Is your company ready to absorb what you're going to throw at it this year - more customers, higher sales, lofty revenue targets, and elevated customer service expectations?
Embracing a "digital" mindset will not only help through the tools it brings - better analytics, big data, mobile, and cX (customer experience) tools - but can transform an entire company's culture to be more customer-centric and better able to execute quickly and accurately.
Middle market companies want to understand how to evolve into this new paradigm and avoid the cost, disruption, and risk of jumping in all at once. To that end, here are three simple things you can do in 2017 to get your team ready for digital transformation:
1. Focus on creating a culture of execution
Digital is all about execution - constantly improving how you serve your external and internal customers and constantly innovating, implementing, and iterating. Achieving small execution victories will build a culture that prioritizes action and will serve as an example for long-time employees about the value this mindset brings.
Just as importantly, an execution culture knows how to fail small and move on. This is difficult for historically risk-averse environments and takes strong leadership to change.
- Execute a project in Q1. Pick a project, a small project. Assign it to someone. Ask them to create a plan. Assign a team. Meet for status weekly. Make sure it's adopted by the business. Simple!
- Do at least one technology project. No matter what industry you are in, software will be a major driver of your capacity to execute over the long-haul. Bring in the right people to help decide on the project, choose how to do it, and manage it through to execution.
- Simpler projects can include reorganizing your inventory, improving how people are quoting, or rolling out a new sales tool to your staff.
- If the business is ready, extend yourselves by touching a large system and more people - inventory control, time and expense tracking, order management, or even a full-blown ERP or CRM project.
- The goal should be to get someone in your company to plan and execute a project, to improve one very specific area or solve a specific problem, and to prove to your people that not only can changes make things better for them, they can be done with little disruption and be led by people you have.
2. Start a mentoring program
Digital requires collaboration towards the goal of total company achievement. Succeed together on small things that mean something big for the company. This means everyone in your organization needs to support each other and be vested in one another's success. Mentoring relationships send a strong message about how you intend to grow people internally, allow them to develop over time, and how your most experienced people need to invest in the next generation. The best encourage open and honest dialogue without fear of retribution. They also serve as arguably the strongest way to retain and grow young talent.
- Start small - assign one or two junior staff members to experienced staff who have the mentality of a mentor
- Create a simple list of topics you expect them to work on (avoid developing a complex framework of expectations). Examples could include career counseling, identifying key skills to develop, helping them network within the company, or exposing them to more of the marketplace. They could even include 360-degree elements with the younger staff member expected to teach the experienced staff member something specific.
- Set aside budget for them to go to lunch occasionally
- Meet with both every 6 months to see how it's going. Don't ask for a formal report - just make sure they are talking about important topics for both the company and the junior staff personally. Contrary to popular theory, I do NOT advocate measuring the program off the bat. Evaluate it qualitatively first, then move towards a more structured program later on.
3. Start planning your digital IT function
Effective digital tools require a number of foundational capabilities - a strong ERP/CRM and enterprise systems platform; a level of consistency with your business processes, and baseline technology skills throughout the organization. The odds are, you have some deferred maintenance in these areas. You may not be able to dive in right now, but you can plan the specific steps to prepare your organization to get there over the next 12-18 months.
For example, a central piece of your analytics strategy will be analytics. In their 2016 Tech Trends report, Deloitte called out "information acquisition and curation" and "information delivery" as two key elements of an analytics program. These items require strong underlying enterprise systems, disciplined processes, and well-established integration between your systems. These are all items you can work on now before you make the investment to dive into the latest and greatest analytics tools.
- Create a roadmap to get to the digital future you want. The right consultant will ensure the roadmap is aligned with your overall strategy and contains the foundational elements required to quickly evolve into a digital model.
- In the little projects we discussed in point 1, make your people accountable not just for implementing, but for monitoring success and improving the systems once they are being used by the business; and second, focus on agile development - constantly rolling out small improvements that add up to something substantial over time
- Start vetting vendors who may offer long-term relationships to help build your digital capabilities. Make sure they are selected in a way that aligns with your roadmap long-term
Even if you are just starting to think about digital, that's still a huge step in the right direction. Commit to spending the next year setting the stage for digital and beginning to evolve the organization in that direction.
Tolerate small failures, learn as a team, and generate lots of new ideas. Learn the digital marketplace - webinars, conferences, vendor demos are all great, easy ways to do this.
And have fun. Digital capabilities are exciting - enjoy the journey!