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Stop trying to let Digital Natives lead Digital Transformation

Three pupas

Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

OK, I know this is getting provocative now. And there is a certain risk that the wrong guys feel addressed.

But an article posted by HBR yesterday encouraged me sharing yet a thought which I am waving in my mind for quite a while already.


My hypothesis …

One of the main reasons for failure with digital transformation is putting digital natives respectively early adopters in the lead.

Whoot! Shitstorm ahead!!!

But before you are indignantly leaving, perhaps you might give me the opportunity to explain where my thoughts are coming from, please.


Don’t get it wrong. Knowing the business you are responsible for as well as being passionate about and dedicated to what you do are a key factors of success. This is my professional credo, and you can read me advocating for this in many of my blogposts. And this certainly goes for digital as well as for any other area.

So, having a digital expert and enthusiast in the lead of digital transformation should be an asset. Shouldn’t it?

Yes … but …


Unfortunately, I have seen way too many times digital natives as digital transformation or digital innovation leaders, speaking in corporate-internal presentations and media about how digital they are, actually the personalized ‘digital’, telling you that they hardly ever use a PC but you won’t find them without their smartphone or tablet, that you can text them 24/7, that they have their own blog (<sic!>) and podcast, that Twitter is their lifetime companion, that all their friends are at Facebook, that you can follow their vacation on Instagram, that they enjoy watching every new Netflix season they can get, and that they use a Goopple-watch controlled e-scooter for their way to office.

Phew! You see me heavily impressed.

Unfortunately …
this simply does not meet most people’s real-life outside the bubble, at least not yet. This considering colleagues as well as customers, and considering people of all ages (even of the generation which is frivolously generalized as ‘digital natives’). Many simply do not share the same ideological digital-blinkered view on way of life. Digital natives are frequently stuck in their digital comfort zone, which is not where a major proportion of their stakeholders is. In the worst case, the digital comfort zone native and a corporate digital hype bubble are pushing each other on a swing, an infinitely looping digital carousel being nothing more than a disconnected self-focused silo.


To make a very clear statement. ‘Digital’ is not the challenge with digital transformation. But the associated cultural and organizational changes are. Digital transformation is going to holistically change how people work, interact and communicate, with customers, stakeholders and internally. “It is culture, not technology, stupid!” Or as Peter Drucker said (with a cheeky insert from myself) “Culture eats digital strategy for breakfast”.


So, what are the logical consequences?

A. You need to select a digital transformation lead?
Go for an experienced change and people manager, with a proven track of deliveries, who ideally is dedicated to digital, but at least willing to learn.

B. You are a digital native with the responsibility of making digital transformation happen?
Focus on people and organizational change, not on digital technology. Listen and align to business strategy and objectives, which will be your measures of success. Talk about the opportunities, benefits, and especially success stories* from the same industry. Your mission is to convince, motivate and take along all people in your organization, those who are interested in digital … and those who are not.

(* and success stories please not on digital innovation per se, but being focused on business and/or customer needs … how did the customer benefit? how did it make field force’s guy life easier? how did it support a business lever allowing to meet if not overachieve goals?)


I am really curious about your opinion. At least I highly recommend the HBR article referenced below.



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