Background: Over the last few months, I have been travelling and speaking to many small companies from startups to established companies with decades of history. I have also been presenting on digital leadership for MBA courses and attending as many travel technology meetups as I can. The feedback and feel from the many I have spent time with are that they feel they are climbing a very steep and challenging mountain. A small percentage are hugely excited to be on this mountain but the majority are not even sure they are on the right mountain and they have no map and they feel the environment is changing so fast they just cannot see any possibility of reaching the peak of the mountain. A lot are just lost.
On Friday as I was guiding some clients from Germany up a very sunny Scottish mountain. To climb mountains you apply processes. In between being out of breath, I was thinking about a process for small business to apply to their digital transformation mountain challenges
Before we get to the process it is essential to understand that there is no end to this journey. A lot of businesses seem to be approaching this by project management mindset across different business function areas. There is no destination. You will, if you follow, the process below reach the peak but that is just a stage of a never-ending digital business transformation journey that will be full of extreme challenges, uncertainty, fluidity and even disorder at times. You have to develop a culture that embraces that and does not fight it or ignore it.
The Five-Step Process For Small Business Digital Transformation
One: Digital leadership: This is a must within the leadership team. Critically the CEO or MD requires today to have a digital mindset. If they do not they need to make an effort quickly to gain one. This is essential so that the strategic vision of the company plus its purpose and skill base are all aligned with quick decision making and a focus on constant innovation.
Two: Create a digital mindset across everyone in the business no matter what their current role. Ensure that all new hires come are already in that mindset and make innovation a core of everyone's role in the business. This will in most cases involve training and confidence building across all departments.
Three: Think like nature acts. Nature acts in ecosystems that are totally reliant on each other for the environment to thrive and replace. No business today, no matter how good, can act on its own. This is even more true for small business. I will go further. A small business that does not develop a collaborative system will not survive. Design from the customer back and create digital systems with suppliers, distribution channels, competitors, education, and start-ups. Always with a focus on making the customers experience better.
Four: The huge weakness of Data management and skill. Across the small business landscape, this is widespread. I understand why as I struggle with it myself in my business interests. However, it is essential to understand that all future competitiveness will be driven by the best use of data. From acquiring the correct data to storage to applying the correct analysis and correct use. This is the most difficult part of the journey it is the crux of the mountain.
Five: Technology Stack. Build the best technology stack you can by using a SAAS model, no small business is going to be able to compete by building their own tech. It is not about having the very best it is about having what does what is required for your vision and purpose and it ticks all the boxes of cloud, scale, security. Build towards one workplace, one platform one experience which will allow the team to work where they want when they want how they want. This will result in increased productivity.
You will notice that the first three steps are leadership and people driven. This is essential as if you do not get this correct the chances of customer-focused Data and Technology transformation journeys working are non-existent. Leadership has always been difficult but the Digital Leadership required today involves all traditional leadership attributes plus a very different mindset. If you do not have a digital mindset you must rapidly acquire one by education and live the digital life or take a tough leadership decision and start to replace yourself with a leader who is digitally skilled. The above guide is a simple route map. Obviously, the leadership, management and detail required at each stage are complex but in order to do complex journeys well, everyone needs to know in simple terms where and why they are going.