It’s widely documented that the large majority of digital transformations fail. I’ve studied these failures and the few successes on record, and there’s a significant factor determining which way it’ll go that’s not spoken about enough. 

The core problem of digital transformation is the problem any organisation or institution, public or private sector, faces when trying to change. It has very little to do with technology and everything to do with leadership.

Here it is: The people with the most significant influence on the decisions (and budgets) that can effect real change are those with the shortest timelines for value extraction. Most have a 3 – 5 year timeline for maximising personal wealth. 

This study found that there is precious little dispersion in the average age of directors between different S&P 500 companies. The average age of all boards was 62.4!! This is even more pronounced – and more destructive – in politics.

Even if these senior stakeholders believe they are acting in the best interests of the company and its future, their personal timelines will (even subconsciously) impact decision-making.

Corporate middle management is the echelon most invested in what their organisation will look like in 10 or 15 years, but broadly speaking, it has almost zero autonomy or influence. This will also explain why many talented young SA politicians have jumped ship.

Genuine transformation (digital, economic, societal or otherwise) demands:

1. Longer timeframes for success

2. Upfront investment 

3. A shift in priorities and behaviours

These critical factors tend to threaten bonuses, share prices, etc. in the short term.

That’s why our approach to digital transformation asks leaders to have an honest conversation with themselves and their teams about their timeframe for value creation and to plot and commit to an appropriate response on that basis.

Spectrum of Digital Transformation

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