Summary: Reflecting on my latest mandates and conversations I can definitely confirm that the winds in the field of Digital Workplace have changed. The subject seems to have left the hype curve. I believe we’ve even left the valley of disillusionment. When approaching the executive board, team efficiency and search time per employee don’t cut it anymore. Now effectiveness is the real deal. Enabling growth, competitive advantage and dominance in the war for talent is what budget owners resonate to. This blog post is about the new executive value proposition and how to build the right alliances to formulate and drive it.
Moving on from inflated expectations and disillusionment
Just recently I had an interesting conversation with a fellow strategy consultant. We talked about our experience in the field of the inside facing digital channels (my new favourite expression for the Digital Workplace by the way). In order to compare our point of view we used the model of the Gartner Hype Cycle to visualise our understanding. Here’s my take:
(Based on the Gartner Hype Cycle Research Methodology)
I strongly believe that we are now in the Age of Effectiveness. The time where initiative owners and project managers could convince their stakeholders based on social media metrics (number of blogs, posts, likes & comments) are kind of over. I have been in workshops myself where various user groups wished for “less social” and “more relevance” on the homepage of (really!) modern intranets.
In my last 10 initiatives we had to prepare a pitch to the board room at some point. In one of my first assignments I learned the hard way that an Executive Summary looks more or less like this…and if you don’t have the content available you won’t make it very far.
WHAT are you proposing WHY, based on which factual knowledge? What’s the expected BENEFIT and what are the consequences of doing nothing and what are the consequences of doing what you are suggesting?
What are you submitting for approval?
Come straight to the point. A telco once told me about their 45 min meeting principle: if you don’t make it in 45 min you’ll never make it. Essentially this is the key guideline for executive proposals: after the 4th bullet they will lose interest… I am not kidding you.
What is the proposal trying to address?
Excuse my French, but don’t try to bullshit yourself through this one. Don’t make stuff up – they will see through you. Don’t throw “research” at them – they know that each company has it’s very own DNA. Don’t go with “<add major consultancy> says that <add your industry> has to <add action here>” – that will only work in pitches and motivation talks. Have your homework done. Have your insight on the actual reference points and needs within the organisation. Have back-up through at least 3 names that mean something to them where you can say “I checked with Steve…and he agrees with <add challenge here>”.
What happens if we don’t do anything?
YOU might think that your proposal is “the next big thing”. Even if you feel like the saviour of mankind have your honest “we will survive even without it…maybe not as comfortable, but we will” in place. Again: don’t make up some weird threat to the company’s existence. Chances are that the folks you are presenting to have that covered already. They didn’t make it up there because they just knew someone. Probably the best advice is: be honest and realistic.
What will the benefit look like?
Efficiency? Simply: don’t. Employee satisfaction? Nah. Improved teamwork? Nup. Transparency and seamless information flow? Meeeep.
Don’t get blinded by executive motivation speeches and quarterly leader talk. If you pick up on their motivational and leadership messaging you will crash and burn. Not because they are mean but because it’s not in their KPI. That’s not what executive goals look like when they lead the business into a prospering future. This might sound harsh and very blunt but for the majority of organisations this is still true.
CAPEX savings and benefit. OPEX savings and effectiveness. Growth. Competitive advantage. Magic words to the executive ears.
Doing things right the first time…
That’s a quote of a regional president of a global industrial manufacturing corporation. His essence to argue for a Digital Workplace initiative.
You probably won’t need the actual Excel because it’s unlikely that you get access to the figures that you need to prove the need for change. But if you are able to NAME the right KPI and show how you have identified them and who backs up their relevance you are almost there…
Essentially: show the executives how you can make their life a whole lot easier in achieving their KPI through a well oiled and goal focussed organisation. Tell them what you can provide so that their “resource” can focus on the essentials and not constantly fight an uphill battle.
What’s the risk the executives will take if they follow your proposal?
Again: the guys are up there for a reason. If you go all “pink roses” you’ll get some chuckle and a wink. At the end of the day this your key test. If your proposal is good enough, if it’s worth taking some (or even big) risk, you’ll be in for good. Stable. With a budget. No matter what the quarterly results will do to other projects!
The importance of alliances
Honesty and substance require alliances. Find the right people to…
- show you which buttons to press to get listened to (requires knowledge)
- back you up when you make bold statements (requires loyalty)
- lobby your proposal before you go through the gate of fire (requires experience)
- keep your friends close and your enemies closer (requires empathy)
- take risks in delivering proofs of concept and pilots (requires guts)
I get often asked about “change management”, which in too many cases gets mixed up with introductory campaigns, fancy intranet names and leader talk.
Change Management starts with day 1 in the initiative. It starts by really WANTING to understand the people you work for and with. It requires to answer the question of “what’s in for me” not just for the user base but for middle management and executives.
You won’t get anything to the “adoption” state if you’re not able to make some people look very very good in front of their superiors. A lot of modern leadership evangelists might say that that’s a bad thing. However, if you think win/win and “nobody lose”, it’s not such a bad thing. Everyone deserves a little lime light and a pat on the back along the way, no?
Enjoy the ride. It’s become more challenging…but it’s become way more fun at the same time if you’re in for the long run!