Digital Transformation Requires Buy-In From Everyone

Written by Maddie Grant on August 30, 2018

Digital Transformation is the current hot topic in the association world, but there are a zillion different definitions of it. In preparing for a panel at SURGE, I found a definition I thought was heading in the right direction.

“Digital transformation is the convergence of digital technologies applied to organizational activities, processes, competencies, customer needs data, intelligence and models yielding significant efficiencies, and service and market opportunities for associations and not-for-profits.”

This was a paragraph buried on the landing page of a survey about digital readiness. It’s a very long winded definition, but I liked the fact that it speaks to processes, data, AND markets. In my experience working with many associations on what were ostensibly digital transformation projects, they all had these three things in common:

1) an awareness of changing customer needs, their digital habits, and a growing desire to redefine the relationship(s) between the customer/member and the organization [MARKET]

2) the realization that data, gathered through emerging technologies and digital tools, is key to understanding that evolving relationship [DATA]; and

3) the fact that implementing new technologies internally requires changing processes, which requires changing how we work. [PROCESS]

Everyone loves to focus on #1 and #2. Customer experience is the next trendy buzzword. Associations that have shied away from anything remotely resembling the concept of the “sales funnel” in the past are now all over the latest CRM software. And data, big data, predictive data… need I say more. So for me, the key to the work that I do around culture change, is #3. Digital transformation means changing how we work.

I mentioned in the session that digital transformation is not something you buy off the shelf. It’s something you do. It’s change – it says it right there in the word “transformation”. Transformation does not mean little change, like having to use Outlook instead of Gmail. (OK, maybe for some that’s big change…) What we are talking about is Really Big Change. How you build new relationships with your members, how you work internally using different tools which require new ways of communicating and collaborating and sharing information. How you do business in the fast-moving digital age.

But… we can’t truly change how we work without buy-in at all levels of the organization.

Associations often make the mistake of thinking that new technology will immediately solve their problems – once they get over the implementation hurdle – because the buy-in piece is an afterthought. Or, that getting buy-in needs to happen only at the senior management level, and there’s an assumption that everyone else will fall in line and start using these new tools because their managers said so. Or, that getting buy-in is all about the “possibilities”, the ideal, the future – the theory about what these new technologies will do for us – and not, in fact, about “what’s in it for me” (the employee), right here, right now. People don’t hate change. People hate change that doesn’t make sense to them. That feels like a waste of time. That is disconnected from the processes and ways of working that have made them successful in the past.

Success is about organizations being able to evolve with the communities and markets they serve (or lead). To get to that success using digital tools, we have to find ways for every individual to understand their role in that evolution. It’s not just about one more tool to learn. It’s about why this particular system will allow all of us to better understand our members. And how each individual employee can help make that happen by participating. By “inputting your inputs”. Because if everyone does it, the whole system grows and improves and evolves and learns.

And the whole system growing and improving and learning – that’s what digital transformation is really about.