The proverb “it takes a village” refers to the concept that an entire community of people must interact with something for it to grow in a safe and healthy way. Originally used in reference to the process of raising a child, it’s always resonated for me when it comes to the concept of Change Management, specifically aligning stakeholders around Digital Demand Transformation.
Rallying a large, complex organization around a Digital Demand Transformation is no easy feat. It’s especially challenging when you’re starting from a place of misalignment across functions, where people are used to (and comfortable with) the status quo.
The key elements of a successful Digital Demand Transformation are people, process, content, technology, and data. The unpredictability of people brings a unique complexity to the mix that most companies struggle to realize and therefore don’t address properly. Stakeholder alignment isn’t just about a communications plan – it’s about having a comprehensive plan to operationalize transformational change across an organization.
Every organization will have its own set of unique challenges with change management that need to be addressed in order to be successful. However, there’s a set of common principles that lay the foundation to aligning stakeholders around a strategic approach to demand growth.
Change Management is Continuous
In order to realize business change effectively within the social infrastructure of the workplace, change management needs to be woven into all aspects of the program, at all times. Aligning stakeholders for Digital Demand Transformation doesn’t magically happen in a single meeting one afternoon, nor does it happen because someone with a ‘V’ or a ‘C’ in their title says it should. There is no discreet beginning and end to change management – it’s a process, not a destination, and it’s messy and full of surprises.
Digital Demand Transformation, when successful, is highly disruptive to your business – and people are, well, people. They experience discomfort with disruption at varying degrees and paces. Get people engaged early, keep them informed at every stage in the process, and give them a continuous mechanism with which they can voice their concerns, ask questions, and move forward with the process in a way that makes them comfortable.
Change Management is a Marathon and a Sprint
Real transformation within an organization is not only disruptive, it takes vision, commitment, and time to achieve. It’s a long-term investment that requires organizations to address multiple areas of the business holistically to achieve real results.
However, a lot of organizations don’t have the tolerance for the time that it takes to realize the strategic end-state of a Digital Demand Transformation. Even with a phased approach, there’s an order of operations that needs to be followed and there’s always a heavy investment in process up front. Because process isn’t tangible to most people, there’s a risk that people will put organizational blinders on and go back to driving towards individual goals rather than a common goal because they don’t “see” quick results or deliverables.
Keep stakeholders aligned around the long-term vision by identifying quick wins that are highly visible to the organization. Be careful here though – you don’t want to break things up in a way that moves the organization back to a tactical mindset. Make sure the quick wins are still driving towards a strategic demand state, and make sure it’s communicated clearly how they fit into the overall vision.
Consistency in Messaging is Key – But Personalize It
It’s critical that your message is consistent and that your vision is aligned across departments and functions in your organization. Without proper orchestration, even the best symphony sounds out of tune.
But just like a successful strategic demand marketing program, you need to understand the stakeholder personas at play, what pain points and trigger catalysts they have, and how success is measured in their specific function within the organization. What are their business priorities? What challenges do they have? What excites them about a Digital Demand Transformation initiative – and why do they think it will fail?
You can then leverage these data points to tailor the message so that it resonates, allowing them to understand how strategic demand will impact their role, and ultimately help them gain efficiencies in meeting (or exceeding) their goals. If you can’t answer the “so what” and communicate it in a way that shows you’ve listened to what matters to them, they won’t be in alignment with the overall vision and goal.
Messaging has to be owned by, and come from, within
Oftentimes, Digital Demand Transformation initiatives fail because they’re seen as a ‘marketing initiative’, ‘lead gen initiative’, or something similar. One of two things is at play here – either the communication around the initiative is disproportionately coming from marketing, or in the absence of appropriate messaging, stakeholders within the organization are left to define the program for themselves.
In order for Digital Demand Transformation to be truly ‘transformational’ across the entire organization, all stakeholders need to be invested in the process – not just from a collaboration perspective, but from a communications perspective as well.
