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PHOTO: Elliot Sloman

Every successful digital transformation initiative begins with a compelling vision that starts at the top. Executives must build the vision for transformation, shift ingrained organizational behaviors to reshape organizational culture, and set tangible targets for digital initiatives.

When you’re leading a digital transformation initiative, you have an exciting opportunity: the chance to create and communicate an agenda that will drive change. It’s also an opportunity to create excitement around a new way of working, a chance to deliver better experiences to your customers, and the power to position your organization for long-term success.

Engage the Organization

You can’t simply sanction digital transformation and expect your initiative to be successful. You must share your vision of what must be achieved, and why, for everyone to understand how crucial it is. Without a clear understanding of the importance of transforming, it’s far too easy for the organization to fall back on old habits.

Start by openly engaging the organization by talking about change. Make it personal by sharing success stories from various business units. It can be shocking to see how quickly change happens when you take the time to articulate the opportunity and share your vision. 

That’s because choice motivates people far more than being told to do something. It engages people who are passionate about making their organization better, harnesses their enthusiasm and empowers them to drive change. It’s something that seems very simple, but it can be rare for senior leaders to work this way.

Related Article: Change Management: The Key to Successful Digital Transformations

Assemble a Team of Change Leaders

It’s up to you to lead the way and model change by engaging with new technologies and new ways of thinking. Even the highest ranking individual in an organization, however, can’t get it done alone. If you are leading a digital transformation initiative, you must build commitment and alignment within your senior leadership. Senior leaders have an important role in digital transformation because they provide day-to-day leadership for the organization to follow. Their cues — both spoken and unspoken — help their teams understand what’s really important about your initiative.

You must put the right people in place to drive change, and those people must be willing to coordinate and collaborate at a high level. It’s easy to default to including only visionary and inspiring people in your leadership group, but remember you also need leaders who understand the technologies and strategies the organization is currently using.

Executives, as individuals and as management teams, are usually predisposed towards decisions that have worked in the past. They're comfortable with certain tools and techniques and it can be difficult to encourage them to embrace risk and step outside their traditional toolbox. Many CEOs have recognized that being open-minded, entrepreneurial, adaptable and collaborative are the most-needed digital leadership mindsets.

For successful digital transformation, the organization must have your leadership. Both the senior leadership team and the organization as a whole need a strong set of priorities and a clearly communicated path on how you’ll pursue them. So set your vision and strategy, engage outside help where necessary, and make sure your senior leadership team understands where you’re headed.

Related Article: How Strong Leaders Avoid the Biggest Digital Transformation Mistakes

Build a Brand

We think of brands as companies with logos that offer a product to a consumer. While the logos are a part of the brand, there is also a very clear message that shapes the vision of the brand. It’s the perception a consumer has when they think of your company name, service or product.

Much like your organization’s brand, your digital transformation initiative should have a consistent, clear message that is easy for the organization to understand and rally around. At this stage, four communication strategies can help:

  • Brand your initiative. Work with trusted colleagues in your marketing department to develop talking points and slogans that are easy to remember, and use them repeatedly and consistently.
  • Stay on message. Frame your discussions in terms of how change impacts your overall goals. Whether you are discussing technology changes, staffing changes, training or new product launches, tie it back into the overall goal. Help the organization see how every action is a part of the larger strategy.
  • Model the behaviors you want to see in your organization. If you are leading digital transformation, you cannot rely on paper forms and emails that can be easily lost in inboxes. Use new technology, mobile devices and social media to build credibility with your organization.
  • Sell your vision. Reinforce your goals through various channels. Externally, use the press, corporate social media channels, speaking engagements or TV appearances. Internally, use all-hands meetings, web conferences and one-on-one meetings to emphasize the importance of this initiative. For employees, this creates an internal environment of excitement about the change. For potential customers and talent, this brands your company as an innovative organization.

When it comes to digital transformation, senior leaders require a new set of skills focused on communication. Employees look to the leadership team’s actions to ensure your digital transformation initiative is not just good marketing. Decide what to say, how to say it and how long to say it. Because any digital initiative without a strategic communications plan is not likely to last long enough to be truly transformative.