Digital Transformation Ace Cards: Ambition

You don’t need me to tell you that change is hard. Transformation, if defined as significant change sticking, is even harder. If the volume of research and material about a topic is a sign that no-one knows how to do something, at least not repeatedly in different settings, is an indicator then the digital transformation in an organisation is one of the greatest changes any of us will face.

Knowing that something will be difficult, take time and effort, and may end up not being successful isn’t a reason not to start. Taking the time to increase your chances of success in the preparation stages is an investment worth making. In this blog post and three subsequent blogs, I want to explore how you can start a transformation journey by having a hand of ACES. Borrowing the analogy from most card games, an ace is a source of power that can often turn things in your favour or bring a significant advantage.

For some context to this post, then look at this introduction — 100 years of broadcast: learning for digital transformation.

The ACES are:

Ambition
Culture
Engagement
Situational Awareness

This blog looks at the first of those, ambition, with the others to follow.

Like so many words, ambition will bring both positive and negative connections to mind. We can perceive ambition to be a negative thing when an individual is pushing ahead at the expense of others. Alternatively, an ambitious goal is something we encourage people to have so that things happen.

We credit Zig Ziglar with saying “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit every time” and Dolly Parton sang of stumbling to the kitchen to pour a cup of ambition at the start of the day. This sums up the challenge that we face in having the ambition ace card in our hand. Ambition isn’t something that you can conjure up, nor is it as simple as having an aim.

We create the ace card of ambition when people come together to agree on a future destination and make a commitment to getting there. In a small organisation then it may be an individual who can do this on their own, but the strength of the card increases when it is owned by the many and not the few.

It is not sufficient to be ambitious in your approach or to strive to achieve more than you are doing or have better numbers at the end of the year than you’d expect if you hadn’t changed. Ambition needs to be a guide but also a measure.

When agreeing what your ambition will be, there is a temptation to only think about the things you will do. In today’s world, the choices are often endless and we need to decide about things we will not do and be bold in that. Agreeing on the ambition needs both sides of that conversation to happen — we will do this because… and we will not do that because…

The ambition you agree upon should be something that will be challenging to deliver but not impossible. It needs to be relevant to your organisation and your starting point. That’s not to say that it can’t be big, just that people need to see that it could be possible.

JF Kennedy provides an example of this in stating that America would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. He’s clear that it is a choice but recognises that it will be hard to achieve. For the listener, they can see that this isn’t going to just happen, but they can see that it could be possible. Before you take this and repeat it without consideration, then it is worth reading John O’Leary’s book: If we can put a man on the moon — getting big things done in government.

Developing the ambition for your digital transformation takes more than an away day (or the virtual equivalent!) especially if you want it to truly be one of your ace cards. I’d suggest that you work with someone to facilitate a session and if you have Business Relationship Managers in your organisation, then they should have the skills to do this. If not, then there is a toolkit of ideas available here and I’d recommend starting with Headline Writing.

Here are some practical steps you can take now to building your ambition ace card:

  1. Identify the people in the organisation who will have ideas about what the future could be and bring them together to discuss ideas
  2. Establish the team who will work together to agree what the ambition for the transformation will be and take responsibility for owning it
  3. Consider having a shadow-challenge group, perhaps including voices you wouldn’t normally hear (for example, more junior team members)
  4. Think about what the barriers to change have been in the past and how you want to handle them. Explore how barriers to growth may be turned into opportunities you want to exploit.
  5. Create an environment for difficult discussions and decisions to be made. If you will decide not to do some good things then you must be able to have those conversations.
  6. Understand why you’re doing this and be able to articulate it to others. Ambition is not just an idea of where you want to end up, it is a set of key decisions and statements of intent about your future state.

In the subsequent posts, we’ll see how having your ambition articulated and agreed is not only an ace card in your hand but that it is also a multiplier for the effect that playing the other ace cards can have on succeeding with your transformation.

Written by

An experienced senior digital business leader with experience of delivering transformative change.

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