How to Manage a Forced Digital or Business Transformation

Written By: Kyler Cheatham
Date: September 20, 2022

Whether in response to the pandemic, global inflation, or new competition in the marketplace, many organizations have been forced into a digital transformation. The technology sector specifically is in a constant state of flux, with companies scrambling to keep up with the latest trends. This can be a challenge for businesses that are trying to digitally transform their operations, as they need to adopt new technologies while also managing the day-to-day business.

We are going through a global digital revolution, whether we like it or not. Both as a society and professional sector, we are moving away from traditional models of operation and into the digital age. The pandemic has been a major catalyst for this transition, as businesses have had to quickly adapt to new ways of working to survive.

Technology is now weaved into basically everything we do as human beings. Communications, entertainment, work, and even personal relationships are all managed through some form of technology. This is only going to increase as time goes on, so businesses need to stay ahead of the curve or understand how to service customers in a digital environment.

The Rise of the "Forced" Transformation

Typically, a digital transformation requires years of preparation and planning. However, with business literally closing their doors during covid, these transformation were fact-tracked. Overnight, workforces were sent home to try and maintain some sense of productivity. At the same time, organizations were trying to move their sales online and engage with customers differently.

Technology was the key to survival. Ecommerce options, telehealth, virtual sports and entertainment, global governments, remote work, schools, etc. became vital requirements for organizations. These complex changes didn't have time to strategically plan their technology implementations. They had to quickly adapt, which led to a lot of forced digital transformations.

This is an extreme challenge for businesses that are used to working in a certain way, as they need to change their processes and culture to fit with the new digital landscape.

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The New Digital Customer

Even with the global health pandemic settling down, ripple effects have created a new normal for customers. Their expectations have shifted and they now demand a different type of customer service.

Customers are now digital-first, which means they want to be able to engage with businesses online. They want fast, easy, and convenient access to products and services 24/7. If they can't find what they're looking for online, they will quickly move on to a competitor.

This has put a lot of pressure on businesses to not only have an online presence but to also create a seamless customer experience that meets the new digital demands.

The New Digital Workforce

Similarly, the global workforce went through a complete transformation. With work-from-home options, labor shortages, and the Great Reshuffle - it's been total chaos.

To retain or attract talent, businesses need to introduce new technology to support a remote workforce. This often requires a change in company culture, as well as how work gets done on a day-to-day basis. Even companies that have moved back to an in-office setting experience resistance hangovers from when everyone was sent home.

The pandemic has also created a skills gap as businesses are struggling to find employees with the right digital skills. With technology changing so rapidly, it's hard to keep up. There is a constant need for training and development to make sure employees can use the latest tools and software.

One of the biggest challenges with the new digital workforce is that it's completely decentralized. There is no longer a physical office or headquarters to house everyone. Employees are working from all over the world, which creates a big communication and coordination challenge, especially in a forced digital transformation.

Businesses need to find new ways to manage their workforces, including how to keep everyone on the same page, how to collaborate on projects, and how to manage employee performance. Most importantly, executives must be aligned on the identity of the company and how that influences digital strategies.

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How to Manage a Forced Transformation

Whether it's internal or external factors pushing an organization into a forced transformation, there is a specific approach needed to be successful.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this situation, and the methodologies can vary depending on the specific industry and company context. However, some key principles should be followed to ensure a successful digital or business transformation.

1. Take a deep breath, and define the problem or opportunity that the transformation is meant to address.

When your digital transformation is completely reactive, it can be extremely emotional and honestly, scary. The first step is to take a step back and figure out what the transformation is meant to achieve. Is it increasing revenue? Is it creating efficiencies? Is it improving the customer experience? Are you unable to get a certain material for your product?

Once you've defined the problem or opportunity, you can start to develop a clear plan and strategy on how to address it. An objective mind makes the most effective business decisions.

2. Assess the current state of the organization relative to the competition. Include a SWOT analysis:

You can't solve any issue without becoming aware of the root cause. This includes taking a good, hard look at where your organization currently stands. How does it compare to the competition? Is it behind, ahead, or on par?

Conducting a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) can help you understand the current state of your organization and where there might be potential risks or opportunities. This will give you a better idea of what needs to be done and where to focus your efforts.

Faster is not always better, which is much easier said than done. A digital transformation strategy should focus on the long-term sustainability organization, even if it's a little painful at the beginning.

