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As organizations increasingly rely on transformation to ensure their success, business and IT leaders are expected to master its art and science to maximize competitive advantage. 

If we can stop and learn from each other what works and what doesn't, we can transform more quickly and effectively to deliver the outcomes our customers, people, executive teams and our boards increasingly expect from us. 

Here are five specific actions successful transformational leaders across all major industries take to unlock business value and drive growth and success for their organizations.

1. They reinvent the business to act quickly, pivot seamlessly and go to market faster

Transformation leaders understand better than anyone that their organizations need to become agile so they can react quickly to whatever comes their way. The COVID-19 pandemic showed clearly that organizations with more advanced digital capabilities did better and reacted faster than those who were lagging behind.

Even when you don't know what the future holds — and who really does know these days — there are things you can do to be ready to react quickly. The most effective transformation leaders live and breathe by the following best practices in order to ensure their organization's vitality and success: 

  • Rationalize and streamline applications, getting rid of the ones that no longer add value and prioritizing those that matter most to the overall end-game.
  • Lose the dead weight of outdated and obsolete legacy systems and equipment that are costly to maintain, moving to cloud if feasible.
  • Develop the ability to move applications and data around quickly, as needed.
  • Build resiliency into their systems to prepare for unexpected changes.
  • Build and train teams in agile development and hyper automation so they can respond to rapidly changing expectations and get to market quickly.

2. They're constantly focused on user, customer and workforce experience

As IT becomes more consumerized, your customers increasingly expect all their experiences to be as easy as purchasing something on Amazon. The most effective transformation leaders keep customer experience top-of-mind, providing experiences that are continually better, faster, easier and surpass customer expectations

This applies to your workforce as well. As you develop intuitive, self-serve, automated experiences, employees' work lives improve along with your customers. Employees today also expect their technology-driven experience to be as advanced and intuitive as the apps on their smartphones. That's why successful transformation leaders are willing to invest in solutions to enhance the employee experience. Because satisfied employees are more likely to stay in their jobs longer and to help generate better customer outcomes.

3. They ensure IT and the business are not just aligned, but fully integrated 

Transformational leaders, whether from the business (marketing, sales, finance, HR, operations) or IT, understand that mere alignment between functions is not enough. A fully integrated transformation is built on a unified definition of value derived from a deep understanding of your industry, customers, data and brand. This includes a common vision, shared priorities and definitions of success and more. When these relationships are in sync, transformation efforts can be started faster and successfully completed more quickly — and access to the right people and systems within an organization are easier too. 

IDC recommends IT and business alignment should be iterative and dynamic, driven by collaboration and co-creation. It's okay if it takes time to achieve total alignment. Rome wasn't built in a day.

4. They are gurus of creating the future enterprise 

CIOs, who are key leaders of most business transformations, once played more of a sherpa role, until increasing cybersecurity demands and the pandemic changed everything. Now, many CIOs — especially those who lead transformation efforts — have become the people that other key players and functions in the organization turn to for answers. 

They have become strategic leaders instead of technological enablers — now in charge of redefining and reinventing the next normal in areas including not only implementing new operational capabilities to cope with the pandemic and its aftermath, but also to address supply chain volatility and to lead and scale resiliency.

5. They relentlessly drive innovation that unlocks transformative value and creates seamless customer and employee experience

Effective transformational leaders innovate not for the sake of doing something cool, but to create new and better ways of interacting and delivering value that will serve a need and also pay off the next generation brand promise driving the transformation. 

This is no easy feat. It requires leveraging insights from their customers, targets, employees and other stakeholders to devise ingenious ways to serve them that will build their organizations' brands and fulfill their missions

AI, ML, analytics and other tools are important colors in their palette as they create value, but the organizations' people remain the artists whose intelligence and creativity drive impactful changes. 

Successful business transformation starts at the top with leaders who transcend their functional perspectives and help the rest of the organization to work toward a common vision. 

Taking the five actions outlined above will help you achieve successful transformations for your business.