Digital transformation: 7 steps for communicating a strategy change

Even the best plans sometimes need to change. Consider these tips to ensure that your team is on board as you pivot your digital transformation strategy
311 readers like this.

How do you rally your organization around changes after you’ve already sold them on your original digital transformation strategy? It starts with the right communication plan.

In my previous article, "Digital transformation: 3 signs you need to pivot," I suggested that leaders regularly update digital transformation strategies and programs based on changes in markets, industries, and new customer insights.

But occasionally, a true pivot may be required – for example, after events such as COVID-19, a major acquisition, new leadership, or other significant changes in business strategy. After major strategic shifts, it may be appropriate for digital transformation leaders to restate or pivot digital transformation programs.

Leaders must help employees understand why the digital transformation's shift in course is needed.

Creating or updating a presentation deck isn’t going to cut it. A communication deck may work for the kickoff of a transformation program, but once the trains are running, teams align, plan, and execute the transformation’s vision. Leaders must prep more details to help employees understand why the shift in course, new priorities, and updated responsibilities are necessary.

[ Is your team tiring of transformation work? Read also: How to beat digital transformation fatigue. ] 

How to align people and programs: 7 steps

You’ve already sold the team on a direction, and they’ve committed to improving customer experiences, developing digitally enabled products, improving business operations, experimenting with artificial intelligence, or enabling a more data-driven organization. Now you need to course-correct, and other leaders, employees, and very often customers and partners must come along.

Here are several steps to consider:

1. Gather facts and data that explain the pivot. No one wants to see leadership swaying with the wind with frequent direction changes. If you’re going to pivot, start at the beginning explaining why the pivot and use data and facts to justify the strategic changes.

If you're going to pivot, start at the beginning explaining why the pivot and use data and facts to justify the strategic changes.

2. Define what you are not doing or slowing. Too many pivots are additive and expect the same teams to take on more responsibilities or scope. A true pivot requires prioritization and explaining to employees what’s new, what’s different, and what’s stopping to enable the new priorities.

3. Redefine your vision. Every digital transformation program should include a future vision. We all know the future is cloudy, so if you’re going to announce a pivot, it’s best to announce a new version of the vision statement and clarify key differences.

[ Get answers to key digital transformation questions and lessons from top CIOs: Download our digital transformation cheat sheet. ]

4. Define what assumptions need testing. If you have all the answers, then you’re either overconfident or bringing the plan to the team way too late. Leaders define transformations on a foundation of assumptions that require ongoing validation. Testing assumptions is required even more with pivots. No one believes or trusts leaders selling new directions without acknowledging what needs further discovery work around markets, customer segments, suppliers, technologies, analytics, or internal operations.

5. Review existing budgets, compliance factors, and other constraints. Do your homework. If you asked the team to build a scooter, you can’t pivot and expect to develop a motorcycle with the same budget. Employees likely know the organization’s regulatory and compliance requirements that may prevent or constrain the new vision. You don’t need to know all the factors, but announcing a new director without considering some of the financial and legal constraints may help create a new group of transformation detractors.

6. Consider the impacts on people and processes. Does your pivot require secondary investments in processes or tools? For example, if the pivot now requires developing customer-facing analytics, acknowledging that the program requires new data science talent, DataOps platforms, or data governance shows that the organization is prepared to make the required investments. Equally if not more important, consider how canceled, delayed, or changed programs impact the people who were directly working on them.

Consider how canceled, delayed, or changed programs impact the people who were directly working on them.

7. Develop your communications plan. Announcing a pivot or strategic course change requires a communications plan and ideally a collaboration with those people already working on the transformation programs directly and indirectly. Elements of these preparation steps should help in crafting the communications required.

Following up after the big announcements

It’s one thing to make a course change and another to prepare the materials I’m suggesting and communicating with leaders, colleagues, and teams. It takes many steps to get the engines running with people planning and executing transformation initiatives. After making announcements around the pivot, you’ll need to follow up with everyone involved to make sure the boat actually starts turning toward the new vision.

That’s why a mature mix of agile transformation methodologies and portfolio management practices are key to leading transformation programs. Leaders need these practices to help translate strategy to planning and action.

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

Isaac Sacolick is the president and founder of StarCIO, a technology learning company that guides leaders on digital transformation. A lifelong technologist, Isaac has served in startup CTO and transformational CIO roles.