Monday, November 20, 2017

Look Back and Look Forward for Leading Digital Transformation Confidently

Either for change or innovation, it’s important to know when to look back and when to look forward.

Organizational change and digital transformation are inevitable. As a matter of fact, the life cycle of business today grows shorter and shorter because of the increasing pace of changes, overwhelming growth of information, and demanding of shareholders.  The business transformation journey is full of velocity and uncertainty, thus, a clear vision is in demand. Vision is the ability to see beyond what is to what could be. It is the synthetic view of ‘looking forward,” and “looking behind,” “looking beyond,” and “looking around.” But more specifically, how can digital leaders today look back and look forward to leading digital transformation?

Back view mirror is very important to learn from previous mistakes or errors: People always say you shouldn't live in the past. But there are valuable lessons to draw on in the past from time to time to gain “lesson learned.” Lack of change review, reflection, and recognition is one of the biggest pitfalls in change management and business transformation effort. In practice, often when a change initiative is completed, often the team walks away without checking to see if it adds value or evaluating if additional work is required. The lack of breathing space between change initiatives is an issue as well. The lack of recognition of change impacts individuals and businesses’ willingness to extend themselves again for the next change. Without taking a breath to look back, plowing on to the next big thing before completely embedding the change into business as usual or running multiple simultaneous changes can leave a workforce reeling and exhausted. Therefore, the change leaders should have a solid grasp on what has been tried before and analyze why those initiatives didn’t succeed. Successful transformations require leaders to communicate a clear vision, change must be adopted by all first-line managers, take the courage for experimenting, and then scale the best and next change management practices. Do not be afraid to make fine adjustments as implementation is underway. Historical lessons are important as well, those who fail to learn from history are doomed.

The positive and forward-looking view is more about thinking ahead, to prepare and face the challenges and uncertainty on the way to the future: Digital transformation starts with the realization that where you are currently no longer can deliver the business goals and reach the long-term vision of success for your company and your shareholders. Looking back can teach you valuable lessons and become well-prepared for the journey ahead. Be careful though, there are still some blind spots on the way. It is the forward-looking view you need to focus on for steering in the right direction. Therefore, they say your windshield is larger than your rearview mirror for a reason. When we jump into the digital future of “VUCA” new normal –Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity, by focusing forward we are able to more accurately judge the coming curves and obstacles in our path. The forward-looking view of the organization is to determine what the future needs to look like, what the transformation must look like, how to overcome the roadblocks, close the blind spots, and deal with change inertia. Looking forward is not always so easy, often it’s cloudy. Digital transformation is a long-term journey, it has to be clearly understood in the map's vision to satisfy both short-term gratification and long-term high-performance result.  

Digital transformation isn’t just an extension of continuous improvement of the current business, but a quantum leap with radical change. It’s important to know when to look back and when to look forward. If you focus too long, too much on the past, you will not be prepared to react when potential obstacles enter your path ahead. Thinking outside the current constraints and comfort zones requires a different vision and the courage to pursue it. The great leaders stand up as high as they can and look in every direction they could view the landscape from a different angle and steer digital transformation holistically.


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