Guest post by Earl Greer, Vice President Solutions, Connection, Inc.
Senior leaders across business and technology teams are inundated with marketing material on “what and why” they need to do to transform their businesses. Despite all the anecdotal data and statistics, there is very little information on “how” they should pursue digital transformation.
This is partly because, as Gartner states, many CEOs struggle to discriminate between online sales, marketing and true digital business. True Digital Business blurs the boundaries across the physical and digital world, transforming products and services at the heart of the company, not just sales or marketing. Because this transformation is so new, companies need trusted advisors who have completed the journey to help them along the path toward a new company and culture.
Jeanne Morain’s recent book, iSpeak Cloud: Embracing Digital Transformation, describes not only what and why, but actually how companies should approach transformation into a true digital business. She bases her discussion on the insights of top performers. Part of the how is identifying not only the internal resources, but also what external resources can be leveraged to contain the costs, impact, and timelines for transformation enablement.
Picking the right trusted advisors is as essential as picking the right spouse, according to Morain. Companies should take care in selecting the strategic resources that understand and will uplift them on the journey. Here are six requirements for a trusted advisor, which you should consider when beginning your own journey.
Commitment to Success
Digital Transformation is similar to marriage – each journey will be unique and have ups and downs. Both sides need to be equally committed to the success of the company in completing the journey and not run at the first sign of hard work.
Two examples of this commitment
One entity hired an advisor to work with them to transform their business. The CEO then reassigned all the company resources to other projects and abruptly reassigned the needed teamwork to the advisor (extending the contract). Eventually the advisor resigned. The reason provided: the trusted advisors role was to uplift, educate, and disseminate the plans with leadership. This was for leadership and the company’s team to own and execute plans moving forward, not to have the ownership and effort ‘outsourced’ to the advisor.
Another example took place at a customer advisory board in January 2017. Several CIOs in the room professed leaving their current vendor and following the solutions advisor, in some cases across three different companies. Why? Because this advisor understood their business, identified areas that helped them achieve transformation objectives, and earned their trust.
2. Ability to traverse different views
Transforming a complex system of people, processes, and technology takes time and a lot of focus. Each department, line of business, and initiative comes with its own set of challenges. Each layer in the stack needs to be individually addressed and woven into the overarching fabric of the overarching cultural change that embodies transformation.
A good trusted advisor has to be able to take on different views across the stack and bring in experts that can go deeper in each given area to keep up with the change. It is imperative that they can look at challenges from different perspectives to bring teams together on solutions—rather than perpetuating the challenges. A trusted advisor realizes that the target audience needs to change when you dig into more micro views to move down deeper into the organization to address complex specialty areas.
On the other hand, they also know when to pivot or aggregate the data for executive consumption and discussion if needed. In other words, they know who needs a seat at the table, what value they represent, and how to distill the information up and out.
3. Intimate understanding of your market & landscape
It is easy for outsiders to Google a topic and try to profess empathy for your business, market, or space in today’s Internet age. Beware of consultants who only speak the surface jargon – they may not understand the subtle nuances that can affect your business as well as your customers and/or competitors.
An effective trusted advisor not only has a good handle on the technology landscape and processes but also on the market and resource landscape. For example, you may think that every casino is alike, because perhaps you’ve worked with one previously. However, you may not realize that Native American Casinos in the United States have their own data sovereignty regulations that fall outside typical state and federal guidelines. A good trusted advisor will not only understand the general guidelines for your industry but also take the time to understand any additional country, state, local, or unique directives that could impact success.
4. Ability to calibrate to company objectives, not just KPIs
“Vision without reality is delusion,” says Jeanne Morain, when emphasizing the importance of creating realistic plans and goals that teams can execute on. One of the hardest steps in successful transformation is crafting an achievable execution plan that aligns with and, if necessary, adjusts the vision.
For example, a healthcare organization was identifying which service workloads to move to the cloud. One solution had hardware dependencies that required close proximity to the patient to get accurate readings, which would improve care. Although hosting that service in the cloud may have saved the health provider money in the short term, it would have negated the real value that the hospital, doctors, and their patients were deriving from the solution.
Although the policies being created regarding time, security, and costs would have met, the company’s objective for patient care and quality would not have been met. By understanding both the objectives of leadership and the uniqueness of the workload, I was able to direct the group toward evaluating service workloads that made more sense in the cloud. This is because the particular workloads met not only the quantitative key performance indicators but also the qualitative company objectives for customer service.
A good advisor will be objective in keeping the ultimate best interest of YOUR company and its customers in mind across objectives to solve problems that make sense to and not break what is working.
5. Solutions focused, not technology focused
In the future, we can expect technology changes at an increasingly rapid pace. Tomorrow’s trusted advisor will not be married to one technology solution over another. Instead, they will be able to assemble the most logical pieces based on the best solution for a company’s objectives, using a wide array of resources at their disposal.
The key is understanding the depth of an advisor’s network is and their understanding of your objectives. If the advisor is limited in depth and breadth, based on, one given vendor’s perspective, then they may miss new advancements that could be added in to a solution leveraging the initial vendor. Insights like this, or the lack of them, can make the difference between meeting transformation goals or falling short.
A good advisor not only identifies the pieces to the puzzle but also enables leadership to build it out. This even includes identifying their successor, whether within their company or yours, to ensure project continuity (i.e., protection so that if the proverbial bus hits them tomorrow the initiative will still succeed).
6. Fearless and frank in their conversations
Carl Jung stated that “Resistance to the organized mass can be effected only by the man who is as well organized in his individuality as the mass itself.” According to my clients, the most critical skill in a trusted advisor is the ability to lift the team up and positively pivot to the change as opposed to fueling the fires of resistance.
Trusted advisors are there to enable change, not simply to support the status quo. A good trusted advisor will be fearless in their pursuit of achieving the goals executive leadership has set out for them. A part of that is to understand that the very people you are working with may have created the current processes and are invested in seeing them remain. That can be a big challenge to overcome.
Instead of throwing their hands up, good trusted advisors will identify the political land mines, step with caution, and fearlessly pursue objectives set forth by leadership. This includes working with leaders to make changes—gingerly at first. If that fails, then they need to be direct and, if needed, seek assistance from executive leadership to institute minimum policies needed for the initiative to succeed.
Trusted advisors cannot be timid. They have to be frank in their conversations, while being polite. In some cases, they have to be adept at playing the political landscape. In many instances, they will encounter established leaders with strong opinions, voices, and following. If the change directly impacts them or their team, or it contradicts their own personal goals, there could be significant impact to the initiative as formerly conceived, even to the company as a whole. For this reason, C-Level executives should select advisors who can have those frank and direct conversations with confidence in a manner that will win over alpha leaders, but not intimidate or overpower those leaders’ sense of position.
H2 Find your trustworthy GPS
Regardless of where you are in your transformation journey, it is best to go there with a guide. Similar to a Global Positioning System, which – a trusted advisor understands the various routes to value, a trusted advisor can lead you to your destination. They can also reroute the company based on changing objectives, personnel, or market conditions because they are ideally contextually aware. Whoever you select for your guide, make sure they have a vested interest in your success, the skills and endurance to make the trip, and commitment.