Digital transformation isn’t just about tech -- it requires rethinking business, culture, and operations. Here are some key considerations to think about as you embark on your journey.

Brett Brunick, Chief Digital and Technology Officer

February 14, 2024

4 Min Read
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Many people think of digital transformations as being exclusively technological. While that aspect is important, a better description would be a combination of business, cultural, and operating model transformations. Simply digitizing your existing business model doesn’t guarantee results, and outdated culture or operating models can limit the ability to quickly respond to changing client expectations and emerging technologies.    

I joined Thrivent in 2021 to help shape our digital future, modernize our technology, and deliver great experiences for our clients and financial advisors -- and do it faster than ever before. The company already had a strong purpose, trusted relationships, and many technologies when I arrived. The opportunity was to improve experiences, speed up our delivery, and rebuild a strong internal competency in digital, data, and technology after years of under-investment and relying on third parties to do most of the strategic work. It became clear quickly that our transformation was not simply about technology, but a fundamental business change powered by technology, talent, and new ways of working. 

Since then, we’ve made significant progress. We hired 200 new members for our digital, data, and technology team, focusing on product management, design, and engineering. In 2022, we introduced a product operating model, formed 70 product teams, and integrated 700 employees into the model. We also filled nearly 100 new product roles through upskilling or hiring outside experts. This shift in how we work gave us the ability to compete on experience and quickly adapt to changing client expectations. 

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Instead of asking other organizations to do some of our most important work, we invested in our internal team. One way we do this is by asking our team members to become lifelong learners, adapt to change, embrace innovation, and contribute to the organization's long-term success. It’s what they want -- because they believe in our shared purpose -- it’s what our leaders want, and it helps us compete today while preparing for tomorrow. 

Modernizing Technology and Transforming Experiences

While transformations are not all about technology, it’s a key component. This is why we invested in new digital experiences, API, and data platforms. For me, our priority is to modernize the things our clients and advisors see, not what they don’t see. We are unlocking the data in our legacy systems to help our teams deliver amazing experiences. Selective modernization and simplification allow us to quickly respond to clients’ needs even with the legacy infrastructure that 100-year-old companies often have. 

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In my years of experience in transforming multiple organizations, here are some learnings I’ve found to be most important. 

  • Foster a culture of change and iteration. Our philosophy of “progress over perfection” empowers people to iterate and transform, rather than having a polished product at launch. We’re training our team to perform while they transform so we can deliver incremental wins while building new client experiences. Change is hard, but reinforcing its purpose with a philosophy that’s built on iteration and making progress can feel more manageable.

  • Build for your clients. Centering your focus around the client can help clarify for your teams the value of their work. Establish a shared vision and values, foster empathy, and make sure your teams understand the needs, challenges, and perspectives of the client. Breaking down silos and promoting cross-functional collaboration ensures a seamless and consistent client experience while creating ongoing feedback loops. And don’t forget to recognize the wins. Celebrating client success stories shows your teams the fruits of their labor. Finally, lead by example -- leaders must set the tone and exemplify client-centricity in their own decision-making.

  • Bring your entire organization on the journey. Make sure the entire organization understands why the transformation is necessary. Surrounding your teams with an organization that is in alignment with necessary change is critical to making any transformational journey successful.

  • Continual upskilling: As technology evolves and customers’ expectations change, it’s more important than ever to make sure your workforce develops skills that match changing expectations. By committing now to continuous upskilling, you can ensure your teams are up to the task both now and in the future. 

  • Attract and retain top talent. Individuals who are passionate about staying at the forefront of technology and making an impact value a work environment that allows them to flourish. Create a culture of innovation, continuous learning, and experimentation. Provide career paths and growth opportunities to build skills and take on new challenges. Recognize and reward achievements. Invest in tools that support them in their work and enable them to be productive. And empower your teams -- give them autonomy and ownership over their work to create a sense of pride and responsibility.

  • Modernize what matters. Identify the most strategically important technologies in your portfolio -- as well as what will be important in the years to come -- and focus your upskilling efforts on those.

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Digital transformations are about more than just technology -- they are fundamentally business transformations. By changing how your teams work, attracting and retaining the talent you need, and investing in the appropriate technology for long-term growth, you can achieve the transformation you need to set your organization up for current and future success.

About the Author(s)

Brett Brunick

Chief Digital and Technology Officer , Thrivent

Brett Brunick is executive vice president, chief digital and technology officer of Thrivent, a Fortune 500 diversified financial services organization.

In his role, Brunick oversees all digital, data and technology activities at Thrivent to help clients achieve financial clarity, enabling lives of meaning and gratitude. His focus is on leading the enterprise through a digital transformation that will deliver experiences that meet and exceed the changing needs of Thrivent clients today and into the future. Brunick is implementing a product operating model that will help accelerate Thrivent’s transformation through teams dedicated to client-first and digital-first experiences.

Brunick joined Thrivent in 2021 with more than two decades of leadership experience spanning the digital, technology, product management, engineering, architecture, data and infrastructure areas. Most recently, he served as executive vice president and chief information officer at Twin Cities-based TCF Bank. While there, Brunick oversaw the launch of an online mobile platform, implemented a full retail customer relationship management across branches and contact centers, and modernized legacy systems. Prior to TCF, Brunick served in a progression of leadership roles at Target and was instrumental in building out key aspects of the consumer experience platform, including, stores, data, merchandising and supply chain.

He has a bachelor’s degree in management information systems from Iowa State University.

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