In my last blogs about local government digital transformation, we discussed the first three steps of the "5S Framework for Digital Transformation".
In this fourth part of the series, "Local Government Digital Transformation – A Blueprint for Success", I'll introduce phase four of the methodology: "Support".
In phase one, "Span", you built meaningful connections from the interior of your organisations to the outside world. Undertaking dialogue with customers, peers and partners to gain tangible information and data to enable you to understand precisely what needs to change and how quickly.
You used that intelligence to define a "Shared Vision for Transformation" - a succinct set of statements that outlined where the organisation is today, a vision for the future and why it needs to change.
You also appointed a leadership group responsible for driving transformation forwards, ensuring resource and budget is available to set out on your digital journey.
Then, in phase two, "Show", you flushed out all of the barriers to transformation that are hidden in your organisation. You also found critical assets and resources and started to plan and prioritise the initial projects to be tackled as you set out to achieve your vision for digital transformation.
Once your vision was firm, you then started to develop solutions iteratively. You were letting the business lead the transformation with new ways of working and putting users and customers at the forefront of every project.
This phase of transformation is a critical one. It can be the difference between a successful and long-lasting transformation of the entire organisation, or a few small projects and everything going back to the way it always was and all of your effort standing for very little.
In this phase, we are aiming to win support, leverage more budget and more resources to increase the momentum of transformation and ensure that it remains front and centre of everyone's agenda across the entire organisation.
Often after a few successful small pockets of transformation have been completed, especially if in customer-facing areas, people assume that transformation is done or that it's no longer a priority to work in the new ways you fought so hard to get started.
There is also often an assumption that because transformation has been mandated by senior leaders that a trickle-down effect will somehow organically cause transformation to take hold across the business. These are complete fallacies and risk everything you have so far achieved as the progress you have made will disappear the moment that senior leaders' focus shifts to something new.
If you feel that your transformation is taking hold and gaining momentum, then it is time to ramp up your efforts, as this is the moment to seize the opportunity to gain leverage. You now have a story to tell and successful projects to use as points of leverage. Now is the time to accelerate and grow your transformation faster than at any other stage. However, there are some possible threats that didn't exist when you first started. And it's important to recognise these before starting to gain support.
Think back to when you first started your digital programme. You will remember that it started with energy and gusto. The teams were full of enthusiasm and commitment from the leadership team of continued investment and support.
You will probably have started by working towards a large outcome. Something like the implementation of Microsoft365. Which was necessary to overcome the issues we all faced during the Covid pandemic. What tends to happen is that because of this large, complicated project and the seeming lack of return on investment beyond being able to work from home, the programme loses momentum. Not many people in the organisation can see the benefit. So all of that enthusiasm and energy stops as reality sets in. This is especially prevalent in local authorities. You may have done some work on your website, web forms, tried to get that channel shift going without too much success. And people just see the project as a project and not a genuine transformation that was completed and over with. Everyone then just gets on with exactly what they were always doing previously, and transformation is dead in the water.
To avoid this, you must be aware of some risks that are very likely to surface at this point.
Barriers that cannot be removed.
Some of the barriers that you identified in phase 2, "Show", may still be present. Whilst the initial project teams have been iteratively delivering solutions and chipping away at those barriers, there may be some within your people, processes and platforms that are simply immovable. Again this is prevalent in local authorities who tend to buy off the shelf software products developed especially for them that means changing, upgrading, integration is simply not possible as they are beholden to the vendors for changes and improvements.
I know all of you reading this blog will know of the major platforms you use, which are in nearly every local authority in the UK. Although the project has been focussing on working around these platforms, in reality, these barriers are not moveable. And this knowledge can risk transformation as people just cannot see a way to improve efficiency or service while committed to the external platforms vendors.
People who resist.
In every organisation, there are people who put up strong resistance to change of any kind. They may have a vested interest in blocking transformation or preserving old ways of working. This could be for several reasons, and it is entirely natural for them to resist. The transformation may threaten their service or role. This can cause significant anxiety and naturally put them on the defensive back foot.
