Digital transformation is all abuzz but so many leaders never get beyond talking about it. They give lip service to changing and going digital but never take any real steps towards making it happen. As a result, the concept just sort of dies on the vine and their organization suffers.

To make sure that “digital transformation” is more than just a buzzword at your company, you’ll need to reinvent yourself as a leader. Once you’ve accomplished that, you can begin to initiate the kinds of internal changes that really stick and make a difference in the health of your company.

Here are the three capabilities you’ll need to conquer if you want to successfully guide your company along the road of digital transformation.   

#1. The Ability to Become an Agile Leader

A company is a living system, not a machine. As such, it evolves according to its surroundings, much like a living creature or an ecosystem. Unlike a machine, a living system changes over time in a constant state of fluid motion toward symbiosis with its environment.

At least that’s the way leaders should think if they want their organization to stay viable in the 21st century. It’s called agility. To become an Agile leader, you’ll have to let go of three traditional habits that leaders used to require in the pre-digital era:

    1. Planning. Planning only goes so far since the ability to bend with a changing environment is key these days.
    2. Control. A strict, hierarchical structure doesn’t encourage cross-pollination of ideas at an organization. It doesn’t facilitate conversations that lead to innovation. It doesn’t allow for creative problem-solving or collaboration. Leaders need to relinquish certain forms of control and seek input and new ideas from their teams.
    3. Certainty. The world is unpredictable and companies that don’t continually evolve to embrace change will quickly become irrelevant. Learn to let go of old ways of thinking and doing that no longer work.

#2. A Full Implementation of Design Thinking

We’ve talked about this in another post recently but basically, design thinking is all about putting the customer first… in every decision you make. There’s a lot of hype around this idea these days so,  like ‘digital transformation’, it’s a buzzword that often never gets put into practice.

To make design thinking a reality, first consider its worth. Companies like Apple and Uber dominated their fields by putting the experience of the customer first. They thought deeply about how people were experiencing their products, then went to work creating better products to improve those experiences. The focus wasn’t always on the ‘bottom line’. It wasn’t always on market share, retention rates, or growth. It was the customer experience.

For Apple, that meant integrating design into the product development process from the very start. Similarly, for Uber, it meant creating a ride-hailing system that put the rider first. They asked what made riding a traditional cab so unpleasant or inconvenient? Then they removed all those pain points and came up with a whole new business model.

That kind of innovation takes, among other things, deep collaboration between departments that were previously siloed within an organization. Does the sales department talk to the people in marketing? Does IT talk to HR? Everyone potentially has input on how to add value to your customers’ lives. It’s up to you, as a leader, to facilitate the kinds of conversations that lead to fresh new ideas on how to put the customer first in everything you do as a company.

#3. An Obsession With Data

If you’re not already harnessing data to make your company better, it’s time to jump in. Data adds power to your intuition and opens up new avenues of insight. Data can help you go far beyond your natural capabilities to understand your organization and make decisions. In fact, the kind of insight that data provides to leaders is absolutely essential for survival now. By having people on hand who can harness, organize, and glean insight from data, you will become the kind of leader who successfully manages a digital transformation journey.

You can feel at ease about data-centricity even if you’re not all that confident in your abilities. Don’t worry if you aren’t the smartest person in the room when it comes to data. As a leader, your job is to create a culture that supports respect for data and all that it can bring. It’s also you job to get interested in data and to learn about it.

Bottom line: hire people who are not only good at working with data but also good at explaining data to you so you can use it to make better decisions for your company.

What to do Next

As you can see, if you’re in the exciting position of leading digital transformation, there are a lot of things to consider. Just mastering these three capabilities we’ve discussed here is enough to keep any leader busy for many months to come. But it’s worth it in the end: being an agile leader, creating a strong data culture, and using design thinking when you make decisions will not only transform you as a leader but you’ll get to watch your organization rise to the top as well.

To get started, we suggest diving headfirst into all three capabilities at once. Don’t wait until you’ve become an ‘expert’ — just get in there and start practicing. Sort of like when you’re developing a product and it improves with each iteration, put out your own personal MVP and get better with each day.  While your competitors are still busy learning about digital transformation, you’ll already be working on it and seeing results!