Committee Corner: Leading a Digital Transformation

Sylvester Phifer

Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, says we are at the precipice of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.” Schwab forecasts a technological transformation that will profoundly change the very essence of the human experience.

This revolution, he notes, will unfold at a velocity and scale unlike anything experienced before, merging the physical, digital, and biological realms. With the advent of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, deep learning, the internet of things (IoT), augmented reality (AR), and more, we are witnessing astonishing technological innovations and remarkable interdisciplinary breakthroughs. 

While not all agree that we have reached the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” we do know businesses today are vulnerable to technological disruption with the digitization of every single industry and organization on the planet. Business models of every industry are undoubtedly being challenged and transformed. But with lots of challenge comes lots of opportunity. 

It’s incumbent upon us to have robust dialogue about the future of our industry, asking the tough questions and taking bold risks. I am big believer that the best way to predict the future is to create it ourselves. Table stakes for leading digital transformation require we articulate a deliberate strategy, continuously improve the customer experience, and create a culture of risk-taking that embraces technology and bold change. 

  • What’s your strategy? Although it may seem overplayed or unnecessary, creating a clear mission statement, thoughtful vision statement, and well-articulated strategic objectives will provide the necessary guideposts for organizations to lean in on business growth. The mission statement is foundational and answers the core question of why the organization exists. The vision statement is forward looking and frames where the organization wants to be. And the strategic objectives, as described by George T. Doran, should be: specific, measureable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound (SMART). Success requires insight and buy-in from your workforce, and a strategy planning process that holds people accountable for implementation. 
  • Customer experience. Digitalization has changed how companies compete for customers. Consumer expectations are pressuring companies to be sure that products, services, and customer experiences are at the cutting edge of technology. Exceeding consumer expectations begins with understanding the drivers of customer choice and what motivates them in the moment. Consumers expect a confluence of convenience, speed, quality, and unique experiences. Improving the consumer experience requires the use of real-time data, allowing organizations to listen, learn, anticipate, innovate, and continuously delight the consumer. 
  • Be bold. Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” If your organization does not leave room for failure, then you effectively stifle creativity and innovation. Organizations must be willing to fail. If your decisions are not keeping you up at night, then you might be doing something wrong. Creating a culture of risk-taking fosters an intellectually free environment that examines — and in some cases — transcends traditional ways of approaching business opportunities. Think Google Labs, where employees were encouraged to spend 20 percent of their time on pet projects. Google Labs is credited for incubating the likes of Gmail and Google Docs. Leading in this brave new world requires an environment where new ideas are encouraged, celebrated, pressure-tested and embraced. 

The “Fourth Industrial Revolution” and digital transformation requires organizations that are willing to lead, experiment, innovate, and iterate with new technology for the designing of exceptional consumer experiences. Leaders will need to deliberately articulate the mission, the vision, and strategic objectives as well as cascade them throughout their organizations.

The organizations that continue to thrive in the future can no longer just be participants in their silos. Rather, they will fundamentally need to become leaders across their entire ecosystem.