Having worked on numerous multi-stakeholder Digital Transformation Programmes, I was delighted to be asked to give a plenary talk at Digit.FYI’s 9th Digital Transformation Summit, which was held at Dynamic Earth, right here in Edinburgh.
It was a fantastic day and provided me with a great opportunity to share my thoughts.
For those of you who couldn’t attend, this post gives an overview of my talk: ‘People Don’t Care About Your Digital Transformation – They Just Want Their $#!T to Work!’
The 2023 Digital Transformation Summit
I’m a big fan of the Digit.FYI conferences, as they are a great place to meet peers and learn about what is going on across the industry in Scotland and beyond. In its 9th year, the Digital Transformation Summit did not disappoint.
The morning session featured great talks from Connor E Boyle on ‘Empathetic Architecture,’ Nana Fifield on ‘Technology Teams as Key Enablers for Wholescale Organisational Transformation,’ and Stephen Bosarge who shared the exciting innovation going on at Dell.
So, I decided to use my time to celebrate the audience and to share my personal thoughts and learning from prior Digital Transformation projects, sharing how you can effectively engage with people about your Digital Transformation.
If you would like to watch my talk or any of the others you can find them Digit.FYI’s YouTube channel.
Celebrating Digital Transformation
I am really proud that our vision at Border Crossing UX is to “Imagine a better future and create it.” As a result, I have worked on numerous multi-stakeholder digital transformation projects in different user research, insights, and experience roles.
In those roles, I have been lucky to work with people who truly care about making change happen. In addition to the wonderful change makers I have worked with, I want to celebrate all the people working tirelessly in Digital Transformation Programmes and their ambitions to fundamentally rearchitect their organisation to take advantage of the advancements in technology and human behaviour, at scale. I truly believe this is vital for organisations and society to not just survive but thrive.
This was particularly evident after witnessing such an innovative phase in our society during Covid, where we not only managed to digitally transform the way we do things as a society but also managed to accelerate (and in some cases overcome) the governance and processes that can often inhibit or shape transformation programmes.
Too much talking, not enough doing
However, over the last few years, something has been bugging me… And that is how much time we spend ‘talking’ about Digital Transformation as opposed to doing it. Because, I must remind you, that people who work in Digital Transformation are a unique group of people.
The reality is, most people don’t care about your transformation they just want their $#!T to work.
They have really high expectations of what (and how) they should be able to do digitally today based on the tech disruptors, what they have seen on TV, and the rapid implementation of tech and tools during COVID-19. However, all these expectations come with an incredibly low understanding of how complex and time-consuming it is to enable what they may see as a ‘simple’ function. If people can do their banking while on the toilet now, why can’t they complete all their tasks in such a simple way?
And when I say ‘other people,’ I mean everyone from your customers to your colleagues. If they’re not part of the Digital Transformation team, they very rarely care. And how do I know this?
I speak to the ‘other people’
My job is to help people functionally and emotionally connect with brands through great experiences. So, I spend a lot of time with different, diverse internal and external stakeholders (aka ‘other people’) in workshops and interviews, asking them how might we deliver improved products, services, tools, and experiences.
As I work across multiple sectors, I’ve heard a vast array of responses to the question “How can we improve things”:
In fact, whether thinking about personal or work goals, the responses tend to always be task orientated.
But do you know the one thing that no one has ever said to me in the past 14 years?
“I want you to run a Digital Transformation Programme to change the organisation or service or product.”
It doesn’t even enter their consciousness to consider a transformation programme. Partly because it is 2023 and they assume everything is already digital, but mostly because all they really want is for the product, service, or tool they need to work simply and easily whenever they need it.
Learning the hard way
And you might be thinking:
“Ahh, but this is a communications issue. We just need to ensure that we explain to people why they should care – why it is important to them that we are digitally transforming Let’s start a new project in communication and culture and then define a series of campaigns to help people understand more about Digital Transformation and how integral it is to their lives….”
And that’s what I thought. Because we all know that if they want all their things to work we need to transform our processes, systems and tools and therefore they must care.
