Digital transformation: 3 attributes of winning team players

Do you have the right rowers in your boat as you strive for digital transformation success? Consider these three attributes you'll need on your team
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Three people rowing a boat in water

You have buy-in – at least some buy-in. You have user engagement – at least some user engagement. How do you know if you have the right people on board to make digital transformation happen?

To support successful change, your team members need three attributes: legitimacy, power, and urgency (attributes which I first learned about from "Toward a Theory of Stakeholder Identification and Salience: Defining the Principle of Who and What Really Counts.") The definitive stakeholder is high in each of these attributes – but most stakeholders have some degree of each.

The key to finding the right members of your transformation team isn’t to look for all three attributes in every person, but rather to find the right attributes across all the stakeholders and create a forum to pool their attributes for the good of the project.

[ How are you staffing your efforts? Read also: Digital transformation teams in 2021: 9 key roles. ]

If a stakeholder does not bring a solid quantity of at least one of the three attributes to the project, they’re not a critical stakeholder.

1. Legitimacy

Legitimacy is best represented by someone who will see the most change. They are interested and involved in digital transformation because the changes will ultimately transform their role.

The line-level worker whose role will be transformed, for example, may not have much power, but they are legitimately interested and involved with the change. Another example is an executive who has “grown up” in the area to be changed: They know the history and may be more realistic about the kinds of changes that are being proposed.

Legitimate stakeholders are often considered discretionary because they may lack the power to affect the change or the urgency to get it started. However, when legitimacy is combined with power, the stakeholder becomes dominant, because they’re both realistic and empowered to bring forth the change. Legitimate stakeholders who also have an attribute of urgency are dependent because they need power to make things happen.

2. Power

The simplest indication of power is one’s position within the organization. However, there are other places of power that are often hidden in the organizational hierarchy. An executive assistant often has the power to accelerate or block key initiatives, for example, or a trusted shop floor foreman may be able to rally the rest of the production team when it becomes necessary.

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

When stakeholders have only the power attribute, they’re dormant stakeholders – their lack of legitimacy and urgency tends to make them sit on the sidelines. When the power attribute is found with urgency – but without legitimacy – the stakeholder is dangerous because they may push the change in a direction that isn’t compatible with the needs and desires of the legitimate stakeholders.

3. Urgency

Some stakeholders have a palpable feeling of urgency. This may be the person who is so fed up with the current situation that they’re considering quitting, or it may be a newly hired hotshot who’s eager to prove they can get things done. Without any other attributes, these stakeholders are demanding. Demanding stakeholders can be frustrating because they want everything but lack the legitimacy to be credible and the power to make change happen.

Look for a mix

If you are lucky enough to find a CEO who came up through the ranks in the organization and has a burning passion for the necessary digital transformation, count your blessings.

If you are lucky enough to find a CEO who came up through the ranks in the organization and has a burning passion for the necessary digital transformation, count your blessings. This combination is exceptionally rare.

Every stakeholder should bring some level of power, legitimacy, and urgency – though they need not have high levels of each. It’s these varying levels that enable them to relate to other stakeholders and create the kind of coalition you need.

When you assess your stakeholders, which of these three attributes does your team most lack? When you look across the organization, can you find well-rounded people who can fill these gaps?

If the folks on your team have no power, legitimacy, or urgency, replace them. Even if you would rate them high in only one attribute, replace them. For the best chance of a successful transformation, each member of your team should have a high degree of at least one attribute and at least a moderate degree of the others.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Robert Bogue, 17-year Microsoft MVP and 28-time author, has led change projects for three decades and changes the way people work as he changed the technology. He leverages his strength in technology and human systems to create change that is sustainable and transformative for organizations of all sizes and shapes. He can be reached via

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