Leading a successful digital transformation effort requires a sense of humor plus these 12 characteristics.
Are you up to the challenge?
1. Believe in the change
You should fully embrace and understand the need for and value of the envisioned change. Your passion and excitement will shine through in all that you do, and you'll easily ignite these same feelings in others through your authenticity.
2. Help others believe in the change
Take time with leaders and staff (even the technophobes) to build their understanding of the digital transformation project, how it will help the organization, and most importantly, how it will help them. Although they might have "signed off" on the project, they might not truly grasp it as a change effort. They also might feel timid about asking questions if they don't feel digitally savvy. Empower them to own and feel comfortable with the effort, making it easy for them become champions.
3. Be collaborative
Plan and execute each key step with input and involvement of staff from across the organization. Sure, this will make things go a little slower, but it will pay huge dividends when it comes time to roll out changes to the organization. In fact, lack of meaningful collaboration is why many digital transformation initiatives are dead on arrival. Good intentions routinely get crushed under the weight of resentful colleagues who were left out of the process.
4. Mobilize champions to get the word out
Project communication should come from a variety of people, in language that everyone at the organization can understand (no jargon!). It's also important that messages come from all levels of organization, not just senior staff. After all, the majority of people who will benefit from the changes that digital transformation will bring are not on the leadership team. At every stage, designated or informal champions will be critical for building and sustaining project momentum and helping new ways of working reach every corner of the organization.
5. Communicate early and often
Plan the who, what, when, and how of your project communications well in advance. In addition to one-way communication, such as email or all-staff announcements, provide forums for interactive, open discussion along the way. These could include lunch and learns and online Q&A forums where people can freely ask questions and get a timely response from a member of the project team. When crafting more formal communication and announcements, put yourself in others' shoes to anticipate the kinds of questions different audiences would want answered. And once launch day is in the rear-view mirror, the drumbeat of promotion and encouragement should continue until new tool(s) and way(s) of working become second nature to all.
6. Be empathetic
Make it a priority to understand people’s needs, challenges, and desires from across the affected parts of your organization. Change efforts that overlook the importance of empathy in project planning and solutions design can have major adverse effects on employee morale. So, listen deeply and make sure that your effort is directly responsive to what you heard. As this article points out, being a good listener is more than being quiet while others are speaking. It involves asking good, and sometimes hard, questions and then being open to considering viewpoints that differ from your own.
7. Understand, then design
Don't design solutions in a vacuum. Get out and see how people work. Understand the problems people are trying to solve. In some cases, the best way to understand is to simply observe someone performing a series of tasks. This “fly on the wall” approach can yield volumes of information that would never come out of an interview or focus group. Simply put, co-design a solution together with end users that truly address the problem as they see it, even if it differs from how you see it. This is one of the key tenets of human-centered design.
8. Work openly
Be comfortable carrying out your work openly and transparently. Make meeting minutes available to everyone. Create a suggestions/questions box. Share frequent updates, even when there have been mistakes or setbacks. Mistakes are inevitable in large change efforts, so own them and let others know how you're applying the lessons moving forward.
9. Realize there are multiple ways to learn
Accommodate the different ways in which people take in new information, from watching videos, to reading short narratives, to taking part in hands-on trainings. Ensure everyone has a solid start on using their new tools so they can fully embrace new ways of working without barriers.
10. Be nimble and patient
Understand that organizational change resulting from digital transformation is not a linear process and that it should not be rushed. Wherever needed, slow down to revisit your course of action, validate assumptions, and make necessary adjustments. Especially when conditions in or outside your organization shift.
11. Have fun!
Be sure to inject fun and creativity wherever possible, from games, to launch parties with giveaways, to producing fun video shorts or having users submit their own. Digital transformation can feel heavy and serious so help lighten the mood and make it fun for people to get involved and celebrate the new.
12. Acknowledge yourself for doing the right thing
If you're doing all—or even most—of the above, you're crushing it on the digital transformation leadership front! And no matter what, don't let the inevitable naysayers get you down. They are there to remind you to be humble and listen to everyone, even your biggest detractors, and to never stop upping your game for the benefit of all.
About Ideal State
Ideal State is a digital transformation consulting and advisory firm founded in 2016. We believe that anyone, from any department, and with any level of technology experience can lead a successful digital transformation project. Learn more