authentic’ word but there is a clear thread of personal and direct communication styles in digital leaders.
  • Digital leadership needs to be simple, clear and focused – like a good product

Technology it’s adoption and development threads through all of these elements. It is the application of technology with a digital mindset that creates the value. This is as much about the culture, behaviour, organisation and leadership of teams as it is about the code they write.


Myles Runham is the trainer for the Digital Leaders Academy Course “Developing Your Digital Mindset,” – find out more.

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