Companies are like high-performance engines – they’re optimized over time to create the greatest output. They handle small incremental changes and fine-tuning well but often break down when broader changes and rebuilding are needed.
Enter the digital transformation journey. How can companies learn how to shift quickly to meet the needs of their customers, employees, and the market when incremental progress isn’t working? What roles can help ensure success along the way?
In my experience, it’s best to focus on a “top-down” and “bottom-up” transformation plan to increase the potential for success and encourage more people to join the journey. Remember, each employee has their journey to consider, and it’s important to bring people along to help them see themselves on the other side of change.
For a successful transformation, someone needs to own the why, what, when, and how of the journey. The following three critical roles represent these key components, each integral to success.
1. The Executive Sponsor
This is the visionary that maintains C-suite alignment. As the “top-down” leaders and owners of the transformation’s “why?,” the Executive Sponsor role ideally involves two people who can represent the vision and outcomes of the transformational effort.
[ Also read Digital transformation: 3 contrarian tips. ]
They are inspirational storytellers and negotiators working with C-suite peers to ensure continual alignment as priorities and needs evolve. They’re responsible for adjusting the transformation agenda as needed due to the normal business cycle. If alignment is not maintained, transformations tend to stagnant quickly as focus and investment are siphoned away. Executive sponsors are the voice of the transformation internally to the company and often externally to customers and investors watching the changes unfold.
Two people are preferred because many companies maintain organizational divisions like business and IT. This separation can hinder success without equal representation across both groups.
I recently worked with a global transportation company where the technology leader was the only sponsor. Given this, there was some initial hesitation by business counterparts, who felt that the transformation was being done to them rather than with them. Once the company identified a business counterpart, the organization became more aligned with the overall transformational goals.
If it’s impossible to have two executive sponsors, the individual in this role will need organizational awareness and influence to ensure everyone is included. They will also need to be able to delegate some current responsibilities to others to focus on the transformational agenda.
I’ve seen organizations’ transformations fail to lift off because the singular executive sponsor considered it just another thing they were tasked with doing. Avoid that at all costs.
2. The Transformation Lead
The person in this role creates the environment for breakthrough potential. The most impactful transformation efforts have a transformation office led by the transformation lead. Accountable for the “what” and “when” of a transformation, this person assembles a dedicated team to create the plan and roadmap and implement it.
As the lead, this person should have a breakthrough mindset and be able to challenge “status quo” thinking and processes. Equal parts inspirational leader and pragmatist, this role is crucial to ensuring a transformational effort doesn’t become unbalanced – providing all the facets of transformation are represented and progressing. Elements like technology, governance, culture, and measurement that support the transformation’s objectives must work in concert, not in conflict.
There are two important considerations for this role. First, this is a dedicated role that someone will take on. The complexity of a transformation needs a focused leader to bring the plan for a transformation together. It’s very challenging to accomplish this if this leader has competing accountabilities.
Second, the transformation lead will be working closely with the executive sponsor, so they need to have complementary styles. This is often an overlooked aspect and is especially important if a company plans to fill this role externally.
Get this right, and your transformation lead can challenge and adapt the journey based on what is happening in real-time.
3. The Team Champion
This role serves as the voice of those closest to the change. As a complementary role to the executive sponsor, the team champion represents the “bottom-up” team perspective. As the leader helping teams learn to work in new ways, many people play a part in this role. Also known as coaches or evangelists, they are responsible for translating the team’s needs back to the transformation lead and bringing the transformation vision and goals to life for employees.
Done well, this creates the accountability needed within teams as they become more autonomous and self-directed.
For example, I was once part of a transformation that was not resonating with first-level managers. The adoption of the change was limited within a particular group. A team champion was able to identify this bottleneck and partner with the transformation office to design a series of workshops and trainings to help those managers understand the value of the initiative for the team and themselves. Once those managers had stronger awareness and desire, the teams could take off and achieve their goals.
While it takes many roles to make transformation possible across an organization, your transformation will have the greatest chance of success if you get these three critical roles right.
[Where is your team’s digital transformation work stalling? Get the eBook: What’s slowing down your Digital Transformation? 8 questions to ask.]
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