Digital adoption nirvana: 6 levers to achieve digital transformation success

Fraser Moore

In 1995, John Kotter found that 70% of organizational transformations fail, and nearly three decades later, not much has changed.  

Considering that organizations will spend billions on transformation initiatives over the next year, a 70% failure rate equates to a significant erosion of value.

According to a 2023 study published in Harvard Business Review, the likelihood that an organization will achieve its transformation KPIs is based on the extent to which it exhibited 50 behaviors across 11 areas of the transformation.  

The model built from the study revealed that behaviors in six of these areas consistently improved the odds of transformation success. Organizations that are above average in these areas have a 73% chance of meeting or exceeding their transformation KPIs, compared to only 28% for organizations that are below average.  

The report highlights that business leaders of successful transformations not only made sure their teams had the processes, resources, and technology they needed—they also built the right emotional conditions.  

These leaders offered a compelling rationale driving the transformation, and they ensured staff had the emotional support they needed to execute. This meant that when the going inevitably got tough, their staff felt appropriately challenged and ultimately energized by the stress.  

In contrast, leaders of the unsuccessful transformations didn’t make the same emotional investment. When their teams hit the inevitable challenges, negative emotions spiked, and the team entered a downward spiral. Leaders lost faith and looked to distance themselves from the project, which led their staff to do the same.

The 6 success levers identified in the study for successful transformation are:

  1. Leadership’s own willingness to change: Looking inwardly to ensure leaders are ready for the change themselves
  1. A shared vision of success: To energize and inspire the team and ensure they understand the “why”, in order to create a shared sense of ownership to navigate the challenges ahead
  1. A culture of trust and psychological safety: Demonstrating trust and care, ensuring staff feel they have a voice and are listened to
  1. A process that balances execution and exploration: Creating an environment that removes fear of failure and balances the need to execute with disciplined project management with freedom to explore, express creativity, and let new ideas emerge
  1. A recognition that technology carries its own emotional journey: Leaders ensure that technology was seen as the means to achieve the strategic vision, rather than focusing on technology itself, prioritizing incremental phases that deliver and build from an MVP over the perfect implementation
  1. A shared sense of ownership over the outcome: Leaders and staff working together to co-create an environment where everyone feels a shared sense of ownership over the transformation vision and outcome

While all businesses are different, when it comes to transforming your business through the introduction of new technologies like Professional Services Automation (PSA), the role of the business leaders in creating the right environment for change is vitally important.  

Many leaders involved in the procurement process make the mistake of handing off the implementation to others. This is a recipe for failure, disappointment, and a missed opportunity to transform the business in readiness for future growth and profitability.  

If you’re a leader considering implementing a new PSA, don’t let this be you!

Digital Transformation that includes Digital Adoption

Technology’s ability to make businesses more productive, more adaptable, more resilient, and ultimately more successful is well-recognized, and the pressure on organizations to accelerate their digital transformation is unrelenting.  

However, many organizations are struggling to get their staff to successfully use the applications they introduce. Traditional approaches to technology adoption, such as one-off instructor-led training sessions, followed by pointing them at hefty user manuals and guides, just don’t cut the mustard.  

This leads to further significant cost incursions due to a combination of:

  • An inability to realize the full value of technology investments through failed digital transformation projects
  • Increased costs of meeting strategic goals as expectations in technology as a key enabler fall well below par
  • Compromising for employees’ technology issues with manual work arounds and endless rounds of system reviews, remediation projects and refresher training programs
  • Staff disengagement caused by frustration in not being able to perform to their best in their role as a result of the technology issues they experience

This a complex challenge, but one that requires a mindset shift: to consider digital adoption as a key component rather than an after-thought in the transformation journey.

Taking the right approach to digital adoption will help businesses take control of their technology assets and help ensure the time, effort and financials invested in digital transformation projects successfully drives strategic imperatives and truly leads to transformational outcomes!

Digital adoption strategies for PSA customers

So, what strategies should you be thinking about when it comes to meeting expectations in staff adoption that will ultimately lead to improved business performance?  

You’ll be pleased to hear that there are a number of relatively simple things you can do to help drive digital adoption. Following these 6 levers will help you get fully committed to the change process and achieve your digital adoption nirvana.

Note – the strategies below are examples and not meant to be an all-encompassing digital adoption approach. Pick and choose those that best suit your own organization, situation, and budget, and tailor them to your environment for best effect.

1) Ensure leadership share the vision and model behaviours

The actions of formal leaders or opinion leaders influence the organization's vision, strategy, priorities, opinions, and decisions.  

