Does Your Business Understand the ‘How’ of Digital Transformation?

Digital transformation is a term that has been thrown around board rooms for a few years now. Many legacy businesses that once struggled with accepting the need for digital transformation now unanimously accept it, but are increasingly struggling with how to implement the change.

It is a dangerously broad term that can mean anything from creating or redesigning a website, to launching a digital marketing campaign to a complete change in the structure and working of a business. That is why the how of digital transformation has become a headache for many top executives in more traditional firms who believe their business is being threatened by digital start-ups who are disrupting the market.

One the one hand, you have businesses that believe that digital transformation is the creation of digital platforms and new marketing channels that once did not exist and on the other, you have those that believe that it means replicating the digital start-up culture perfected by the likes of Facebook and Google. The answer is sort of in-between and more nuanced than the extremes presented above.

What digital transformation is not

An important concept to grasp when talking about digital transformation in businesses is that it is not an end product. The very word transformation should hint at the fact that it is an ongoing process, yet there has been a fixation of reaching an end goal of having your business become ‘digital’.

It is a dangerous concept for the very reason that the digital world is no longer a separate entity that evolves at its own pace – the digital world is now just the world. There is no ‘traditional’ or ‘non-digital’ world that exists in tandem with the digital one. As the world – read digital world – is ever changing and advancing, there cannot be a fixed goal in sight and so digital transformation is an ongoing reaction and adaption to the trends of the world.

Because non-digital is now extinct, many executives and consultants are referring to digital transformation as business transformation. It is a response to the shift in consumer behaviour away from traditional channels and into an almost purely digital environment in which they interact with their peers and with businesses.

The how of digital transformation

One reason why newer companies, and specifically technology start-ups, have found it so easy to adapt and change to the latest digital trends is that by virtue of being young companies, they can enact vast change rapidly. They can get board approval to purchase billion dollar companies in fields that never existed a few years prior in the drop of a hat.

Legacy companies that have been around for decades and even hundreds of years will often struggle to get a buy-in from the board. For an effective digital transformation, you need a vision (not a goal) of where your company is headed and you need all employees, senior and junior, to buy into that vision and engage with it.

The biggest barrier to effective change is often quoted as the belief of senior leadership that no change is needed.

A culture change is often needed because of this. A poll by Organic found that 30% of respondents believe that transformation of the culture of the business is required for a successful digital transformation while only 8% believe that adopting new IT is required.

A customer-centred approach to tackling digital transformation is the best option because technology, by virtue, will track the needs of consumers and customers. Any implemented project has to serve a real customer need, and at the same time, a customer need has to be understood and predicted and planned for. The failure to do so is what leads to start-ups entering the market, based on delivering something that other companies failed to deliver on.

Many digital transformation projects are short-term and do not always deliver a ‘bang’ when revealed. What business needs is constant progress, addressing micro-goals that contribute towards a long-term vision. If your business can achieve this, then you are on the right path towards digital transformation and the goal of remaining relevant in an ever-changing world.

How to Get the Attention of Your Board of Directors

For any ambitious professional, the pinnacle of their career will be joining the board of directors. Not only does a position on the board come with the benefits of status as well as financial rewards but also provides a unique insight into a business along with which comes a great responsibility for influencing change.

Depending upon the sector of the organisation, most boards of directors will look to strengthen their leadership team by appointing individuals from across all of the critical sectors of their business. Typically, this will include a representative from areas such as finance, legal, HR, sales and logistics. Many larger organisations will also include a space for IT on their board but is their room for more specialisms? In particular, can a cybersecurity executive find their way to the boardroom?

With more and more such positions opening in job markets it seems that the answer is plain but just how do you go about making that momentous step?

What is the board looking for?

A board of directors is established to provide a strong and knowledgeable team to support, advise and manage critical business functions as well as determine the direction of an organisation’s policies. A place at the boardroom table depends on three key factors: business acumen, technical expertise and gravitas.

At least one of these is an obvious one and is something that should be well within your control to achieve: technical expertise. There is no point in looking for a place at the board table if you do not possess a superior knowledge of your field of experience.

Business acumen is the second achievable quality that professionals can set their career plan on achieving. Directors appointed to the board must be able to apply their field of expertise to the wider picture of the business in which they are operating. They must be able to appreciate other key factors which influence the decisions being made and be able to operate within, and to, the existing company policy, ethos and goals.

Gravitas is a slightly ‘fuzzier’ skill set that is difficult to define but covers the interpersonal skills associated with people who can operate at a senior level, can communicate effectively and can conduct themselves with a great deal of professionalism.

