There is a fundamental flaw in how many people think about digital transformation or any type of organizational transformation effort.
First, people tend to think about it as a finite corporate project, rather than as a process of continual transformation.
There is a deeper flaw in thinking, however, that leads to this type of project mentality. Business leaders commonly think of transformation as something done at a corporate level — something the organization does to itself.
But that mindset creates a separation between the act of transformation at an organizational level and the transformation that must occur within each individual to make organizational transformation a reality.
The truth, however, is that there is no such thing as organizational transformation – at least not in the way people think about it. After all, organizations are merely collections of people with shared goals and objectives. Therefore, personal transformation becomes manifest at an organizational level as it spreads across the organization.
Maintaining an exclusively organizational focus is where most transformation efforts go off the rails. Business leaders fail to make transformation personal.
But the act of transforming the culture and operating model of an organization demands that each individual first accept the changing state of the organization, re-envision their role within it, and seek out the capabilities they need to participate in the process.
While this principle is true of any type of organizational transformation, the stakes are exponentially greater when embarking on a digital transformation effort, as such transformation will impact every facet of how the organization operates.
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It is critical, therefore, that organizations not miss the personal focus and risk undermining their transformational effort, as doing so ensures almost certain failure – and therefore organizational demise.
Beyond offering some retraining, however, most organizations invest very little in helping their teams execute this sort of personal transformation. But there is a clear approach for precisely this type of personal transformation process: building a practice.
Why You Need a Personal Transformation Practice
When you hear the phrase, “building a practice,” what comes to mind? We use the term in a variety of ways including in a professional sense, such as a legal, medical or consulting practice. We also use it in a personal growth sense, such as a yoga or meditation practice.
And while we don’t often talk about them as “a practice,” per se, we readily acknowledge that consistent practice is necessary in the pursuit of excellence in such things as sports or in playing a musical instrument.
In fact, whether we are talking about a medical practice, practicing yoga or mastering the craft of playing a musical instrument, the idea is consistent: excellence requires dedication, commitment, and continual effort.
Psychologist and Florida State University professor, Anders Ericsson, coined a phrase to represent this sort of focused and continual effort in pursuit of mastery: deliberate practice. The idea is that a person can achieve excellence in any field by continually practicing in a focused and deliberate fashion.
The concept has significant implications on a personal level, but for our purposes, the big message is that when you engage in ‘a practice,’ it’s not about getting something done.
Instead, it’s a never-ending process in which you mindfully and continually identify areas that need improvement and relentlessly pursue mastery in each successive area you identify.
When viewed through this lens, it becomes clear that digital transformation is not something that organizations can execute at a purely organizational level or via a project orientation.
Instead, it becomes something that they must pursue at a personal level as individuals relentlessly build the specific new technical, communication and management capabilities that the organization will need to thrive in the digital era.
If you’re a member of a team (and aren’t we all), then you need to take it upon yourself to build your own transformation practice. As you do so, there are three specific components that will make up the core of your practice.
The starting point for building a personal digital transformation practice is embracing the idea of continual exploration. This strikes at the heart of why transformation is not and can never be a project.
In his work, Ericcson explains how golfer Ben Hogan embraced this form of continual exploration in spite of already being one of the best golfers in the world. He would identify a small area for improvement and would work relentlessly on improving that one part of his game.
You can find similar stories amongst ‘the best’ in nearly any field of practice. The best are perpetually trying to improve whatever they do. It is only the mediocre who rest on their laurels and believe that they’ve ‘mastered enough.’
It may seem that these ideas would work well in the world of sports or music, but would be antithetical to life in a business. But the act of digital transformation, when you contemplate it at a personal level, is not very different.
You have been thrust into a new digital era and need a whole new set of capabilities to play your new role in the organization. Like Hogan, you may excel at some of these capabilities already, but there will be many others that need attention or which offer you the opportunity to make a leap forward.
Seeking out these opportunities and deliberately purusing their improvement is critical to building a transformation practice, and central to this process is the idea of exploration.
Those who engage in deliberate practice constantly challenge their own assumptions, and never accept that something as done or good enough. With child-like eyes, they look at their world anew each day and ask themselves how they can improve it in some way.
Digital transformation demands that the people who make up the organization execute this process on a continual basis. The nature of the organization and the skills that the organization will need in the future continue to change and evolve.
The ability to remain in a constant state of exploration — and change and improvement — will be the foundational element of building your personal digital transformation practice, and will ensure that your organization can respond to the demands of the digital era.
The Only Path to Transforming Your Organizations is by First Transforming Yourself
There is no digital transformation finish line. So stop worrying about it.
The only way to transform the organization is to begin by transforming yourself and your team. But — and this is the tough part of this story — you can’t actually transform your team. The best you can do is to inspire them to transform themselves and give them the tools to do so.
That begins with encouraging every member of your team to take personal responsibility for their own transformation and challenging them to build their own transformational practice — and if you’re a leader, the process should start with you.
It may feel backward, that you should be working on ‘organizational stuff’ rather than on helping your team develop a daily transformational discipline. But doing so will be the most critical thing you do to make change a core competency in your organization.
A version of this article was originally published on Intellyx.com and has been edited for relevance.