The key question to ask is, “Do formal and opinion leaders encourage, model, and support the development of new ways of working?”

Examples of strategies that help drive digital adoption include:

  • Encourage leaders to demonstrate personal accountability by including the project’s success as part of their individual goals
  • Incorporate behavior modelling by adapting management approach to demonstrate their own adoption of the tool, e.g. set up a new report or dashboard and run all team meetings through the application
  • Develop short leadership videos to communicate the importance and significance of the program
  • Develop executive leadership decks to provide leaders with materials to talk about the program and keep it on the strategic agenda  
  • Develop manager briefing kits with slides and talking points to equip managers with resources to help their teams navigate through change, and to support the delivery of clear, consistent messaging throughout the change effort  
  • Establish 2-way feedback channel(s) that give employees the opportunity to provide feedback; look for ways to engage leaders in the conversation
  • Establish a consistent cadence of leadership updates e.g. company meetings, newsletters, blog posts, collaboration tools, or email, to keep a consistent cadence of updates coming from leadership  
  • Secure an executive to kick off launch events such as training and go-live phases to reiterate the importance/significance of the event and bolster employee support  
  • Arrange leadership floor walking after rollout to establish personal connections with employees and to demonstrate a personal commitment to their success  
  • Establish manager / leadership “Office Hours” and create an “open door” policy for staff to drop in with questions, feedback, etc.  
  • Use leadership storytelling to paint an engaging change vision that’s clearly describes the purpose and create a compelling case for change that connects to what people value  

2) Create a system for change

The relationships within and between customers, employees, partners, vendors, and communities influence how people think, act, and get work done across the organization.  The system for change needs to encompass the whole organisational ecosystem.

The key question to ask is, “Are customers, employees, partners, vendors, and communities organized and connected in a way that fosters new ways of working?”

Examples of strategies that help drive digital adoption include:

  • Set up a change network to scale the impact of the change management program, generate active participation, and advocate for the new behaviors and ways of working  
  • Conduct showcases to build broader awareness of the change effort, solicit feedback, and engage the organization in the conversation  
  • Engage opinion leaders to amplify messaging and garner support, through storytelling, sharing updates with their teams, etc. Change networks are one key channel for engaging opinion leaders  
  • Conduct a stakeholder assessment to identify the key groups and individuals who will be impacted or have the ability to influence the success of the change effort.  Often initial detractors can become your best advocates!
  • Develop a prioritized stakeholder engagement strategy from the output of the Stakeholder Assessment to develop engagement strategies that are tailored to different stakeholder groups, perhaps based around user personas
  • Leverage your PSA partner to support the development of new organizational capabilities
  • Consider impacts to org design, role descriptions, or team structures to determine whether the change calls for changes to the organizational structure or roles  
  • Assess change capacity by conducting an assessment of the various change initiatives happening across the organization to ensure teams have the capacity to absorb the change(s) being rolled out. Plan change initiatives in a way that accounts for change capacity  
  • Establish a coaching/mentoring program to ensure that staff have access to the guidance and resources they need throughout the change
  • Talk to other PSA customers and learn from their own experiences, what worked well and what did not

3) Connect the value with the values of the team

The connection to what people care deeply about influences how a person is intrinsically motivated to think or act, so be sure to carefully consider a person’s values, motivations and sense of purpose.  

The key question to ask is, “Do people see a connection between the new ways of working and their values, motivations, and sense of purpose?”

Examples of strategies that help drive digital adoption include:

  • Communicate the “why” & value proposition by clearly articulating and broadly communicating the reason for the change, the current challenges facing the business and the pathway to solving them. How does it support the organization’s mission and vision? How will it contribute to the achievement of top-priority business objectives?  
  • Identify and communicate the “WIIFMs” by connecting the messaging to what people care about; define the “what’s in it for me” message(s) that will resonate with different stakeholder groups  
  • Design direct experiences that provide a first-hand view of the positive impact that the new technology and ways of working will have on others in the business
  • Consider gamification to incorporate an element of friendly competition and fun  
  • Set up an adoption buddy system to provide opportunities for employees who have not yet been introduced to the new technology to shadow team members who are active users  
  • Use positive storytelling to generate buy-in and support  
  • Host a rollout / launch event to generate excitement, make it fun and recognise the individual and team contributions in making it a success
  • Create a purpose-driven narrative for the change that creates a clear tie to a higher-level purpose that employees can connect with
  • Highlight key features & benefits of the tool that will make life easier for those who use it  

4) Provide resources to remove friction and enable adoption

Access to the right enablement resources influences people’s ability to develop the knowledge and skills required to successfully engage, perform, or change.  

