(Digital) Culture eats (Digital) Strategy for Breakfast

Erik Tieleman Published at

A recent study from the Boston Consulting Group, of 800 senior executives revealed that only 30% of worldwide digital transformation programs are successful. It identified 6 key factors were important to increase the success rate of transformational programs: clear vision (strategy with goals), engaged leaders, digital talents, agile governance, effective monitoring, and an availability of business-led modular technology and data platforms. Okay, but aren’t these characteristics also true for any transformational program?

Iceberg of Ignorance The identified characteristics for successful “digital” leaders? A hands-on mentality, perseverance, pragmatism, resilience, critical thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence, and flexible learning. Great, this sounds very much like an effective “normal” operations leader. What struck me is that many of these identified characteristics are outcomes of “digital” leadership display, but then how do they do it? What is their daily data-driven (digital) leadership practice?

In our transformational daily practise, we see middle management struggling, although they are pivotal in deploying their transformational initiatives. Working hard, with great dedication and intention, but often lacking data-driven leadership capabilities to translate the strategy into practical execution. Data is considered “a bottleneck”, a reliance on “tools”, like a magic wand, and now with Machine Learning, RPA, AI, Algorithms. Too little focus is given to creating a culture of accountability in the team, making sure there is an end-to-end transparency and measured reliable execution to set the process standards. A better job needs to be done to actively engage their teams in daily learning cycles, with profound root cause analysis, and focused action completion (a continuous improvement “action engine”). Despite more and more investment in tech, tools, digital, the iceberg of Ignorance (Sidney Yoshida) is still very much alive.

It is intriguing why the dissemination of digital capabilities is slow and trailing the investments in digital technology. Digital transformations often start at the corporate level, as a strategic initiative, tool implementation and knowledge is often being concentrated in Centre of Excellences (COE’s), whereas Excel is still king in many local plants or supply chains. Apparently, data-driven leadership (digital culture) hurdles still need to be overcome:


  1. Connectedness – Data is not converted into a measured and an accepted “single version of the truth” performance view, and is not flowing to the right accountability at the right interval/time. Often, this organizational backbone needs to be tightened up.
  2. Deployment – Leadership thinking is that a nice, visualized Dashboard will do the trick. Your better step beyond this; have granular and diagnostic analytics revealing the “predictors” for lack of execution reliability. And move from one-off analysis to a continuous, systemic operating system with daily learning & decision making with the right shared analytical insights.
  3. Capability – Problem solving capability is insufficient. In the heat of the moment, too often people are allowed to jump to conclusions to improve, “explain” the why with unconfirmed hypotheses (by data), or perform so-called root case analysis that are just scratching the surface.

If leaders allow their teams to get off the hook too easily, transformational improvements are less likely. “You get what you measure”, and you deserve what you tolerate. This is why Data-driven Leadership is a cultural transformation within a digital transformation. You better deal with it as early as possible. Something that Peter Drucker explained long ago: Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

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