Articles 3 min read

A Year in Transformation

Many businesses changed their vision as they went into 2021, embracing the new ways of working, thinking and engaging customers which have been born out of necessity during the pandemic.

There are also a large number of businesses whose transformation just didn’t hit the mark and they have suffered the consequences.

We have looked back on 2021 and interviewed some senior leaders across multiple sectors on what they think are the core reasons for transformation programmes failing, but also what they believe is the future of digital and data transformation now we have entered 2022.

One thing many of our interviewees agreed is that a strong starting point for any transformation must be a clear focus. Sol Enenmoh, Head of Digital Transformation at Vanquis Bank, when we asked why he believes so many transformation programmes fail said “it boils down to a lack of alignment, a lack of a shared vision or view across an organisation”. He also stated that this is driven from the top, and if senior leaders have differing views and visions, it can filter down to create friction and tension within the middle layers of an organisation.

When conducting research in partnership with DataIQ in the spring of 2021, a survey with senior data leaders across the UK showed that alignment was a serious concern for them. When we dig into the barriers to alignment, however, some interesting themes arise. Most respondents cited silos preventing collaboration and a lack of alignment among senior leaders. This is despite wide agreement that transformations are being led from the top – but only 26% stated that senior leaders are actively involved.

So where to start? How do we over-come these barriers and set the programme up for success and break down those silos? James Coughlan, Digital Transformation Director said “it starts in the boardroom, with all senior leaders knowing the why, the who and the how” while going further to explain how the entire organisation and the people all need to be bought on board for it to be successful.

At Engine, we believe transformation is a mindset. What we mean is something very similar to the ‘hive mind’ biologists talk about when describing the group intelligence shown by a colony of honeybees or ants. For any business planning to transform, investing up-front in nurturing this coherence is time and energy well spent. Cohesion lasts longest and delivers the greatest returns when it is focused on a single-minded purpose. Every successful transformation starts with a well-defined, robust and motivating North Star: a vision that can inspire and direct the whole organisation.

So that is why transformations fail, but what comes next? When interviewing senior leaders in 2021, a whopping 52% of them agreed that technology is what receives the most investment and resource when it comes to digital transformation. But is that right? Ricardo Miller, Head of Head of Change & Engagement in IT Transformation at Drax Group explains why he thinks this is the case. He talks about how there has been a big shift, not just in HR, but a lot of central services from only having a choice of global system providers to niche service providers. Ricardo also emphasises that there is a challenge in the way we work, in which we are increasingly having to adopt a multifaceted approach to change. Technology is driving much more of a hybrid approach, therefore taking a more human centred approach to change and adoption will be seen to grow within a changing face of technology.

When asked about the weighting of IT and Technology teams in transformation, James Coughlan says that “technology isn’t the solution, it is the enabler to solutionise your business’ future state, or desires”. Businesses need to avoid the temptation of the ‘tech toybox’ by ensuring that technology is the right fit for the transformation you are trying to deliver and understanding its impact on other areas of the business.

At Engine we agree, we believe that all transformation is a careful formula, we use the word formula specifically as chemistry makes an excellent metaphor for transformation. First, every organisation is unique and must be treated as such. Second, the purpose of transformation is to re-organise and augment the business in order to create a stronger, more sustainable entity. And third, the process must release the energy that drives growth. Technology may be the answer, but ensuring you understand how that impacts areas such as data, customer, brand and culture are key, many people input great technology, but are the ways of working and training in place to ensure it will deliver your North Star vision?

So what is the future of transformation in 2022 and how can you guarantee success? Sol Enenmoh, Head of Digital Transformation at Vanquis Bank believes that we need to think more like ‘innovation factories”. Instead, we must focus on small, sustainable changes with agile ways of thinking and working to move away from “technical debt” and multiyear initiatives that drone on. This is supported by recent studies agree with 100% of business leaders stating improving operational agility is a priority.

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