Embarking on a Digital Transformation? Why Your Ambition Must Be Bolder & More Courageous

Karen Thomas-Bland, Global Board Level Advisor and Founder of Intelligent Transformation Partners, argues that transformation leaders have simply got to be more ambitious when it comes to their projects – or risk their companies falling behind.

Incremental improvements are not enough to win in today’s exponentially disrupted business environment and those CEOs who make bold and brave transformative moves will be the clear winners. Whatever an organisation’s start point, whether it’s to go from good to great, undertake a step change in performance or turnaround a distressed situation, it often involves creation of new and disruptive operating models. Models that will reduce cost, grow the top line, extract greater value from data and technology, create new dynamic cultures and deliver customer centric and digitally delivered experiences – all underpinned by technology innovation and transformation.

So if you are embarking on, taking the next step, or rejuvenating a digital transformation this is not the time to be timid but rather to be bold, courageous and go beyond the expectations previously set.

Understand the Market Dynamics

The first step for any digital transformation involves really understanding the market dynamics you are operating in, in terms of which changes are specific to the crisis and which ones are permanent fixtures of the future. In a changed environment it’s about considering how your employees, customers, and shareholders’ views and expectations have changed, and which hypothesis that you have tested your strategy on are no longer likely to be valid. Any digital transformation needs this as the start point for the broader business strategy.

Set & Communicate a Bold & Stretching Ambition

Once you have tested your strategy and assumptions, then it’s about setting and communicating a bold ambition for the future. Ambitions have in the past tended to lean heavily on financial goals and whilst this is still important, the best and boldest ambitions I have worked on are much broader and encompass goals around people, planet, purpose, prosperity for all and profit.

Ambitions are then brought to life through persuasive story telling. This is about linking the transformation ambition to the organisational purpose and pushing for specificity on the alignment between purpose and value. Now, more than ever, leaders need an engaging, persuasive, and credible narrative to bring people with them on the journey.

As part of building a bold ambition, you are creating a powerful identity in which the company’s value proposition, culture, capabilities, customer, and employee experience all mutually support and reinforce one another. To really inspire both internally and externally, the new ambition should be a big stretch goal – one that will take an enormous amount of energy, effort, passion, and skill to deliver.

Critical to any ambition is that the intention and communication is backed with clear and decisive action. Then to capture new growth opportunities identified in your strategy and ambition, it’s often about broadening and deepening the capability set of the organisation, integrating the right data points built from the right technology stack and building a culture of innovation at scale.

As part of building a bold ambition, you are creating a powerful identity in which the company’s value proposition, culture, capabilities, customer, and employee experience all mutually support and reinforce one another.

Karen Thomas-Bland
Founder, Intelligent Transformation Partners


Broaden & Deepen Capability Sets

Broadening capability sets is about looking at the shape and profile of your organisation and determining whether you have the skill sets to position the business for a more technology enabled, and innovation led future. This is considering the whole organisation from the board to frontline workers and considering if they have the skills that you will need, not just to keep up but to get you ahead of the competition.

Understand & Integrate Key Data Points

Understanding your processes, data sets and technology stack requires cross functional teams working together to identify what will drive customer insight, innovation and efficiencies and then figuring out how to integrate data to drive insight and provide people with access to the right tools. Process reconfiguration is about looking at what would enable faster and smarter decision making and a more customer centric experience, whilst ensuring robust data security and privacy management to ensure customer trust and loyalty is not eroded.

Create a Culture of Innovation at Scale

Creating a culture of innovation is about your people understanding that it is not a problem if they try something new and it doesn’t work at first and being open to sharing failures, so ideas get stronger, and you learn to innovate at scale. It’s also about building diversity into everything you design. Algorithms already determine if we get a job, a loan, whether we get a college place and much more. We need all voices represented at the table and people empowered to work in new ways.

The process of digital transformation is inherently non-linear and so the bolder you can be about designing your organisation to ensure decisions can be made quickly and eliminating silos so groups from all over the organisation can get involved and collaborate, the better. Traditional hierarchical structures and cultures can get in the way of the nimbleness and agility required.

See the Transformation as a Constant Evolution

Finally, there are benefits to building resilience, sustainability, and constant evolution into your digital transformation effort rather than seeing it as a one-off event. A successful digital transformation, in my experience, involves a continual series of well sequenced small steps, building out proof of concepts, piloting them, syndicating those that prove the business case and then implementing them at scale.

It’s clear that the assumptions that supported years of stable, predictable growth are no longer likely to be valid. There are factors that need to change how CEOs approach digital transformation in the future. In a world of unprecedented disruption and market turbulence, transformation revolves around the need to generate new value, to unlock new opportunities, to drive new growth and to deliver new efficiencies, but in doing this to be purposeful, bold, human, and courageous in approach. While the last few months hasn’t been easy for any organisation, those that are thriving have set a bold and courageous ambition, embraced a digital first mindset and quickly adopted new technologies to maintain their resilience.


Karen Thomas-Bland
Founder, Intelligent Transformation Partners

Karen Thomas-Bland is a Global Board Level Advisor, Partner level Management Consultant and Non-Executive Director with over 24 years’ experience in creating break-through strategies, transforming, and Integrating organisations. With an excellent track record in creating sustainable long-term value creation in FTSE/Fortune businesses and PE Funds, she is a trusted advisor to Boards, Executive Teams, and Investors and founder of  Intelligent Transformation Partners.  Her clients include IBM, Accenture, EY, KPMG, WPP, RELX Group and Private Equity Funds.  She operates globally and has worked across all 5 continents. Karen is a Chartered Organisational Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society.