5 Critical Steps to Build Trust First into Digital Transformation Projects

5 Critical Steps to Build Trust First into Digital Transformation Projects

In today’s pressure-cooker of a business world, the speed and scale of disruption creates both opportunities and risks to organisations. External forces such as technological advances, global economic shifts, geopolitical uncertainty, climate and demographic changes are profoundly transforming society’s expectations of business.

More than ever, the ability for organisations to adapt and stay relevant is the difference between success and failure.   Yet, introducing a digital change program into an organisation is fraught with friction and anxiety.  One of the issues with any digital transformation is that executives can be fearful about making the decision to go ahead when there is uncertainty on the return on investment.

No matter what type of digital transformation your organisation is undergoing – from customer support systems right through to HR systems.  It requires trust – trust and confidence that going digital will return value and achieve what it has promised. Trust that people have the right capabilities to get the work done and behave differently. And trust from customers and suppliers about the long-term benefits.

It’s about flipping the mindset from worrying about “what could go wrong?” to “what needs to happen to make it go right?”  At it’s core, it demands that organisations rewire how they operate, behave culturally and have processes fit for purpose. Not just those working on developing or rolling out the new technology, but also those who will be using it.

Often, many organisations will choose to go down the digital transformation path, but get stuck because traditional ways of working get in the way. Here are five strategies to help your organisation navigate common potholes:

  1. Customer First

The power has gone from organisations into the hands of customers (and even employees) and it is never going back.   To undertake digital transformation properly requires thinking from the customer perspective rather than the old model of “what are we prepared to give our customers?”

This starts with a deep understanding of the customer and the ability to creatively connect technology, people and processes to solve an underlying customer need.  And it’s not just external customers – it’s internal customers as well.

Successful organisations ensure that those who are working closest to customers are providing feedback, insights and assistance in making the right decisions. This involves leaders opening up the flow of communication both upwards and downwards creating a continuous feedback loop.

Underpinning a customer-led approach requires trusting not only the wisdom from the frontline, but employees trusting leaders to listen to them and make the right overarching decisions.

The good news is that getting this right ensures commitment and more belief in the change program organisation wide. It also ensures customer pain points and needs are taken into account.  Avoiding wasting time on unnecessary features or building clumsy processes.  

Furthermore, focusing on the customer problem to be solved provides critical employee alignment. This unites everyone to a common cause, as often during a change program different teams will resist the transformation when they don’t believe the investment is necessary

  1. Creating a Clear, Guiding Purpose

Once the customer problem is clearly understood, creating a compelling why for the project is paramount. A guiding purpose provides shared understanding of the work that needs to be done and what success looks like. It builds trust by providing employees with an emotional connection to the work at hand that inspires commitment and meaning to the effort.  This helps technically minded people talk about the why behind the project rather than regarding it as an asset that needs to be controlled.

Purpose statements also help with alignment making it easier for people to understand how decisions are being made around budget, timelines, resources and priorities.  

  1. Changing Mindsets

In research published in the book, Beyond Performance 2.0, it found that when executives took the time and trouble to address mind-sets they were four times more likely than those that didn’t to rate their change programs as at least “successful.” Conversely, none of executives that disregarded an analysis of employee mind-sets during a change program rated their transformation as “extremely successful.”

In today’s fast changing world, organisations are having to change from traditional ‘predict and control’ modes to more ‘sense and respond’ approaches. This requires a mindset shift that is more than just promoting a set of values and operating principles.  It’s why so many organisations struggle to move to a pure agile environment.

Foundational work needs to be undertaken first with leaders to identify, define and action the leadership behaviours that enable employees to feel safe when working differently. These signature behaviours need to be come consistent practices that leaders model that support the new behavioural norms for “how we now do things around here.” And it’s two way – what leaders expect and what employees should expect from them.  Using our complementary assessment tool such as the SUCCEeD Together® Executive Team Trust can help identify how ready your team is to mobilise change.