So, over the years I have run many series of user groups, design sprints and workshops as part of digital transformation programmes, where I have clearly and carefully explained what the programme is and shown some fancy plans on a page about the future in 5 or even 25 years’ time. And there tend to be 2 reactions when you mention a Digital Transformation Programme to people who aren’t directly working on it:
- Apathy: Their eyes glaze over, and they zone out
- Anger: They look palpably angry, often with a vein starting to throb somewhere in their foreheads.
And why do you get these two reactions?
It is because there are some clear misconceptions about Digital Transformation Programmes such as the fact that it will be:
- Expensive: Digital Transformation sounds expensive and there may be little to no return on investment
- Complex: It sounds overly complicated with lots of confusing terms and diagrams
- Irrelevant: It sounds like a distraction from what they want you to do …. Which is to enable them to complete their tasks, how and when they want to.
This is why it makes people feel either apathetic, as it seems too far in the future and disconnected from their goals, or angry that you are potentially wasting time and money on a massive programme rather than fixing their everyday problems.
So, what can we do to overcome the apathy or anger in order to engage with people?
We can’t ignore all other people and run our Digital Transformation Programmes in isolation as a secret cabal of experts. We must be sure to engage with the people who we want to adopt our new ways of doing things or use the new tools.
In my experience there are three simple ways to engage or reengage people about your Digital Transformation:
1. Stop talking about digital transformation … And start talking about the outcomes it will enable for them.
Because whilst the process, the governance and all the culture are vital for the success of a digital transformation programme, not everyone needs to know about it. The only thing that truly matters for the stakeholders who are not part of the programme is what they will be able to do, how it will improve their lives and when it will happen. Talk to them about their goals, their needs and what they want, and then prioritise them based on the effort of implementation against impact to the organisation and your customers. This way you can easily identify what matters most to all stakeholders and roadmap an effective programme.
2. Stop trying to sound clever and avoid using complex, technical words.
Use the language of the people you are talking to. If you are talking to colleagues or executives, it may well be appropriate to use various systems, processes and tools terminology. But if you do, ensure that you have a common understanding of what you mean by each term – even if that means creating a glossary of terms. It is amazing how many meetings I attend where people are talking at cross-purposes and simply asking what an acronym means or for a definition of a term can realign them all. And when talking to customers, it is imperative that you match and mirror their language rather than educate them on your terminology. If you use unfamiliar language, for example using architecture in a non-house related way or starting to talk about data lakes, you will cause further confusion, most likely making them feel stupid – which goes without saying that nobody likes to feel stupid. Explain things in simple and inclusive words that everyone, from a 6-year-old to your granny, can understand.
3. Show people instead of telling them about it.
Whenever possible, show people what the future will be like. Whether that is through prototypes, a video, or simple low-fi wireframes or process flows. If you can show people what something is and how it will work within the context of its use, it is so much more powerful than explaining esoteric concepts. This approach allows you to test concepts early and get feedback around something that everyone can see, as opposed to talking around a vision of the future.
And even better is to take on some low-hanging fruit (or quick wins), start to build early and make immediate improvements. If you have spoken to your stakeholders and got their needs, guaranteed there are a few problems or user stories identified that you can start now. Even if that means having to do a minor refactoring later.
If you can show people how you can work at pace and are focused on their outcomes and priorities you will build momentum and naturally engender better buy-in, engagement and adoption.
So, to conclude, I guess my talk should have been renamed to the incredibly wordy:
‘People do care about your digital transformation, but they don’t know that they do, and they don’t need to know that they do.’
Because you can bring them along the Digital Transformation Journey, without them even knowing it by:
- Talking about the outcomes your transformation will enable rather than its complexity and process.
- Talking in their language so they don’t feel lost or stupid or not listened to
- Starting to build concepts and solutions early so you can show them that you are going to make both your customers and employees $#!T work both today and tomorrow.
If you are wondering about how you can engage with stakeholders successfully about your digital transformation and are looking for more information, please get in touch with us today to discuss.