Welcome to another episode of Digital Transformation: surviving the new normal.
Today, I want to quickly touch on an important factor that I have found to be a key failure factor to digital transformation initiatives. This key factor has been talked about severally, but most businesses still don’t do enough to cater for this factor.
I am talking about managing the stakeholders. Your stakeholders are the people affected by your transformation initiatives. I call these people your customers i.e. your internal and external customers. Your internal customers are your employees and others that are directly connected to your business. These are the people that face your external customers and help your business succeed. These stakeholders are just as important as your external customers. In fact, some would argue that they are more important because without them putting in the work, your business would not have the external customers that you care so much about.
Your stakeholders have the power to decide the direction your transformation effort goes, and they all need to be managed effectively in 5 key ways.
- Involve your stakeholders early enough – the people affected by your efforts need to know first-hand why the transformation is important and what’s in it for them. That is the only time you can have them committed to that effort. People naturally are change-averse but when we understand what there is to gain from the change, we tend to support such change. Businesses need to desist from the top-to-bottom approach to forcing transformation initiatives on the people. Rather, it should be bottom-up. I always say the field guys know best. These guys have 100% knowledge of the business challenges and so should be allowed an opportunity to propose or at least be involved in the solutioning. That way, it becomes easy to gain their trust and commitment to the change.
Awareness of the urgent need to transform and involving the stakeholders from the start is the number 1 tip to getting stakeholder commitment to a successful digital transformation
- Start with change management – A lot of businesses wait until the conclusion of a project before they start to talk about change management. Some don’t even bother but they expect everyone to flow with the new ways of doing things. What I’ve seen with these businesses when digitally transforming is that the system implementation succeeds but the transformation fails. Companies need to understand that individuals adapt to change differently. There are innovators who bring up new solutions to existing problems. There are early adopters who accept new ways of doing things without needing much clarity. These set of people are followed by the early majority and the late majority who accept the change later. On the other end of the curve are the die-hards, who will never accept the change.
Always plan for the individual transition period as part of change management in your transformation effort so you can handle individual challenges and expectations.
- Communicate with your people – All transformation efforts require a lot of communication at all levels. Always communicate the right things, at the right time and to the right people. Even when things are not going to plan, let your stakeholders know on time and inform them what the action plans are. Communication always helps to keep the stakeholders on your side. As part of communication, you need to be available to listen to their concerns. Address those concerns on time before they linger for too long. Rumours and miscommunication spread fast. If there are concerns you can’t address immediately, let the people know you will do your best to make them feel better about things. Address all rumours and miscommunications before they go all around
- Plan for the die-hards – Remember that, despite your best efforts, some stakeholders will not accept your transformation efforts. Always set this expectation from the get-go so you’re not caught by surprise. Psychology shows that we tend to have a sense of control when our expectations meet reality. For this reason, it is vital to expand our realm of expectations to include the possibility of some people not accepting the transformation. Having the expectation isn’t enough, you also need to plan how to react when those expectations become real. Do you keep the die-hards, ease them out of the system or whatever you plan to do.
Whatever decision you make on the way forward with the die-hards, remember that negative energy spread fast and can easily turn the tide on your transformation effort.
- Lastly, reinforce the change – as soon as you cross the transformation bridge, remember to reinforce the success so that the people can make a new reality their new normal. Reinforcement through rewards helps people form a new habit. Psychology shows that habits are formed over time from continuous positive reward derived from repeating the same thing. If you get 1000 dollar every time you turn your room light off to save energy, you will do it every day without anyone reminding you. In the same vein, habits are best to let go off through repeated punishment of the formed habits.
You should not expect the people to work in a new way if they have not been enabled enough to do it. You need to create an enabling environment for the transformation to succeed. Train the people, celebrate success and do not let rumours linger for long.
To wrap it all up, we’ve covered 5 main tips to effectively manage your stakeholders towards achieving transformation success. We’ve talked about involving your people early, planning for change management, communicating with the people, planning for the die-hards and reinforcing the change.
Remember, always stay positive and you will do great things