  1. Being Stable and Adaptive at the Same Time

Research by McKinsey found that truly agile organisations have paradoxically learnt to be both stable and dynamic.  Mastering this process requires designing structures, governance arrangements and processes with a stable set of core elements. These stable elements work together with more dynamic elements, enabling organisations to respond quickly to new challenges.

For example, Amazon has created a stable backbone for key processes through a synchronised supply chain that has common language and standards that identify clear decision rights and handoffs. This means no department has developed its own processes. Instead, a common operational language, codified in one standard process framework for all 60 businesses has been created. Allowing process harmonisation and clear guidelines that allow for differentiation. As a result, Amazon can execute any operational activity in just seven standard value chains covering 22 processes, such as order to cash.

For this type of approach to work, it requires empowering teams to tackle problems in a way they believe will get the best and quickest results.  In other words, the organisation trusts them to change their approach organically as they meet the demands of the customer or business. This involves having a clear purpose or common process to provide that important stability, but also the freedom to modify the framework to allocate time, tasks and resources.

Rethinking governance models to a more lean and fit for purpose approach becomes an important organisational consideration. As well as protecting teams so they aren’t slowed down by management intrusions or layers of approvals.

  1. Improving Collaboration Internally and Externally

A further stumbling block to any new digital transformation process is that few organisations possess the right skills and team capabilities. To plug up gaps in capabilities requires grabbing people from different teams, hiring new people, reskilling employees or working with outside contractors or suppliers.

For some traditional organisations, taking the leap to work well across functions or even with joint venture partners is extremely difficult.

In addition to retraining with a tight focus on relationship building, a review of rewards and incentives must be undertaken. Too often, traditional accountability structures block team and collaborative behaviours.  Redesigning incentives that rewards collaborative behaviours help circumvent unnecessary friction.

Furthermore, building collaborative practices requires the CEO to drive a one-firm focus. This starts at the management team level that set the cultural tone of the whole organisation. After all, how the executive team interacts and behaves is modelled by employees right through to the frontline.  Often, leaders are stuck in their ways and find it hard to unlearn bad habits that stop them from collaborating.  In the work that we do with organisations, we work with the senior leadership team to help them see the issues their current behaviours are creating, in order to better understand the new behaviours they need to ensure their organisation stays relevant in our SUCCEeD Together® workshops.

It requires the CEO to not tolerate toxic behaviours and encourage top leaders to work together. This can be done through organising cross-functional projects and committees, regularly communicating the need to work together and rewarding collaborative behaviours.  

Delivering the Best Digital Transformation Outcomes

To successfully implement a digital transformation program requires building trust into the process, in order to remove uncertainty and encourage commitment.  This involves deeply understanding customer needs right from the outset, so that everyone is aligned to the purpose of the digital project.  

Then, changing mindsets and behaviours and aligning everyone to the purpose.  One of the most difficult steps, that is often forgotten about, but critical to underpinning success.  Without it, people will not collaborate at the right level and communication will be unclear.

Above all, what matters most is that you get started.  The pace of change isn’t going to slow down. The sooner your organisation can shape itself by successfully delivering key projects, the better your results and longevity.  And the more you can trust each other to get work done and deliver on the company strategy.

If you want to discover how well you management team work together, try our free SUCCEeD Together® Executive Team Trust Assessment

Marie-Claire Ross is the Founder and Chief Corporate Catalyst at Trustologie. She is a workplace sociologist, author, speaker and consultant focused on helping leaders put the right processes in place to accelerate trust during change and growth. She does this through strategic diagnostics, roundtables, workshops, coaching and consulting. Marie-Claire is also the author of the number three ranked book on Amazon, Transform your Safety Communication. She has been interviewed on “Technology Behind Business” for Sky Business News and regularly contributes articles to FM Magazine and LogiSYM on company culture. She is also a Graduate of the Company Director’s Course and is on the SME Committee for the Australian Institute of Company Directors.


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