How Do We Define Our Overall Aspiration as an Organization?

Digital Transformation begins by knowing who you are, and what you believe in.

The pandemic has accelerated the move from in-person, brick-and-mortar interactions to remote, digital interactions. And so, the need for a coherent Digital Transformation strategy has never been greater. But ‘going digital’ is not an end in itself, but rather, a critical element in your overall strategy.

Strategy begins with a clear understanding of our Aspiration or ‘True North’.  True North comprises something for the heart, and something for the head. In other words, both a ‘heart’ and ‘hard’ goal:

  1. Heart goal: a few words defining who we are, what we believe in, and where we’re going
  2. Head goal: a critical outcome measures that reflects your transformation (usually related to Growth, Customer Experience, Safety or Community Service)

Defining True North entails answering the following basic but difficult questions in a direct, heartfelt way:

  1. Who are we?
  2. What do we believe in?
  3. Where are we going?

You can’t fake it. You have to be open and vulnerable. You have to enter the ‘rag and bone shop’ of the heart. It’s a good idea to draw out your answers in small groups and then tell each story back to the larger group. Hopefully these smaller groups will define a similar True North, but if not you can work together to point everyone in the same direction. Sketches and stories animate and humanize our digital world. Once you have a phrase that resonates, test it with team members, suppliers and customers. Do they ‘lean in’, or do they back off?

Here are some noteworthy expressions of True North:

  • Amazon: To be the world’s most customer-centric company.
  • Apple: To make great products that will change the world.
  • Tesla: To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy
  • Microsoft: To empower every person and every organization to achieve more.
  • Hewlett Packard: To create technology that makes life better for everyone, everywhere.
  • General Electric: To build, move, power and cure the world.
  • Google: To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Which of these do you find most compelling, and why?

Why bother to define a distant, uncertain future? Today’s business chessboard is uncertain, risky and complex and you need to be prepared. Why not just react to emerging issues? Because if you don’t know who you are, you inevitably end up in situations and places you cannot handle. Defining True North, moreover, forces us out of the rut of our current thinking. We engage dormant neural pathways thereby, and begin to see the clear blue sky of what’s possible.

True North also holds the organization together during tough times. Leaders die, markets change, products and technology become obsolete. But True North is an eternal expression of principle that weathers life’s rough weather.  Think of the core tenets of the great religions that have inspired people for thousands of years.

True North, finally, is also the ‘tie-breaker’, to which we turn when facing critical decisions.  At such moments, we ask: “Does this course of action reflect who we are and what we believe in? Does it express where we’re going and how’ll we get there?”

In summary, Digital is not a goal in itself, but a means of becoming what you’re meant to be. And so, begin your Digital transformation by defining, refining, and reflecting on your overall strategic and philosophical aspiration.

Think of Jack Nicklaus, perhaps the greatest golfer ever, whose swing routine always entails imagining the perfect shot. Or Michelangelo seeing the perfect sculpture in the marble block.