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Engage your people or your digital transformation will fail – 5 tips for a successful transformation journey

According to a McKinsey study, up to 75% of digital transformations fail. The reason for failure is often a failure to understand that transformation is a journey, where 70% of success depends on the people involved and only 30% on the technology used.

Successful transformation is often simple on paper. Management draws up a strategy and schedule for achieving the objectives, and implementation requires only day-to-day management.

However, transformations often fail because people do not understand the change and are not part of the change process. Too often they are seen as the objects of change, rather than as the key enablers and implementers of change.

Here are simple tools to help you make the transformation journey a success.

1. Engage people in the strategy work and start building a transformation story

The organisation’s vision and strategy show the direction of action – where we are going together and what change we need to collectively make. The best strategies are created through an inclusive strategy process that is not just the work of managers. This builds collective change and the start of a transformation journey. When your people know the strategy, it is easier to start implementing it together.

The strategy should be visualised as a story that inspires people to jump on board and drive the story forward. But a story alone is not enough: strategic objectives need to be defined as projects and these projects need to be broken down into development projects, led by project managers.

A common project model and portfolio management practices, as well as the use of a technology platform to track projects, will help achieve project goals. In addition, it is easier to involve people in strategy implementation when there are already projects in place that need people to work on them.

2. Business leaders, lead by example and jump into the driver’s seat

Management commitment to change and leadership is often the key to successful transformation. Because this is a business change that touches people, the business leader needs to jump into the driver’s seat to lead the change. Leading change should not be outsourced to IT, business development or a bunch of consultants.

The business leader should have a partner to spar, coach and help lead the transformation journey. So, business leaders, lead by example and take the learning journey boldly. Get yourself excited about change and new ways of doing things, because enthusiasm is contagious, and that’s how you get your team to get excited too.

Business managers should have the tools they need to lead the journey, tools that are made for them. They should also understand how to train themselves and allow team members to train during the journey.

The most important thing is to get people to change their mindset, so that they understand why the way they work needs to change. Then they will be inspired to develop and experiment boldly with new ways of working and using technology.

For the duration of the transformation journey, it is a good idea to set up a “Transformation Center of Exellence” to help build the journey, manage it and find the right competences. The Transformation Center of Exellence will provide overall management and project support during the journey.

3. Build solutions by experimenting and using existing data

Transformation is a journey of building organisational capability and culture. To achieve business benefits, it is important to ensure that system changes are implemented by improving business processes. Process development must involve the people who work in the process. This will increase their capability along the way and counter potential resistance to change.

Do not compromise when choosing solutions for your business. Do not stick to the functionalities of your legacy systems either. The worst thing to do is to copy old ways of working onto the new technology platform. Choose a minimum valuable process and world-class platforms and test their functionalities with existing business data. This way, you can immediately realise the benefits of the platform.

Once tangible results can be demonstrated, the benefits they generate should be quickly communicated. This will help with change management. Once you have decided to deploy the functionality, plan the scaling and future deployments carefully, as each deployment is like a small transformation for the people affected.

4. Lead with shared operating models and knowledge

For some, standards and knowledge management are synonymous with unnecessary bureaucracy. On the contrary, they are powerful tools for harmonisation, modernisation, and consolidation of information. In reality, they are success factors and solutions for aligning business services, processes, technologies and information.

Leading the transformation cannot be based on old knowledge or mere sentiment. Data integrity and timeliness are important. To ensure the accuracy of information, it is first important to have shared operating models and clearly defined ownership of data.

Decision-making requires continuous, up-to-date reporting, which is facilitated by information and reports from a cloud platform and shared dashboards for management.

5. Communicate, engage in dialogue, bring out the benefits and, above all, the people

People often feel that there is never enough communication and that change fails because of poor implementation. It is old-fashioned to think that you first make changes with a project team and then expect people to adopt them.

Not everyone can be involved in everything that is done, so constantly communicate about the journey and engage in dialogue with people. Empower them to influence the outcome by getting involved in innovating solutions and let them see and try tangible benefits.

It is also important to remember to highlight people, not just achievements. For example, it feels nicer to read a story about how technology helps people in their daily work than just the business benefits of a technical solution.

In the end: enjoy the journey and highlight even the small successes. Don’t be afraid of failure. Build a culture where failure is allowed, because only then you can find the best solutions. What could be more fun than working with enthusiastic people to build change that benefits the business and builds new skills for everyone.

About the author:

Mia Nikula is a Practice Lead at Sofigate and sparring partner for business leaders in digital transformations. She is interested in growing capabilities in business – especially in leading people in large-scale transformation projects. Her motto is: “Inspire, enable, bring out the benefits and engage in continuous dialogue.”