Of all the challenges organizations face when it comes to digital transformation (Read: legacy business models, inflexible technology, skills shortage, ineffective communication...the list goes on), arguably the most important to overcome is getting buy-in from the C-suite. Without validation and endorsement from the highest level of leadership within an organization, it’s unlikely that digital transformation will take hold in any sort of lasting or holistic way across the business.
Executive buy-in for digital transformation can be difficult to come by for myriad reasons. These projects are inherently risky. Much more than just a technology investment, true digital transformation requires a change in culture, process, vision, and overall “business as usual”. Furthermore, it can’t happen within one team or one department, but rather, requires cross-organizational buy-in. It’s a huge undertaking with plenty of opportunities to fail. Executives that foster digital transformation must be truly visionary, comfortable putting themselves on the line, and ok with failing at times.
This can be especially tricky for publicly traded companies. Quarterly earnings drive so much of the business that at times it can be difficult to have a long view, particularly when there are shareholders, employees, consumers and other stakeholders looking for immediate results.
Until the pain of not adapting and changing becomes acute (at which point, it may be too late), most companies are okay with riding the status quo, especially if money is coming in. As a prime example, we can look at the retail industry: It’s 2018, and ecommerce has been around for over 20 years, but there are still major companies struggling to adapt. Only recently with the “Amazon effect” have retailers suddenly woken up to the realization that they need to change, and fast.
This reluctance to change was highlighted in a recent report from Forrester, which found that 22% of the business and technology decision makers surveyed were still either “investigating digital transformation” or implementing digital “improvement” within their organizations. The consequences for these late adopters may very well be dire. In the short term, these companies will quickly fall behind, and over the long term, obsolescence sets in. Just consider the ever increasing graveyard of retailers: Toys’R’Us, The Bon Ton, Claire’s, Tops and others that have filed for bankruptcy. And this is just since the beginning of 2018.
Champion digital transformation within your organization
For champions and proponents of digital transformation inside an organization, there are steps to take that can slowly build credibility and garner buy-in from business executives.
In early stages, start small with agile teams within the organization working on individual projects or products in a completely new way toward digital transformation. With grassroots success and validation within pockets of the organization, results can be leveraged up to gain momentum within the broader organization.
For any sort of digital transformation initiative, it is crucial also to lead with the expected business value when presenting ideas to executive decision makers and stakeholders. Digital transformation is not just about a huge investment in the latest and greatest technology. (In fact, many times an investment in technology alone does little to advance a business). It’s about how a proposed change in people, process, culture, technology, etc. will drive increased value to the business. As executives are looking to the bottom line, reframing the conversation around digital transformation in terms of how it will drive value will make any idea more palatable to the C-suite.
Meet your new boss
What many organizations often forget is that consumers are dictating the rules in today’s digital economy. As far as consumers are concerned, the tech experience provided by digital natives like Google or Facebook is the tech experience they’re expecting to receive with any organization. This means that small feature updates, like offering the ability to return an online item bought in store, are table stakes. Organizations need to start thinking more holistically when it comes to adapting their business to the digital age--and this is only possible with buy in from the top.
Imtiaz Mohammady is chief executive officer of Nisum.