Early on, you need to identify champions within each business area to deliver the message and act as ‘cheerleaders’ for the program. Who should be these champions? Ask around – who do people look up to? Who inspires people within their department? Who commands attention when they speak and drives positive change, not only within their department but across the organization? That’s who you want on your team.
Messaging Has to Be Top Down and Bottom Up
When it comes to aligning stakeholders around Digital Demand Transformation, leadership is critical. If leadership isn’t aligned, no one will be. Most organizations take social cues from leadership as to how to think and feel about new initiatives, especially when change (and potential discomfort with that change) is involved.
However, oftentimes leadership only drives the message down one or two levels, and the message doesn’t get in the trenches. Getting the frontlines aligned and engaged is just as critical as leadership involvement – they are the ones that will ultimately operationalize the transformation, driving the true value out of it. They bring an immense amount of insight and experience to the process that leadership is oftentimes disconnected from, providing direct feedback to allow quick wins (and faster fails). They also tend to drive the pace of change organically, especially in areas such as sales – early adopters that experience success create a FOMO-like sentiment amongst peers, resulting in more rapid alignment and adoption of new processes.
Overall, each has its own special purpose in aligning stakeholders – leadership will add authority, set expectations, and create excitement around the change, while peers will add authenticity, drive the pace that the change occurs in, and create momentum for the transformation.
Make “The Rules” Easy to Absorb and Find
This one may seem overly simple, yet it’s one that’s overlooked many times. People learn in different ways. While some may do better with smaller format, bite-sized pieces of information, others may prefer detailed walkthroughs or open format workshops. Some may want infographics, while others prefer video. Similar to the process of designing a successful content model, you must understand the content consumption preferences of your stakeholders and provide materials in the formats that they best absorb information in.
Centralize all communications and materials in an enablement platform – this will take the burden off of leadership to be the “single source of truth” for the program, creating self-sufficiency through a self-paced learning environment. You can also track engagement this way; low engagement will be a leading indicator of misalignment and risk of someone becoming a blocker to the success of the program, while patterns of high engagement may identify early adopters to help drive additional momentum for alignment.
Sticks Work – But So Do Carrots
True stakeholder alignment doesn’t happen because someone with a ‘V’ or a ‘C’ in their title says it should. It’s the business equivalent of the childhood scenario where the inquisitive child asks “why?” and the parent says, “because I told you so”. Mandating that people must align or face consequences doesn’t lead to sustainable change – rather, it leads to minor early successes attributable to fear, with undercurrents of resentment that build within an organization. Eventually, it does more damage than good because it erodes alignment ‘behind the scenes’ – at the coffee machine, after the monthly meeting in the hallway, at the happy hour amongst coworkers.
This isn’t to say that sticks don’t have their place. Stakeholders need to know that the organization is aligning around a goal that will be truly transformational, and that reverting back to ‘the way things were’ simply won’t be tolerated. However, this message needs to come in tandem with one that makes stakeholders want to change.
It’s important to communicate the process in which the organization will get there. Don’t just communicate the how though – communicate the why and how it will enable them to be more successful. Identify early adopters who have been able to realize efficiencies from the new process, Lead Development Reps who have had better conversations with prospects, field sales reps who have closed deals faster, and make them your allies – use that coffee machine conversation to your advantage!
The Path to Success
Successfully aligning stakeholders around Digital Demand Transformation starts on day one. Realizing that change needs to happen is always the first step, but operationalizing alignment around that change (and maintaining that alignment) is critical to long-term success.
At the end of the day, all organizations have ‘people problems’ that challenge an organization’s ability to evolve into a more mature, strategic state. It’s important to work with an experienced partner to identify these challenges early on and customize a plan to successfully drive sustainable change within an organization. Remember that a large part of the ROI of a Digital Demand Transformation is dependent on the people it impacts; without a proper change management plan in place that addresses stakeholder alignment in a thoughtful, deliberate way, true transformation, the kind that drives sustainable revenue growth for an organization, will never be realized. Aligning stakeholders around Digital Demand Transformation is absolutely key in achieving a strategic demand state.
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