Four steps on how a company can go digital

Sophisticated technology should be paired with a nimble, innovative and engaged workforce for a company to succeed in a digital world

The word "digital" is usually linked with technology but it takes more than deploying tech to become a digital enterprise.

Even the most sophisticated technology or well-designed system can be undermined by a traditional mindset that can hinder the organisation from behaving like a digital native.

At the Red Hat Summit last May, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst shared that companies typically run on the traditional top-down business model in which a small group attempts to forecast future business issues and needs, prescribes steps to address them and has the organisation execute those steps.

While that model can work in a static, stable environment, it is not responsive enough to keep up with today's world, which moves so fast that some plans are outdated even before they are completed.

Some organisations have a chief digital officer but he should not be the only one responsible for innovation. Everyone can play a part.

So what can organisations do to get individuals to contribute?

Inspire employees withtransparency, shared vision

As digital transformation is a long journey, organisations should establish a shared purpose and vision that unifies the team to help overcome possible organisational change fatigue.

By providing context, employees can feel more emotionally connected and be engaged to innovate and contribute to help realise the company's vision.

Promote open exchange

Once employees are inspired to innovate, provide them with channels that enable them to exchange ideas freely and where their opinions can be heard.

Such avenues may help companies uncover fresh ideas and draw on the power of collective wisdom to solve an issue more easily than it would be for a single department to do so.

Having perspectives from employees of different functions can help an organisation gain a more complete view that can enable it to better meet customer needs.

Meritocracy, not democracy

In addition to the idea-creating process, the decision-making process should also be inclusive.

This does not mean that everyone will be a part of the final decision - but it does mean that the company should consider employees' opinions on all sides of an issue before deciding.

The organisation should also explain the rationale behind its decision as that can help employees better understand the company's goals.

Encourage experimenting

Rapid changes in customer and market demands can pressure organisations to be more agile and continually innovate.

Companies can achieve that by encouraging employees to experiment and try new things, share progress updates on projects, encourage feedback and be able to change the direction of the project according to that feedback.

Leaders should create a compelling reason to motivate employees to innovate and provide ways for employees to try new things and recover quickly when they make mistakes.

It is the collective effort of employees making incremental changes continually that can help organisations to succeed in the digital age.

The writer is senior vice-president and general manager for Asia-Pacific at Red Hat. This article appeared in The Business Times yesterday.