The challenge is on. It may feel like every organisation and competitor has gone digital, or is going through a digital transformation strategy. Everyone but you. Gartner says 91% of organisations are ‘engaged in some form of digital initiative’. You know you need to get started, but don’t know where to begin.

The temptation is to increase spending on IT in the hope that new technologies will fix everything. After all, digitalisation is a company priority for 87% of senior business leaders. The 40% of organisations that have successfully brought digital initiatives to scale may tell you that technology budgets are only part of the overall strategy. The other 60% may tell you how difficult digital transformation actually is!

A successful digital transformation strategy comprises many parts, people and developmental stages. With this in mind, senior leaders may feel pressured into making decisions too quickly and without adequate forethought. The solution is to be mindful of the steps a successful digital transformation strategy entails.

Step 1: Understand how your organisation works

To begin, take stock of everything. Digital transformation involves having a more profound understanding of what makes your organisation tick. This means knowing your talented workforce and the daily processes they implement, the technologies they use, and the efficiencies (and inefficiencies) of various organisational pipelines. Leaders should scrutinise what works and what doesn’t.

Undergoing a digital transformation isn’t necessarily about a wholesale digitalisation of an organisation. It’s about understanding how a business operates and using new techniques and trends to fine-tune efficiencies. Among these techniques is intelligent automation (IA), which has the potential to dramatically improve productivity.

An IBM report states that ‘90% of executives whose organisations are scaling intelligent automation say it creates higher-value work for their employees’. And UK employees are equally optimistic, with 48% of UK office workers positive about the impact automation will have. (Only 10% feel automation will have a negative impact.)

With more time on their hands thanks to recognising and automating inefficient processes, employees may feel happier at work. Edward Houghton of the CIPD says: ‘Automation definitely gives more opportunity to add human value and enables the organisation to make the most of the human elements of work, such as building relationships that are very hard to automate.’

So, scrutinise workflows to see where new technologies might help processes and employee experience.

Step 2: Implement technology where it will matter most

You can take advantage of various new tools and techniques once you and your workforce clearly understand where best to implement them. If digital transformation is about modernising how your organisation runs, technology is an enabler of change.

You may want to begin by empowering your employees with updated tools. These may take the form of better digital tools for analysing data and complex information (only 32% of tech companies fully utilise their customer data), information storage solutions, project management software, communication apps, and more.

Senior leaders should be mindful of implementing too much too soon. McKinsey rightly says that for every pound spent on digital, ‘another should be spent on adoption’. In other words, a successful digital transformation strategy should include a training and development programme for learning how new tools and techniques work.

With improved data literacy and digital capabilities, employees can set about improving operational workflows.

In a nutshell, update those tools that will lead to operational and organisational change and help employees understand and use them. Empower your workforce to create a new digital norm, but don’t go too fast.

Step 3: Be nimble and agile

By moving to the cloud, your organisation may find it easier to adopt a more agile approach to digital transformation. The benefits of cloud computing in this regard are improvements around scaleability, security, business costs and employee connectedness. However, the effort you’ve put in to understanding how your business works may not amount to much if your development strategy is inflexible and cumbersome. This is where being nimble and agile should help.

Senior leaders should also be mindful of taking their time. Being nimble doesn’t mean being hasty. A Gartner report reveals that transformation projects can fail when companies ‘pick a technology and implement it at speed … with no long-term vision of how this will improve their services’.

So yes, cloud-native platforms (a top Gartner trend for 2022) could help your digital transformation project by enabling you to be more nimble and agile. From this, you can apply the fundamental building blocks of agile methodology, improving communication and teamwork as they apply to project management.

An organisation stands to gain more by running small teams of people, frequently measuring outcomes and failing fast.

Step 4: Provide leadership and transparency

Company reputation means a lot when it comes to attracting top talent. 71% of jobseekers say it impacts their decision of whether to accept a job offer. This is why it’s important that senior leaders acknowledge the key roles employee experience and culture play in a digital transformation strategy.

The steps above provide the logistics of how to improve across all areas of the business, yet this final step is perhaps the most crucial. Without good, transparent and communicative leadership, digital transformation projects could fail: ‘C-suite executives have different focus areas and goals. They often don’t speak to each other when making tech decisions, or if they do, they struggle to effectively communicate.’ (Deloitte UK)

The modern, digital-savvy leader is the person who brings people and departments together, which is vital for digital transformation projects. They are a change agent. It’s essential that leaders nurture and encourage a culture of openness and transparency, so the organisation improves as a collective enterprise. Employees should feel endowed with the benefits of modernisation, and motivated to experiment with new ideas.

A digital transformation leader should be clear and realistic about goals, and committed to overseeing the development of change in action.

By listening to employees, you can learn what’s required to make a digital transformation strategy work. By providing technology where it matters most, you can make strides towards fixing workflow inefficiencies. With nimbleness and agility, you can transform how your organisation operates. And by over-communicating the development roadmap, you stand a higher chance of success than the CEO without focus and commitment.