5 tips to quickly get your stakeholders on board with digital transformation

By Allan Watton on

Digital TransformationWhen you are looking for a fit for purpose solution partner to help you on your digital transformation journey, how much of your focus is on the systems versus the likely effect on the business change that solution may cause to processes and people in your organisation.

Most organisations understand that achieving more operational effectiveness is unlikely without the support, engagement and buy-in of the teams that will be using it or other stakeholders who will be benefitting from it; like a precision Formula 1 car, we all know it won’t get ahead of the pack without a highly skilled driver. In turn, the highly skilled driver still won’t achieve first place without a highly skilled support team in place.

Think of your stakeholders as that support team.

In an article from The Manufacturer, Matt Harris, Head of IT at Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport is quoted as saying,“You can invest in all the latest technologies and bits of kit, but if you haven’t got the right people, and you’re not supporting them to the best of your ability, then you won’t reap the full rewards from your investment.”

Therefore, in short, reflect on the knock-on effect of the solution you wish to implement and evidence your consideration of those who may be impacted in order to ensure greatest chance of buy-in from all those whose support you will need in the process.

The Cautionary Tale of Digital Transformation Projects Past

Large, complex digital transformation projects do not have a particularly good reputation for success. In fact, so poor have results been that there are even much-repeated statistics to summarise the dangers of complacency in this arena.

  • In 2016 McKinsey & Company wrote an article titled The ‘how’ of transformation in which they stated “Research shows that 70 percent of complex, large-scale change programs don’t reach their stated goals.”
  • This figure was surpassed in the company’s 2020 commentary on the market, titled Welcome to the Digital Factor: The answer to how to scale your digital transformation, in which they are quoted as saying “our research reveals that just 16 percent of executives say their company’s digital transformations are succeeding”. In other words, 84% are not reaching the right business outcomes.

A success rate of just 16% and failure rate of 84% is worrying indeed. This is all the more reason to move heaven and earth to make sure that your project ends up on the right side of those statistics.

However, despite the risks, the popularity of digital transformation projects does not seem to be waning.

Digital Transformation – Business Stakeholders Should Lead the Technology, Not the Other Way Round

Our own experience is that the very best digital transformations occur within organisations where those in the senior leadership team recognise that it’s the operational stakeholders who should lead the business needs. In turn, those business needs should be appropriately translated so that it is clear what digital solutions will help those operational stakeholders achieve their transformation goals for more effectiveness, not the other way around. This means that you either have to:

  • run strategy and objectives workshops in parallel with the planning of your digital transformation to help your workforce appreciate and understand how any new digital technologies or systems will enable more effective operating practices so they can utilise them to their full potential, or,
  • let the transformation be guided by the needs and demands of your workforce, as you identify where additional value can be gained.

Clear Communications will Create Successful Initiative Foundations

All those who have been through a digital transformation in their own organisations, or witnessed it in someone else’s, will know that the initial stages of articulating your business outcomes and objectives – so they are (a) internally agreed with your stakeholders and (b) can be clearly communicated to any specialist suppliers needed to support the transformation – and that they can be an expensive, disruptive and time-consuming exercise…

…but it is a necessary process.

We have five key tips that won’t take all of the pain away in the change process, but  will certainly significantly reduce any discomfort and thus accelerate your buy-in with key stakeholders.

5 Tips to Accelerate Digital Transformation

While doing this the ‘right’ way may be more uncomfortable in the short term, it will offer far greater value in the medium to long run. To lessen the discomfort through shortening time frames, we offer five key considerations that our own experience evidences will give you a much greater chance of successfully accelerating your digital transformation journey:

    1. Stakeholder buy-in increases your chances of success

Evidence dictates that an authoritarian approach – independently (or relatively so) devising a plan of action and imposing it on those who you expect to use or benefit from it – is rarely the best way forward. In our experience of undertaking expert witness work for the High Courts when these digital transformation projects go wrong, not only are you likely to face firm resistance, but should the project fail as a result, it will be your reputation and credibility that is likely to suffer.

Stakeholder buy-in shares both the credit and responsibility for success by involving those who are most likely to make it happen in the development process. Through great buy-in from the outset you are likely to meet lower levels of resistance, obtain higher levels of support and increase your likelihood of success.

    1. Succession planning and knowledge sharing

The technology solutions designed and implemented in a digital transformation are highly unlikely to succeed on their own. Often these new systems are being put in place to support greater operational effectiveness, so it is important to ensure that all those who will interact with them understand how to utilise them to their full potential.

Knowledge concentrated in too few people can also cause significant issues should these individuals decide to leave. So, ongoing coaching, mentoring, training and knowledge sharing throughout the project will minimise this risk, improve stakeholder buy-in and support (reducing the potential for rumour mill-led anxiety), and increase the chance of finding ways to best optimise the use of these new technologies or systems.

Succession planning is all about ensuring that the well of business knowledge never runs dry.

    1. Combat fear of change with clarity of communication

Anxiety is a perfectly natural human response to the idea of change, but there are a number of ways in which matters are inadvertently made worse for those affected by a digital transformation. We find that many individuals in operational roles can struggle with change when it is not clear:

    • Why the change is taking place (business outcomes and objectives)
    • What changes will be taking place (processes, along with supporting systems)
    • How those changes will be implemented (operational roles and responsibilities)

If change is not communicated in an effective way, our own experience is that it creates significant uncertainty. This leads to individuals being highly anxious because they will be unsure how, or whether they personally will be impacted. As painful as it is for those adversely affected, it’s always better to be upfront about the impact, rather than let (unnecessary) uncertainty, fear and worry spread through your team.

Conversely, strong communications and planning will mean that you will have already initiated the process of combating this through all of the work you’ve done on obtaining stakeholder buy-in and involving numerous others in the planning.

    1. Collaborative problem-solving

We know from experience that no matter how good and detailed your planning is, there will be inevitable bumps along the way. However, the more detailed the planning, the smaller those bumps are likely to be. But ask yourself: Are you prepared for them? Do you have the means to handle material and adverse eventualities?

As with several of the elements discussed above, the more people you have enabled with a greater understanding of your new digital means and capacity, the more minds there will be to tackle these challenges, if and when they rise up in front of you.

Build those relationships, coach and mentor your team and maintain clear communications with all parties along the way. This allows you to work together to ensure that you really are ready to smooth out those bumps.

    1. Develop a strong ICF team

An Intelligent Client Function (ICF) team is a collection of individuals from across all relevant departments with the skills and knowledge to steer the project ship. Its role is to be the eyes and ears of the project, work collaboratively with strategic suppliers (or shared service teams), and report to a board that’s prepared to listen and act on their guidance.

The ICF team will understand the before and after scene of the project and programme, but more importantly, they will understand the ‘now’ far better than anyone else due to the relationships they develop with their supplier-side counterparts.

Trust their talent, put them in a place and position of enough authority to drive the project in the right direction, identify issues on the horizon and manage the state of innovation and productivity throughout the digital transformation and beyond.


If your organisation is looking for the next generation of tech or systems to make their processes more effective and reliable to achieve greater performance, we all know that it is people who will be at the heart of the process – not just those developing and implementing, but also those whose everyday work environment and jobs will be expected to change.

Stakeholder engagement ­– true stakeholder engagement – is the key to greater value outcomes on any digital transformation project.