The key question to ask is, “Do people have the information, tools, training, and resources required to build new ways of working?”

Examples of strategies that help drive digital adoption include:

  • Develop a clear on-boarding plan that sets out incremental implementation milestones and expectations on stakeholders through the journey
  • Avoid overly complex customisations that delay rollout and adoption and inhibit the realisation of value from the new technology and ways of working
  • Make first impressions count and make the experience frictionless for the users – the flow of signing on, first welcome email, first login experience, add integrations once the baseline is set, undertake product walkthroughs and tutorials, ensure follow up
  • Provide live demos and showcases to show off functionality and features, and to instruct users on how to best use the tool, and the benefits to them of doing so
  • Build a communication plan to build awareness and understanding of the change across the organization  
  • Roll-out a coaching program so users have someone from whom they can get direct instruction, guidance, feedback and encouragement to use the tool  
  • Leverage super users as a social way to ensure widespread adoption and ensure people have access to someone who is up-to-speed on new functionality and can provide guidance and field questions  
  • Build a training strategy & actionable plan for how users will be trained, adopt an incremental layered training approach with refresher training and webinars
  • Run a train-the-trainer program to develop in-house capability to deliver end-user training. Conduct a TTT session to provide instruction, coaching, and feedback to team members to prepare them to deliver training to their respective teams and new starters
  • Hold office hours to provide a time and place where people can count on bringing up concerns, getting coaching, and learning more  
  • Provide self-directed onboarding tools as an “always on” way of allowing users to get up-to-speed and gain hands-on practice using the tool, leveraging vendor product tours
  • Deploy classroom training led by an instructor to create awareness and build skills around using the tool  
  • Leverage in application learning centres to allow users to access immediate, tailored, on-demand training from within the application, leveraging vendor provisioned learning centres, academies, and training webinars  
  • Create an innovation space or practice lab for users to come see and experience new features being rolled out and provide feedback and input for future development  
  • Deploy a leader-coach strategy where leaders and managers skill up first and enable their directs with the knowledge and skills to use the tool

5) Develop adoption incentives and rewards program

Formal and informal incentive structures influence how people are encouraged to behave.  

The key question to ask is, “Are performance management processes, measures, and incentives designed to promote development of new ways of working?”

Examples of strategies that help drive digital adoption include:

  • Develop an incentive strategy that promotes usage of new tools  
  • Recognize first adopters in team meetings, leadership updates, etc. and/or by using recognition badges and celebrating successes
  • Use adoption dashboards to provide visibility into usage; recognize and reward teams and teams and individuals who consistently use the tool and demonstrate how they’ve adopted new ways of working  
  • Reward top users with gift cards, company merchandise, spot bonuses, etc.  
  • Establish a leadership recognition program to recognize outstanding team members on a regular basis. Use collaboration tools as a primary communication channel for the program  

6) Harmonize your people, processes and systems

The collective set of systems and processes both govern and enable work, how data is handled and shared, and how decisions are made to drive objectives.  

The key question to ask is, “Are the organization’s technologies, tools, infrastructure, processes, policies, and business rules designed to foster the development of new ways of working for the team?”

Examples of strategies that help drive digital adoption include:

  • Set up collaboration tools to provide a forum for asking questions and receiving feedback, and to improve visibility by moving conversations that would have historically lived in individual inboxes into the tool  
  • Establish feedback loops for collecting and responding to questions and feedback from users. Collaboration tools are a great channel for creating feedback loops  
  • Create desk drops as physical workspace reminders  
  • Run pipeline, forecasting, resourcing meetings from the tool
    Transition meetings that are currently run using spreadsheets, slides, etc. into your PSA. Use dashboards and reports to reinforce the “If it’s not in the PSA, it didn’t happen” philosophy  
  • Leverage automation to replace manual processes where possible to remove friction  
  • Update standard policies, processes, procedures as needed to reflect any changes resulting from the introduction of new tools and ways of working

Final thoughts

If you're determined to achieve a successful digital transformation process, following these 6 levers will put you on the front foot to drive strong digital adoption and, ultimately, get the most out of your PSA investment. Again, be sure to adapt these strategies to the specifics of your own firm to achieve the best results—and you'll have digital adoption nirvana in no time!

About the author

Fraser Moore, Head of Consulting at CMap, has over 30 years' experience as a business leader in the consulting sector and is passionate about building successful, sustainable, and caring consulting organizations. Having implemented CMap at several businesses in the past 15 years, Fraser strives to help businesses achieve operational success and achieve strategic ambitions. Read more about Fraser's journey here.