While many would say that 2020 was the year of a five-letter word beginning with C and ending in 19, we believe it was actually the year of a three-letter word also beginning with C but ending in IO and with nothing in between - the CIO. Tasked with making distributed workforces operational (let alone getting them up to speed) in a fraction of the time that comparable projects would historically have taken, CIOs had little room for hesitation.
Any investments remotely considered discretionary were shelved to focus on the essentials, such as EY’s 300,000-seat Microsoft Teams rollout. Remote implementations (partial or complete) became the norm, even within highly regulated environments such as Monmouthshire Building Society’s new automated anti-money laundering system. Astonishingly, Accenture’s CEO Paul Daugherty witnessed companies undertaking approximately three years of digital transformation in just three months.
The pandemic was the catalyst for wide-spread digital transformation that businesses couldn’t ignore or delay. Its impact will eventually subside, and for some fortunate countries, it already has. When this happens, backlogged projects and new projects will return to the decision-making table. These projects will fight for attention, need to be prioritised, and require organisation buy-in.
So, how can project owners get support from the business for its next digital project? We’ve put together some learnings and insights from our 43 years of experience in helping businesses utilise technology to grow their competitive advantage.
Broaden your definition of stakeholder
Our experience has shown us that people typically have too narrow a view on the number of stakeholders that are connected to a project. This is backed up with research by Harvard Business School Professor John Kotter, which revealed 70% of organisational change efforts failing – with one of the main reasons being executives not getting enough buy-in.
If you think of buy-in as a safety net, stakeholders are the individual pieces of rope weaved together. It’s nigh on impossible to catch something using a net made from only one or two bits of rope - the more rope, the bigger and stronger the net.
The broader view of stakeholders covers:
- The executive sponsor who will give the green or the red light.
- Formal decision makers, even if they are not directly accountable for the impacted areas.
- Influencers in your organisation who carry significant sway.
Why expand your view of stakeholders? A big part of it comes down to credibility. There’s nothing worse than investing in a project that was never going to fly! Getting stakeholders across the project early can stop a project before it begins or give your team enough time to address concerns through additional discovery work.
Stop. Collaborate. And listen.
User experience design (UX) is synonymous in practically every ‘digitally transformed’ enterprise business worldwide. Co-creation, a core tenet of UX, is one reason for its surge in popularity, thanks in part to the emotional attachment one develops when taking part an ideation and design process. As a result of taking part in the initial phases of a project, people are more likely to buy-in to proceeding with the project and/or adopting it into their way of working or living once it is complete.
While most talk about co-creation involves customers, it works just as well with and is just as important for internal stakeholders. So, it’s well worth including relevant stakeholders early on to increase your project's chances of getting the green light.
Be clear on vision and value
While budgets may be opening up for innovative programmes of work, businesses won’t be throwing around money to compensate for the lack of ‘fringe’ spending in 2020. Instead, spend will be more tightly monitored, and as a result, projects may be harder to get across the line.
To front-foot this challenge, project owners need to clearly articulate the vision for their project. It is wise to ensure such a vision has a prominent link to the organisation’s mission, values, and strategic direction. It’s also prudent to demonstrate how the project will add value to the business (and the customer).
Make it personal
Depending on the size and scope of the project, getting personal with your internal proposals can pay huge dividends. Know what motivates each stakeholder then tailor your proposal or pitch to them. If you can hit the right notes, they will be more likely to buy-in to the project than if you were to keep it generic. Yes, it might be more time consuming upfront, but keep the endgame in sight.
Solicit, acknowledge, and action feedback
Because it has been done so poorly for so long, feedback has built up a bad reputation from both the giver and recipient perspectives. Givers are often jaded about sharing their thoughts because they have done so in the past, typically with little in return. So, make sure request for submissions aren’t just another a box-ticking activity, or people will avoid giving it.
Many project owners are tempted to avoid eliciting feedback due to the reasonable concern that critical feedback could derail or fragment the momentum of the planned project. The consistently observed reality is that forging ahead without conversing via online surveys, corporate chat channels, or town hall meetings invariably leads to insufficient buy-in and poor change adoption.
Simply acknowledging and responding to the feedback themes can be sufficient for the stakeholders to feel heard, mitigate active detraction, and even show support. If themes are strong enough, concessions should be made to encourage people to submit feedback with future projects: Win the war, not the battle.
Build trust through transparency
Establishing credibility is a critical aspect of achieving buy-in from the business. Credibility plays an even bigger role as projects grow in scale and complexity. Therefore, increasing your credibility within the business and in your industry should be a continual pursuit. This means being transparent when asked difficult questions – not giving vague answers in return. It means being open about the status or uncertainty you have with projects. And it certainly means avoiding projects that you believe there is a high likelihood that you won’t be able to deliver (unless you caveat your project with this and the risk/reward is acceptable to the business).
Be prepared to bargain
With the many voices competing for resource and budget, plus other restrictions the pandemic may still be causing, it’s essential know what you’re bringing to the table – and more importantly – what you’re happy to part with as a compromise. It may be reduced scope. It could be different a timeframe. Whatever it is, be mindful of what other parts of the business are planning to accomplish the next 12-24 months as you may need to accommodate them or navigate through various bottlenecks.
Think pre-business case
When it comes to buy-in, business cases provide one of the final opportunities to win support for your project, thanks to their objectiveness, facts that demonstrate the value the project will return to the business, and some good old fashion storytelling. However, as per the points above, the most influential phase of the decision-making processes occurs before the business case is presented; at the water cooler, over Zoom morning tea meetings, in the foyer, at your desk, over a coffee down the street.
This doesn’t give you licence to stalk or spam your stakeholders, but instead slowly work away at building trust, understanding what motivates them, getting input on the project, and listening intently to what they’re sharing. Some projects may take a while to get the buy-in, so be patient.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
The final point to consider is communicating (which probably deserves three separate points as you will soon see) more than you think. Most organisational changes, projects or otherwise, are let down by the mistaken assumption that everybody knows and understands what either will or is going on. If you think you’ve over-communicated, the message is probably just getting through to them. Stay the course.
Feeling inspired to make 2021 the year of action? Whatever you’re planning, we hope these tips will help you get that project that has been percolating in your mind for some time. If you need some help in getting this across the line or are interested in establishing co-creating environment, we’d love to talk.