3. Develop a clear vision and strategy for the transformation. This should include specific goals and objectives, as well as how they will be achieved:

This is likely one of, if not THE most important part of successfully managing a forced transformation. You need to have a clear understanding of what "success" looks like and how you'll get there. This includes setting specific goals and objectives that can be measured.

The strategy should include a timeline of when certain things need to happen, who is responsible for each task, what the budget is, and what risks need to be managed. Having a clear plan will make it much easier to execute and manage the transformation.

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4. Secure buy-in and support from key stakeholders

Forced or not, any digital transformation will fail without continued executive alignment. Clear vision and strategy are only effective if it's supported by those in charge. Be sure to keep key stakeholders updated on the plan and solicit feedback along the way. This will help ensure that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goal.

Bring data, both quantitative and qualitative, to the table illustrating how this new technology will enhance the entire business. This will help compel executives to invest in digital transformation.

5. Create a detailed action plan with assigned roles and responsibilities.

Again, a clear plan is essential to success. But it's not enough to just have a plan - you need to make sure that everyone knows their role and what's expected of them. This includes assigning specific tasks and deadlines.

Creating a detailed action plan will help ensure that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goal. It will also make it easier to hold people accountable if something goes wrong.

It also is critical to the organization's change strategies and plan. Especially in a forced transformation, employees may already be stressed or in a state of fear. OCM planning will be pivotal to bucking resistance and keeping morale high.

6. Be prepared to pivot and adjust as needed based on feedback and results.

A digital transformation is a journey, not a destination. There will inevitably be bumps along the way. The important thing is to be prepared to pivot and adjust as needed based on feedback and results.

Flexibility is especially important in a forced transformation as most responsive new technical projects did not benefit from Phase Zero prep. You'll need to be agile and adapt to changes as they come.

Closely monitoring metrics and engaging experts will surface any red flags. Heed their advice - it could mean the difference between success and failure.

7. Celebrate successes (big and small) along the way to keep everyone motivated.

A digital transformation can be a long and daunting process. It's important to celebrate successes (big and small) along the way to keep everyone motivated. This will help maintain momentum and keep people from getting discouraged.

Recognizing accomplishments will also help build a sense of camaraderie and team spirit. After all, everyone is in this together. Within a forced transformation, a heightened sense of positivity is important but you also want to engage a level of transparency. It can be a natural reaction for executives to shield the true challenges from the core workforce. However, honestly communicating the problem, plan, and opportunity will create powerful and engaging trust.

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8. Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Throughout the entire process, it is essential to communicate openly and frequently with all stakeholders. This includes sharing updates on progress, changes in plans, and anything else that might be relevant.

Effective communication will help ensure that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goal. It will also make it easier to address concerns or issues as they arise. Because things like testing or planning can be expedited in a forced transformation, having a clear and open communication/feedback loop is going to be pivotal to ensuring organizational alignment.

9. Get Help

Last but certainly not least, don't be afraid to get help. There are a lot of moving parts to a digital transformation, and it can be difficult to keep track of everything (especially if you're also trying to run the business at the same time). Forced transformations are very high-stress and pressure situations.

If the foundation of your house was cracking, you'd immediately contact a foundation expert, right? It's the same scenario with a fast-tracked transformation. There are digital transformation experts out there who can help you navigate the process and ensure that everything is on track.

This is an area where many companies make the mistake of trying to go it alone or blindly trusting system integrators or software vendors. Don't be one of them. Getting help from a qualified, independent expert will pay off in the long run.

In Conclusion

No organization wants to be in a situation where they are forced to make significant, strategic, and expensive decisions quickly. However, in our current business landscape, that scenario is unavoidable.

The good news is that there are steps you can take to set yourself up for success. By following the tips in this article, you can increase your chances of making a successful transition.

Remember, digital transformations are a journey, not a destination. There will be challenges along the way, but as long as you stay flexible and keep moving forward, you will eventually get to where you want to be.

If you are going through a forced transformation or have questions or feedback, please don't hesitate to reach out to me directly at I'd love to hear from you!

Also, I HIGHLY recommend reviewing our newly released 2023 Digital Transformation Report. It's chock-full of great information and insights that will help you make informed decisions about your digital transformation journey.

Kyler Cheatham
Kyler Cheatham is a digital artist and innovator who is always thinking of new ways to improve the world around her. As the Global Marketing Director at Third Stage Consulting, she uses her creativity and tech-savvyness to help businesses reach their target audiences. Kyler is also a thought leader in the digital marketing space, and she loves sharing her knowledge with others. She is also a mother of two young children, which has given her a unique perspective on balancing work and family life.
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