Why digital transformation is as hard as sticking to a diet

From donuts to digital, Senior Content Manager, Molly Haynes looks at why failure is often part of the process and how we can overcome those obstacles to digital transformation success

Molly Haynes corporate photo

by Molly Haynes

Senior Content Manager, London

16 October 2019
Digital diet

In a world of Instagram and Facebook targeted adverts and paid celebrity endorsements, you’d be forgiven for thinking that achieving perfect health and perfect fitness really is as easy as drinking a green smoothie and doing a workout that’s shorter than the time it takes the kettle to boil.

In the past, I’ve fallen for the latest fitness craze and embraced it to the extent that I’ve been unable to walk up and down stairs at work until, two weeks later, broken and broke – these things are not cheap – I’ve admitted defeat and gone back to my evening on the sofa with Netflix routine.

The harsh reality was served up to me a few months ago, when I joined a gym and had a personal program created for me. A three month personal program. As a starting point. This was no seven-day shred. But it was, promised my personal trainer, a sustainable way of getting fit, a way I could see long-term results and with a program that wouldn’t leave me half dead on the floor and begging never to do it again. In short, he promised an enjoyable process as well. Provided I found a way to give up my donut habit.

And, later that day as I ate my donut, I couldn’t help but wonder why do people’s health and fitness resolutions fail? And if I could pinpoint those reasons, would they be applicable anywhere else? At work for example?

One of the biggest challenges facing companies today is the pressure to go digital. To make a success of digital. To ‘digitally transform’. But if it were that straight forward, would I be writing this article now? And would job titles like Head of Digital Transformation exist? I turned to Bradley Andrews, Director of Advisian Digital for advice.

“One thing that really comes to mind when thinking about both digital and health transformations is that people get frustrated too quickly with the lack of instant results,” he said. “In both, results are not immediate. The path to get there is not linear. When people want benefits too quickly in the process, it hurts the long-term.”

Reaching for my second donut, I knew Brad was right. But what could I do about it? “Any time you want to change something in your life or business, you need to think  about habits,” he said. “Habit forming and habit breaking…and habit resetting. That is what culture is – just a series of people doing habitual things”

I put the donut down.

"One thing that really comes to mind when thinking about both digital and health transformations is that people get frustrated too quickly with the lack of instant results. In both, results are not immediate."

“Once new habits evolve, you don’t even remember the old way you used to do things because you’ve changed the way your brain is wired,” he continued. “That’s the exact same thing we try and do in business. We try to reform habits.”

At that point, I put the donut in the bin because Brad had a point. After all, there are some things in my life that are so habitual I cannot remember them ever being new. Take driving for example. In my second ever driving lesson, I got the order of braking, changing gear, indicating and turning muddled up and crashed into a wall and almost caused a pile up. Now, 20 years on, I don’t even think about the order, I just do it. It's not just about forming habits though. Yes, you have to have a plan to form those habits and stick to it, but you also have to make fundamental changes to your life and business for those changes to stick.

Businesses that want to make a success of digital transformation could learn a lot from the failures in the health, diet and fitness industries. As Brad pointed out, we expect results too quickly. But what else is applicable to both?

"Leaders need to be specific about what they want to achieve from digital and align their people functions and processes to deliver towards this goal. And they need to stick to that goal."

Looking at my own experiences, I think I focused on the wrong thing to try and get those quick results, and in doing so I was not really fulfilling my needs in the short- or long-term. And sometimes, there might have been other issues that needed fixing first – I needed to recognize what these were and sort them. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, I think my resolutions often failed because I didn’t have a plan – beyond looking like the people in the Instagram adverts of course.

This was something that our very-much needed Digital Transformation Director at Worley, John Pillay, confirmed as I was trying to explain my battle to change my two-a-day donut habit and how it had got me thinking about digital transformation failures.

“Many companies have learnt the hard way that a strong digital strategy and change management program is crucial to digital transformation success. Digital transformation isn’t easy. Leaders need to be specific about what they want to achieve from digital and align their people functions and processes to deliver towards this goal. And they need to stick to that goal.”

Which is why, that evening, I gave Netflix a miss, planned a healthy dinner and headed to the gym.


This article was also published in Advisian Digital's Digital Insider Magazine.

Bradley Andrews

Bradley Andrews

President, Advisian Digital

Bradley leads Advisian Digital, Worley's data science, software and technology business. He has over 17 years of business, technical and engineering consulting experience on project and operations in the energy and resource industry, across five continents. In this role, Bradley helps clients navigate their digital transformation and drive value through digital technologies.