Transformation in 2018 – What Really Matters?



February 5, 2018

This is the first in a series of blogs where North Highland looks to explore what really matters if you want to be successful as you transform in 2018.

Here we look at the big reasons why organisations are transforming and some of the key challenges that this creates for senior leaders. Our insights are, in large part, gleaned from North Highland’s late 2017 survey of more than 600 senior leaders across a broad range of industries in global organizations with revenues in excess of $1 billion around their priorities and plans for 2018.

So WHY is there so much transformation out there?

As we teeter on the brink of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, few, if any, industries are safe from the threat of disruptive competitive and technological change and whilst there are some variations across industry, the key imperatives, regardless of where you operate or what you do are:


A surprisingly large number of organisations, underestimate the increasing pace of digitisation. This is not just the technology that serves as the foundation for driving a digital business, but the process and behavioural changes that are required to adapt. With digitisation driving such significant disruption, staying locked into annual strategy development and budgetary cycles is no guarantee of success. One estimate reckons that 47% of US jobs are at risk of automation. Digital means changing your technology, changing how you are organised, changing how you operate, changing how you work, changing how you behave, and changing how you lead.

Adapting to customer needs

Customers are the biggest winners in the age of disruption so to succeed we need to learn quickly how to figure out what they want. In Retail this is no longer an idea, it’s an imperative. Customers expect to be known, they expect to have a great customer experience through every channel. In the average minute, Facebook receives 900,000 logins, more than 450,000 tweets are posted, and 156 million emails and 15 million texts are sent. We’re doubling the amount of data created in the world every two years and our customers expect us to know what that is saying and how it translates to what they want.

Amazing customer insight in turn means that consumer fulfilment becomes critical. Those retailers that fail to action the supply chain transformation that needs to support the insight we are now capable of generating will likely be the next casualties.


In our survey, this was the highest priority for all respondents with 58% saying that this is now table stakes and not delivering competitive advantage. However, many organisations are still unsure of how they will achieve their cybersecurity goals despite its high priority.

And Everything Else

On top of all of these big hitters are other economic, structural, regulatory, and political challenges. What will Brexit actually look like? Will Amazon allow us to pay with Bitcoin by the end of the year? Will we have found a way to balance protecting our personal data with a desire for targeted insights to be readily available? Will we embrace the blurring of professional and personal boundaries? Will we embrace flexible working and having five different generations in our workplace? Will we make sense of diversity and equality?

Sound exciting?

As exciting as it is to know that we are experiencing history in the making, leading through it comes with greater challenges than ever before.  When all of the challenges and disrupters described are combined, it becomes clear that the biggest transformation challenge of all is not becoming digital by default, it’s not building the most advanced analytics platform, it’s not creating the most up-to-date omni-channel experience or setting up the most inspiring flexible working environments. The biggest challenge is to develop and sustain a culture where your organisation embraces relentless change. Where you can deal with the 2018 challenges as well as the increasingly fast paced challenges of the future.

Despite our improvements in predictive analytics, we cannot know what is around the corner. We can only get ourselves in the best shape to deal with it.

WHAT challenges does that create?

Let’s pause for a moment and reflect on the differences between Revolution and Evolution before we jump into, “well, let’s get on with it then.”

Revolution – a dramatic and wide-reaching change in conditions, attitudes, or operation. If the experts are to be believed, we are on the edge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Evolution – the gradual development of something. 2 million years ago, homo habilis (an early ancestor of homo sapiens) evolved an opposable thumb perhaps to survive, certainly to thrive.

Evolution takes time and that explains why, since the arrival of the first iPhone just over 10 years ago, we haven’t actually evolved an extra thumb to improve our ability to message at speed. The reality is that humans don’t naturally evolve to keep pace with revolution.

To succeed in our drive to transform our organisations to become more responsive to consumer needs, to innovate and keep pace with or stay ahead of digital disruption, to win the talent war, to navigate Brexit, to decide whether we should be stockpiling Bitcoin to invest in AI, IoT, and Blockchain we need to focus on the biggest challenge of all. How do we engage with people not with technology?

Technology will revolutionise what we are theoretically capable of doing. How we work within the limitations of our own human evolution will allow us to decide what to do with it.

In part 2 we look at what North Highland believes needs to be the focus to successfully navigate those challenges and part 3  we explore what our clients think following a breakfast event that was held in London at the end of February.