For many organizations, digital transformation projects don’t go as planned. For every $1 billion invested in the U.S., $122 million is wasted due to poor project performance, according to research from the Project Management Institute.

If you’re looking at a digital transformation project that isn’t performing up to expectations, it’s easy to blame technology. But it's more likely the problem lies within.

If your digital transformation project is stalling, take a critical look at your management style — specifically how you’re communicating your vision, how you’re managing priorities, and how you’re dealing with conflict.

1. You’re Not Communicating Your Vision

Communication. That’s PR’s problem, right? Wrong. As leaders, we’re all responsible for communicating our vision and goals to get others aligned around — and excited about! — our plans. According to Trade Press Services, effective internal communications motivate 85% of employees to become more engaged in the workplace.

It’s normal for employees to experience fear over change. If you can successfully communicate your vision for digital transformation, explain why you’re changing, and get people excited about the opportunities of digital transformation, you’re already one step ahead.

Looking to improve how you’re communicating your vision around digital transformation? Start with these tips.

  • Understand your why. In his TED Talk and book "Start With Why," Simon Sinek points out the importance of understanding the WHY behind whatever you want to do. With digital transformation initiatives, so much of success revolves around knowing the purpose of what you’re trying to achieve, especially when things seem to be working “good enough.” And if you can’t communicate the purpose of changing, any change is extremely unlikely to take hold.
  • Have an action plan. One of my favorite change management axioms is “be a dolphin, not a whale.” (Credit to Torbin Rick for coining an analogy I’ve used for years.) When you’re driving change, you want to be like a dolphin — small splashes over time – not like the giant splash of a whale, which happens all at once. No one likes the HR department that sends a policy change on Friday at 3 pm to the entire company without communicating it to managers first. It’s the same with digital transformation. If you don’t have an action plan to communicate your vision to key champions who can help rally others to your cause, you’re likely to just cause a big splash, make everyone uncomfortable, and not really achieve anything that lasts once everyone’s clothes are dry.
  • Communicate early, often and frequently. Employee engagement will drive the success of your digital transformation initiative. If you aren’t sharing the vision and the goals with employees, you will never get them onboard. Be sure you’re using a targeted mix of communication channels to reach all employees and communicate regularly over time. (Remember, be the dolphin, not the whale!) Share information such as what’s going on, what your vision is, how it’s going to work and technology training dates.

Need more tips on communicating your vision around digital transformation? I’ve shared some additional techniques to create excitement around working differently in this column here.

Related Article: Communicating Change: Overcoming Resistance Through Empathy

2. You’re Focused on the 'How'

Even if you understand your “why,” you need the “how” to bring it to life. But are you overly focused on how things are getting done, rather than why you’re doing them?

For many leaders, it can be easy to hyper-focus on how things are getting done, rather than really diving in to make sure what is getting done is truly moving the needle. Essentially, you’re focusing on the trees (or even the leaves) and losing the forest.

Sometimes it’s easier to focus on the how — we might not be comfortable explaining the why, or we don’t feel comfortable with strategic vision, and falling back on day-to-day tactics is more in our wheelhouse. But that’s a one-way ticket to stifling the innovation required to support digital transformation.

Learning Opportunities

Start by measuring the right outcomes. Digital transformation frequently is focused on changing the experience. We want customers to love the experience, and we believe that the money will follow if they truly love and embrace the experience we provide. Yet we rely on KPIs solely tied to revenue. In that case, we’re measuring and incentivizing the wrong outcome, likely because that’s what we’ve always done. Ensure you’re using metrics to keep your team focused on the behaviors you want to drive, not just relying on the metrics you’ve always used, and then manage activities against that.

For true organizational change — like what’s required to support digital transformation — managers are crucial. They must be able to bring out the best in their teams by coaching for good performance, providing continuous feedback, holding teams accountable to KPIs and creating an environment conducive to engagement. Managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement. So be sure you’re supporting your managers with the resources they need, too. 

Related Article: Digital Transformation Is an Ongoing Journey

3. You’re Afraid of Conflict

Imagine: you’re doing your job and you think you’re killing it. You haven’t gotten any negative feedback from your boss. But then you find out not only does your boss have negative feedback — he’s been communicating it to everyone on the team but you.

I’m sure a tingle of fear just ran down your spine, right? To do your best work requires trust, and a key element of trust is that your boss and other leaders will be straightforward with you. And with Gallup saying that 51% of employees are disengaged — and 13% actively disengaged! — being able to communicate to improve engagement is key.

Digital transformation, by its nature, creates change. And with change comes conflict. If you can’t address that conflict directly, your digital transformation probably won’t just stall — it will simply fail outright. Here are some techniques to try to improve your ability to face conflict head on.

  • Be open to new ideas. Are you irritated an employee isn’t doing things just like you would do them? Are you sharing your dissatisfaction with another team member? Don’t. A mentor of mine used to say that if a change doesn’t make something 80% better, let it go. It just demoralizes the employee and makes you feel like you’re contributing something. If there is an issue, be a leader and work with the employee — or their manager — on coaching or additional education to help bring them up to speed.
  • Try self-reflection. Being a leader isn’t always fun. Sometimes we must have the hard conversations, even when we really don’t want to. If you’re struggling with having those conversations, spend some time thinking about why. Do you not want to hurt an employee’s feelings? Do you want to avoid the work it will cause? Do you not want to deal with the emotions? Whatever it is, get your house in order so you can lead more effectively.
  • Clear the air. Sweeping small problems under the table because you want to avoid dealing with them doesn’t get rid of them — it just kicks them down the road until they turn into big problems. Work to create an environment where staff feel safe to share what is bothering them so you can head it off before it becomes a crisis. Even better if you let them help create the solution, rather than dictating it yourself.

The competitive differentiator of all organizations isn’t technology, it’s people. And that’s because people make every project — from customer satisfaction to digital transformation — successful. So, if you aren’t engaging your people, any digital transformation project isn’t likely to get very far.

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