The Nine Principles of Digital Transformation Success

Baxter Thompson Ltd, Jon Baxter

While the rise of Digital has drastically changed our lives this past decade, many organisations still find themselves struggling with ERP upgrades and legacy software. This unfortunate disconnect between consumer experiences and enterprise operations begs some questions:

What if we could quickly develop effective technological solutions across all teams? And how would we go about doing so?

I suggest that corporate Digital Transformation is akin to change an aeroplane's engines mid-flight; it requires carefully developing a strategy and assets for practical change. Before we get tho the technology question, we have to address the equally vital people question.

Just imagine: You’re tasked with walking onto the wing to change an engine. Prior to tackling this difficult task, you’d want assurance that your entire aerial team will uphold some basic principles:

  •     A clear mission
  •     Open chanels of communication
  •     Collaborative teamwork
  •     Energy for change
  •     Accountability for progress
  •     The freedom to take measured risks
  •     The value of customer centricity
  •     Consistency in action

When it comes to Digital Transformation, assessing these principles is key to optimizing your organisation’s potential for success. If even one gets swept under the rug, your plane will undoubtedly crash; if each is accounted for, you’ll have the foundations necessary to recreate your organisation’s destiny.

Clear Mission

Before we can even consider renovating our proverbial plane, we need to reexamine original blueprints. What is the core purpose of our organisation? Why do we do what we do?

According to a Harvard Business Review (HBR) study, 84% of employees and a staggering two-thirds of senior managers feel blind to overarching corporate priorities. If the only incentive to get up for work in the mornings is the paycheck, we know there’s a motivational problem. Hence the absolute importance of a crystal clear mission statement that cohesively unites team-wide values and attitudes.


We can’t establish a central goal without first fostering open channels of dialogue. A Salesforce study found that 86% of executives point to inefficient communication as a cause for workplace failures.

The thing is - creating a culture of honest communication isn’t rocket science (or, for our matter, changing a plane engine). We can get past petty office politics and selfish motivations by implementing productive meetings, consistent check-ins, clarified roles, transparent expectations, and expedient responses (both top-down and bottom-up).

With a commitment to communications in place, we can more easily define your organisation’s future. And you can build up the coveted tenets of teamwork and trust.


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If communication is talking the talk, collaboration is walking the walk. After all, it’s one thing to be on the same page, but it’s another to actually put the organisation’s broader goals above our own and parlay this cohesion into actionable directives and tangible progress.

That initial HBR article suggests that 70% of managers view subpar coordination or alignment to be their biggest obstacles (rather than, say, outright incompetency). Thus, an effort to improve teamwork isn’t just a boon for team morale; it’s a legitimate investment for future success.

Trust and Respect

Achieving teamwork without trust is a difficult prospect, which is why I emphasize leading through open conversation. Sustained, honest communication can cultivate a “We’re in this together” mentality through the ebbs and flows of your organisation’s transformation.

For instance, in the evolving age of Digital, you may feel uncertain about your future within your organisation. Simply sharing that sentiment can earn you the respect of your peers facing similar dilemmas

Energy for Change

With communication, teamwork, and trust in place, the road to your central goal is paved with a collective energy for change. It’s worth realizing that change of all forms - whether it’s Digital or a diet - is typically a painful process requiring willpower.

But if we can convince our teams of a compelling “Why?”, we can overcome that natural resistance to change and tap into people’s reserves of energy. The combination of togetherness and deeper meaning can motivate anyone to go the extra mile.

Accountability for Progress and the
Freedom to Take Risks

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Now that we have a unified, motivated team, how do we move forward? First and foremost, it requires balancing the risk of inaction with the risk of failure.

It’s easy to suffer from “paralysis of analysis” by boiling the ocean of research without making a decision. Our peers and customers, however, expect us to demonstrate progress. We can reconcile this reality by judging market changes, proposing feasible options, and moving ahead confidently. The reality is that risk is unavoidable, so we must plan accordingly to mitigate the pitfalls of failure.

Customer Centricity

Any evaluation of risk and initiative requires us to consider the customers. On a micro level, this means understanding their attitudes, habits, and perspectives: why do they buy from us? Furthermore, how do our business operations contribute to customers’ perceptions? A deep comprehension of their desires and pain points, bolstered by respectful service, can be the difference in acquiring customer loyalty… And increasing profits.

From a macro view, customer centricity entails ethical considerations. For instance, should Facebook - who provided consumers with social benefit at the expense of personal data loss and harmful media - have tried to fulfil an ethical obligation to society? Or is it fair to wait for regulations and backlash? Obtaining the right balance depends on your organisation’s mission.

Consistency in Action

Internally, routines are essential vehicles to progress. Too often, we are burdened by distractions, conflicting priorities, and urgent requests; establishing and accepting habitual practices provides order within the chaos.

Creating time in our diary for specific tasks takes almost as much willpower as the activity itself, but done on a sufficiently regular basis, habits and routines are formed and it becomes an accepted practice. If we have been consistent over the weeks and months, looking back we'll have just provided a small, personal example of transformational change!

Looking forward

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Swapping engines mid-flight does not come about through some haphazard game of chance. To increase the chance of success for such a huge, risky undertaking of digital transformation, a careful balance on recognising the needs of technology and people in your company can only be done with clear principles established at the outset.

I believe that establishing these principles is a practice of Strategic Partnering. We need leadership in our organisation who enquires within our organisation as to what is said on these principles and assesses what is done in practice. Our call to action then is to close the gap and make our intent meaningful and relevant to all concerned; before we attempt to deliver.


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