The best football coaches have an ability to transform a gridiron and their teams. They evaluate their opponents, utilize the talent available, and maximize the field conditions to escalate opportunities for success. They’re great leaders. Organizations are quite like football teams in this regard, and so too are leaders like football coaches.

I have two questions for organizational leaders today in respect to digital transformation:

Which transformational leaders come to mind when you think of those who have overcome adversity?

Does your organization possess the capability to design well in high velocity environments?

As you think about your response, it’s critical that you first understand why organizations must possess strong design capabilities with the future state in mind. In the end, a strong transformational design capability is simply a reflection of how much more effective you are than your competitors at combating disruption by utilizing technology tools.

From the minute a new football coach inherits a team, there’s an adherent expectation for the coach to immediately transform his team and produce results. Without a doubt, it’s a tough a job. If you think of how much preparation is put into every week, coupled with the number of challenges a coach faces, one can see the importance of a coach’s ability to design a strategy well. Different offensive and defensive fronts, injuries, player’s egos, home field advantages, and even weather, are all carefully considered in each week’s game strategy. The level of adversity is different within each organization; nonetheless, the principle in utilizing available tools and resources still applies.

Unfortunately, we too often see companies repeating expensive mistakes when challenged with adversity. Organizations can be ignorant of their inability to properly design­ systems/processes. They assume that tacking on more equipment and throwing more resources at the problem is the solution. In the end, this quick-fire mindset creates a “Frankenstein” or a kludgy design that is full of hidden expenses and dangers. Not only will you end up paying too much with this approach, you’ll also find yourself falling behind your competitors because you’re unable to design as well as they do.

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”

–  Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”

Developing a high velocity culture within your organization is not something that can be purchased or patched together haphazardly, nor does it automatically transform from its own self-realization or epiphany. Rather, organizations are most effective when they essentially make transformational design a high priority and have definitively implemented it within. The same goes for football coaches; the planning starts early in the off season and intensifies as the preseason draws nearer. In fact, there are cases where design capabilities not only deter disruption, but become disrupters themselves in respect to competitors.

As an example, legendary coach Bill Walsh is an example of a leader who successfully faced adversity and transformed a team with a well-defined strategy. In 1969, he was an assistant coach with the Cincinnati Bengals. The team’s promising rookie quarterback Greg Cook suffered a career ending injury. This forced Virgil Carter to take the snaps. Although Carter didn’t have Cook’s powerful arm, Walsh knew he was smart, mobile, and accurate on short and medium distance throws. With this in mind, Walsh designed a revolutionary offense that maximized his quarterback’s available talents and would later transform how the game of football is played. His transformational design is widely known as the West Coast offense.

The West Coast offense, in brief, is one focused on short, horizontal passing routes that help “stretch out” defenses and catch them off guard with long runs or passes. Walsh’s offensive design was so visionary that defenses were not able to respond quickly enough. His West Coast offense simplified the quarterback’s decision making, indicating his primary, secondary, and third receiver’s location on every play. Instead of being disrupted by the adversity of losing a talented quarterback, this new offense, and the team behind it, became a disrupter at a time when smash mouth football was the most revolutionary practice on the gridiron. This type of “finesse football,” would realize its definitive triumph when Walsh won the 1981 National Championship as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers alongside future Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana.

Under the extreme stress of game conditions, a player must condense his intellect and focus it on thinking more quickly and clearly than the opposition.”

– Bill Walsh, Hall of Fame Coach

Organizations can learn much from Walsh’s transformative design capabilities; technology tools allow for faster and smarter decision making, but to utilize these tools digital maturity is required. Effective transformational design is highlighted by several key areas:

Technology Design Governance: The overall enterprise architecture of an organization as well as its efficiency and effectiveness.

Process Design Agility: How organizations are using technology within their business processes to become more agile.

HUMALOGY® Balance: Humalogy properly blends technology and human effort to improve a process. Harnessing this critical balance can help organizations run as excellently as possible.

Product/Service Design: The level of creativity and revenue generation surrounding an organization’s ability to bring products or services to market.

Innovation Agility: This is regarding an organization’s reputation surrounding its ability to innovate.

Diagramming & Blueprinting: The level of diligence of an organization in documenting processes as well as its hardware and software connectivity.

Transformational Design Capabilities is one dimension of our nine dimension Digital Maturity Assessment. This assessment is a tool we use to help organizations understand where they stand in their own digital maturity. For more information about our Digital Maturity Assessment please visit here.

An important skill for organizations is the ability to be nimble and to adjust to changing conditions, whether that be inside the organization, industry, or in the face of external forces. This agility is the mark of a strong organization that is more able to thrive through uncertainty. Because the only thing certain is uncertainty. By embracing this uncertainty through transformation, like a championship caliber football team or a Hall of Fame coach, leaders will navigate their organizations toward a bright future.