New ways of working may be difficult to implement in their particular area, which means they see huge issues and upheaval and naturally try to avoid the transformation of their service or business unit. Whatever the reason, it is critical that the success you have achieved so far is presented in a factual, structured, and non-threatening way. Where someone's role is genuinely threatened by the transformation, then the leverage you need to push through the barrier must be purely evidence-based decisions and transparently non-personal.
The act of digital transformation naturally causes change. But some of this change can be significant. Any large change has the potential to stop transformation. The change is seen to be simply too much of a leap from the current position to the target model. Whenever there is a large change on the table that is likely to impact people's working environments, reporting lines, systems or even the day-to-day jobs they do, then there will be major resistance. So using your evidence-based success stories to ensure that these changes are planned and delivered is key.
So now we understand the types of risks and issues that we will be confronted by, we can start to look at the different types of successes to use to gain that invaluable support needed to push through and accelerate transformation in the organisation. There are two key success types that need to be tracked and documented along the entire transformation journey. Project success and team success.
The first types of success stories are project successes. These stories show the commercial value and the benefits achieved through transformation. This type of success is critical to track in every project. You may recall back in Phase 2, "Show", where we developed a benefits management capability to track and report on every benefit of every project as it was forecasted and delivered. This is the very reason for doing that work up-front. As of now, when you need it, you have every project success story across the organisation to use as collateral for your success stories.
As long as you track the financial benefits and efficiencies gained through transformation, then these are easy stories to tell. They're based on facts and science. They can't be argued against easily. So utilise them as much as possible. Hearing results from already completed projects should make the rest of the organisation feel like they are missing out on something. Your stories should trigger 'FOMO' (Fear Of Missing Out) across the whole organisation!
One of the key objectives for digital transformation is to become more reactive to change itself and deliver efficiencies. This means that there are success stories that aren't merely numbers on a presentation but actual stories about how life is better after transformation. How manual processes are minimal and how change is a good thing. Now it's likely you've only really managed to get pockets of the organisation working in new ways and reaping the benefits of being digital-first. So, it's important to collect testimonials from transformed areas of the business as a direct comparison of life before and after transformation.
Look at capturing things like how automation has changed the day-to-day workload of staff and how much easier it is to deliver their service to the customer. These stories have to be based on the human aspect of transformation. These are likely the stories that will really get your organisation thinking about being digital and being able to imagine themselves working in more modern ways, reacting to change, delivering modern and relevant services in an efficient way.
How to use success stories in 'Support.'
The reason that 'Support' is a stand-alone step in the digital transformation process and not just a regular programme communications piece is that the way you need to collect and use the stories needs to be very targeted and form a well-designed campaign. So using the right stories, in the right way, for the right people.
For example, your customer services team may be inundated with calls and have to access multiple separate systems to enter or access customer data across the organisation. Their immediate needs will be more centred around data and systems rationalisation and self-service than process automation. So choosing the right stories to trigger that 'FOMO' is critical to winning support.
To design the 'Support' campaign, use your shared vision for transformation and prioritise the business areas that need to get on board to achieve the most critical components. Identify the stakeholders and the people that need to be influenced and define what their key wants and needs are. You know these people. You know the characters and what they will respond best to. Define the goals that you want to achieve. It may be that at this stage, you simply need them to join an existing project, or it may be that transforming their business area is critical in achieving the digital vision. Whatever it is, set measurable goals with measurable responses so you can assess how effective your campaign is.
You can treat this in much the same way as an iterative project, testing different approaches until you find the one that works for a particular stakeholder or business area. Remember to be creative. If you can't influence the stakeholder, look at influencing their staff and teams. If they won't listen to you, they may well listen to their own lieutenants and trusted team members. After all, they are the ones dealing with the legacy issues which may well be crying out for digital transformation. You'll likely find digital champions along the way too, whom you can recruit to be business owners or product owners once iterative projects are underway in that area further down the line.
Remember that 'Support' is about getting more resources, more budget and more support from across the whole organisation, so it is critical that the executive team, senior leaders and Council members who hold the purse strings that the programme relies on are included in your plan and are engaged using the methods described above.