Acquiring essential skills and work experience

To reach the lofty heights of the boardroom you will be in competition with a large number of other ambitious candidates so it is important to ensure that you have a wide range of transferable skills as well as a broad background of senior positions held. To hold a position of such seniority you need to be able to demonstrate that you are qualified to do so. Successful candidates who make the leap to the board of directors can typically evidence their progression in one of four backgrounds:

Experience in legal or consulting;
Government backgrounds particularly in the military or intelligence community;
Previous roles as CISO/CSO’s;
CEO’s of cybersecurity firms (typically those that have moved on following acquisition or IPO’s).
What experience in any of these roles demonstrates is a business acumen above, and in addition to, technical knowledge.

You think you have what it takes so, how do you get in front of the right people?

It may very well be that you are currently working in an organisation where opportunities to join the board exist but it is more likely that you will need to be proactive in getting yourself in the market.

Firstly, be aware of those industry sectors that are most likely to seek someone with specific experience in cybersecurity. At the moment this is very pertinent to those organisations that offer critical services: sectors with government contracts, energy companies, healthcare and industrial manufacturing are all prime candidates to approach.

Press the flesh and start networking. There is no greater impact than actually connecting with people directly. Do your research and be sure to attend events, seminars and conferences that will have other board directors attending. Take the opportunity to meet people of influence and try to get introduced to potential recruiters. By all means look to a recruiting firm directly but do take the bull by the horns and be your own best marketing strategy.

Whilst you wait for your efforts to pay off, take any opportunity to improve the attractiveness of your resume.

Finally, if you are serious about reaching board level then you may need to take a fresh look at your career plan. Cybersecurity is a hot field right now and there are many new start-ups taking the lead over larger competitors; getting on board with an innovative young company could lead you to your goals sooner than you think.

A Guide to Building a Safe Corporate Culture

Safety culture is spoken frequently but it is infrequently well understood. To be successful a commitment, safety must permeate the corporate culture. A strong safety culture is unlikely to just exist, but it will need to be defined and built from the top down, guided by the leadership team and management. In the 1930’s and 1940’s H.W.Heinrich developed a behavior based safety concept. He researched thousands of insurance reports and came to the conclusion that approximately 90 percent of industrial accidents were due to employee failures. Therefore to correct the issue, worker behaviors need to be changed, perhaps by instilling safety into corporate culture. The question is, how can this be done in practice? These are our top three ways in which to build a safe corporate culture.

1. Empower employees to be observant and speak up

There will be occasions where something just does not seem right and an employee being empowered to speak up and halt what is in progress, could avoid a serious event from occurring. If employees are going to feel that they have the authority to pause a working practice, they need support from management and the organizational leaders. An employee’s caution could prevent an accident, but on the other hand they may have been overly cautious, and they need to be able to raise their voice without the fear of reproach from management or colleagues. In many organizations there will be social norms in play which may prevent for example more junior staff from feeling they can appropriately raise concerns, so culture has to shift to accommodate everyone having a voice.

2. Organizational risks are understood

This seems simple but it can often be missed. Employees should be aware of the inherent risks in the task they are undertaking, whether it be a service or a product they are involved in delivering. Employees should be trained on the risks, and how to mitigate against them, thereafter they should receive periodic training to try and avoid complacency. Additionally, it is important to have a record of all accidents and near misses and ensure that employees are aware of both. This is not designed to instill fear in employees, but to bring their attention to the risks and associated safety methods used for mitigation.

3. Avoid the blame game and encourage continuous improvement

Accidents happen and very often organizations will not discuss them openly. To genuinely instill a safety culture, accidents need to be discussed and valuable insights should be drawn out and there should be learning. The result should be a focus on continuous learning and improvement. Managers and leaders should not look to assign blame when something goes wrong, but encourage openness and information sharing. One way to share information is to agree a set of reports and an associated communication strategy.

In summary

Organizations don’t want industrial accidents to happen for a myriad of reasons. We know that most accidents can be avoided by employees themselves. However, very often employees become complacent, or they are poorly trained, or they see something go wrong but are just too intimidated to speak up. A safety culture seeks to create an organizational environment enforced by the management and leadership team which engenders open conversation without fear of reproach. It also looks worth to be discusses and learnt from past mistakes and ensured that all employees understand the risks the organization faces. There is a number of ways to develop this culture, some of which have been identified above, but at its core are trust, openness, training, and commitment to continuous improvement.