Overcoming Tribal Elements for Successful Digital Transformation


Klaus Imping
Author, CEO mSE PointOut Group

Published on: April 26, 2023

Digital transformation is critical for organizations to stay competitive, but about 70 percent of all transformations fail to achieve their objectives due to tribal elements. These are distinct knowledge and processes that employees use to get the job done, often relying on their own spreadsheets and self-developed processes instead of a clearly defined and documented process. Tribal ways of working neutralize the effectiveness of digital transformations, resulting in wasted resources and poor returns on investment.

Why Tribal Ways of Working are a Problem

Tribal ways of working are a problem because they prevent the effectiveness of any digitally transformed state, leading to wasted resources and poor returns on investment. CEOs and CFOs are increasingly frustrated with the lack of effectiveness and low returns on their digital investments, especially for larger and more strategic initiatives with transformational ambition.

The Solution: A Process-First Mindset

The answer to overcoming tribal ways of working is simple: start with defining the process and focus intently on workflow. This requires a paradigm shift from the traditional technology- and system-centric mindset to a business-led, process-first, and workflow-centric mindset. By treating information flow processes with the same level of attention and optimization as material flow processes, organizations can achieve sustainable and effective digital transformation.

Challenges to Overcoming Tribal Elements

One of the key challenges in overcoming tribal elements is the prevalence of tool-centric paradigms in the business world. Organizations often focus on finding the newest and shiniest system to integrate, without first defining a transformative operating model that encompasses a holistic scope. This misalignment often leads to system implementations that fail to address the underlying process and workflow issues, resulting in suboptimal outcomes.
Another challenge is the role of IT organizations, software vendors, and system integrators in driving digital transformation. While they play supporting and facilitating roles, the responsibility for leading digital transformation efforts should rest with the business, with top management taking the lead. Without a business-led approach, organizations are likely to encounter internal resistance and misalignment of strategic mindsets, leading to tribal ways of working persisting despite digital transformation efforts.

The Paradigm Shift: Business-Led Digital Transformation

To overcome these challenges, organizations need to shift the paradigm from technology-led to business-led digital transformation. This requires a transformative operating model that sets the frame and determines supporting technology, rather than the other way around. It also necessitates continuous attention and initiative from top management to ensure sustained progress towards the desired digital transformation goals.

Maximizing Returns on Digital Transformation Investments

In conclusion, tribal elements are a common roadblock to successful digital transformation. Overcoming these elements requires a business-led, process-first, and workflow-centric mindset, with a clear focus on defining a transformative operating model. Organizations need to shift their paradigm from technology-centric to business-centric and ensure continuous attention from top management to achieve sustainable and effective digital transformation. By addressing the tribal elements and embracing a holistic approach, organizations can maximize the returns on their digital transformation investments and position themselves for success in the digital age.

For more in-depth insights on overcoming tribal elements and achieving successful digital transformation, check out my book “Tribal F*cks up Digital” or contact me directly to discuss your organization’s digital transformation journey.

“The answer to overcoming tribal ways of working is simple: start with defining the process and focus intently on workflow.”

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Exclusive Book Launch, May 8th in Orlando (FL)

Michael Ciatto and Klaus Imping invite to an exclusive launch event for their new book “Tribal f*cks up Digital”. It will be an evening full of thought-provoking discussion, networking with like-minded individuals, and celebration. You want to be part of this event? Approach Klaus and Michael to be considered for the guest list:


Gartner Supply Chain Symposium/Xpo™ 2023, May 8 -10, 2023, Orlando (FL)

If you’re planning to attend the Gartner Supply Chain Symposium in Orlando, don’t miss the chance to meet the authors Klaus Imping and Michael Ciatto and ask them any questions you have about digital transformation. To learn more about how to get in touch with us, please contact us.      

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