Dunbarger: Creating Digital Transformation Champions
Let’s talk tech without the techy talk. Sometimes the problems we face outside of the digital sphere – like in our personal lives – are the same things that cause hiccups in an innovation project.
There’s often a lesson to be learned for any company pushing digital transformation.
Here’s an example of how the same human nature at play all around us coincides with a major challenge for many tech initiatives: I was aiming for a Mother of the Year award recently when I decided to switch to a healthier milk choice for my kids, ages 8 through 18. Days went by and no one touched the new milk, so I decided to ask why.
I started with the youngest, who told me that the oldest said it was gross. My middle son, who’s a football player, said the oldest told him that the new milk doesn’t have enough vitamin D to help grow his muscles.
I finally checked in with my 18-year-old. His response was, “It looked different from the milk you usually buy, so I didn’t even try it.”
Anyone who has tried to lead a wide-scale digital transformation initiative in an organization understands the point by now. It’s about change management. What I would call at work a “change readiness assessment” was clearly missed, making project Healthier Milk Choice a bust.
As you see in my home life example, it’s very easy for a single influential detractor to sway opinions around them, and a lot of times they have little reason besides the fact that the new system is a little different from what they’re used to.
People will also latch onto stories based on what they perceive to be happening if they are not informed; my football player wouldn’t believe that nonfat milk actually contains more protein than whole milk. This year’s Mother of the Year must be a better communicator.
When it comes to any digital transformation project, a very clear and intentional organizational communication strategy will need to be established in the early planning stages.
It doesn’t matter if your goal is to consolidate systems to reduce your technology footprint, clean up master data, security and compliance, user-friendly interfaces and the list goes on. The one thing that could negate the entire story of a successful digital transformation – and is not often enough addressed by leadership early on – is end users’ engagement and acceptance, which all rolls up to change management.
There are three key components to getting this part right: communication, involvement and advocacy.
Who knows more about the day-to-day business processes than the users? Keeping that in mind, it is essential that we don’t lose sight of the fact that introducing new technologies means that we are changing the way they work.
From an IT perspective, involving them in the initial planning phase may be viewed as premature or even an inconvenience to them. But in the long run, they’ll be glad they were included: No one wants to be the last to know, or to feel like a huge change was dumped on them without any say in the matter.
The goal should be that users are not only informed, but also vested in the system and the outcome.
This evolution happens organically when the user feels that their voice is being heard and their input is considered as decisions are being made. Often, the things that are most important to our users and what they really want are very different than what IT perceives.
Now that you have drawn in the users through meaningful communication and involvement, it’s time for them to be ambassadors and champions who spread the good word of the initiative. They will play a key role in user acceptance across the organization.
This cannot be accomplished by the IT team controlling the narrative with formulated messaging. Instead, consider that the way users work truly could be changing drastically with the implementation of a new system. They may even feel that their engagement in the project is only helping themselves out of a job, as they recognize that their time-consuming usual tasks are being automated or streamlined, and that new skillsets may be required in their positions.
This is why upscaling the skills of the workforce should be baked into the early planning phase. Identify what new skillsets are needed and formulate a plan to invest in the training. It is important to communicate this plan with the ambassadors and champions to set clear expectations that they are not only essential to the success of the project, but also the success of the ongoing business.
In the end, any digital transformation project of magnitude is going to face some resistance. That’s why it’s important to cultivate a partnership with the end users and business areas they represent. This will enable a smoother path to acceptance and buy-in.
Dunbarger is a business systems analyst at PPAI.
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