Change is inevitable. Sometimes we're prepared for it, other times not. In business, however, you always hope for the former --for change to be calculated and brought on by the opportunity to transform.

In fact, transformation is essential to longevity in business. Whether brought on by internal discoveries and insights or necessitated by external forces, companies in the digital age are never at a loss for potentially transformative moments.

But change for change's sake is hardly ever the best strategic decision. There are several nuances to transformation that, if not arrived at with full team alignment, can lead to a lack of direction. And with so many definitions of this buzzword du jour floating around, it's vital to clearly articulate how your organization defines it, and the end goals you're aiming to achieve as a result of that transformation.

Historically, transformation has broadly fallen into three buckets. Starting with these as a foundation can help ensure your team is driving towards the same end game.

Continuing what you're doing, only better

When a company aims to do something better, faster, stronger, it is referred to as operational transformation. You're not necessarily changing the essence or core of the business, but improving upon business as usual --typically with some sort of digitization.

You see it often in entrenched companies that branch off with a digital arm in an attempt to get with the times and the trends. Generally, when it's executed properly, companies are rewarded with a spike in customer satisfaction in the immediate aftermath and a new sales avenue. As an example, look at Domino's and how they've recently embraced technology to improve the pizza-ordering and waiting-for-delivery experience.

The downside to relying on technology to mark your transformation is that, at your core, you're still the same company you were before you launched an online store or improved your data collection software. And as such, you're still essentially playing the same game. The uniforms or equipment may have been upgraded, but it's still the same old game.

This is the easiest type of transformation to see play out in the short term because your metrics remain the same. If you're aligned with this type of transformation, understand that it may only bring short-term success.

Do what you're doing, only differently

In other words, your fundamental product or service offering will stay more or less the same, but the way customers will interact with them will shift seismically. These transformations expound on the operational method in that they use technology, but do so in a novel way that actually changes how performance is measured.

Netflix did this when they adopted a streaming platform. Audiences were still turning to the company for the same thing - entertainment. Only instead of serving up physical DVD rentals, Netflix transformed into a major content player while essentially disrupting itself (and every brick-and-mortar video rental place in existence).

If this sounds like the type of transformation your company is ripe to undergo, it's important to have a grasp of just how much a digital shift can affect every aspect of your business. Implementing new technologies means training or hiring for different skillsets, as well as honing in on new key metrics and knowing how to read them and adjust. So long as you're on the same page that you'll be transforming the how of your company and not the what, this type of change can be a sweet spot that opens the door for tremendous new opportunities.

Do something radically different

This is the caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation -- the kind of 180 that can alter the perception of a company and redefine an industry. It requires the use of new and novel technologies that aren't just on the cutting edge of innovation, but might be wholly unfamiliar to your business as it currently stands.

Think online search to dabbling in artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles (a la Google). These are not overnight transitions and they can come at any stage of business. Some strategic digital transformations happen as a pivot in the early stages of a company's existence, like how Instagram went from competing in the check-in app space to challenging social media image sharing.

Transformations at this level require complete team buy-in and nothing about what you're attempting can get lost in translation. In many ways, strategic transformations mirror company culture changes, which also necessitate a front-to-back understanding of mission and value so that everyone is pulling in the same direction.

Defining your transformation is all about determining your goals, your timeframe, and your industry. Changes can center around internal uses of technology, solving customer problems in a different way or taking on new challengers in unfamiliar territory. No matter the type of metamorphosis you're after, define it early and often.

Published on: Apr 13, 2017